Designing the Room Outside
A backyard is an extension of what's going on inside our home, maybe more colorful, casual, fun, and without a ceiling to put a lid on our needs and desires. In a yard, trees and vines can climb to their ultimate heights, light and weather can quickly change, and the possibilities—within the confines of our property lines—are up to the terrain, our design skills, and our do-it-yourself know-how.
If your DIY design and construction skills aren't up to tackling a major backyard remodeling project, you can hire a landscape designer or architect to help your outdoor space realize its potential. A skilled professional can guide you through the process of figuring out a style, deciding who will be using the yard, creating zones of activity, choosing materials and plants, and recommending builders and contractors for everything from swimming pools to outdoor structures to installing irrigation.
Explore 50 ideas showing how a backyard can be transformed into everyone's favorite space. In this first example, notice how the curved lines of the patio fit with the casual nature of the nearby wooded area.
How do you design a backyard for two toddler boys and their parents that is safe, engaging, and attractive? Here, Creo Landscape Architecture more than fulfilled the challenge in this San Francisco area home that includes dining and seating spaces along with a grass-covered berm and interactive sculptures for the children.
The fence and bench are made of redwood—the fence features a light stain while the bench is natural—and Podocarpus (plum pines) were planted to provide greenery and enhance privacy. No-mow fescue planted on the berm invites the boys to roll, tumble, and enjoy their backyard. Durable bluegrass is planted on the flat areas of the lawn, and recycled brick is used for a small patio. To make smart use of the space, the redwood benches have storage space to store outdoor toys when they're not in use.
An Eichler Remodel
Developer Joseph Eichler built thousands of California housing tract homes in the 1950s and 1960s, and his name is now associated with the style we now know as mid-century modern. While most of these developments were in the suburbs, the Diamond Heights Eichlers built in 1962 are in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood of San Francisco.
The Garden Route Co. remodeled this landscape of a two-story Diamond Heights Eichler with a steep hillside garden. The challenge: creating flat, usable outdoor living spaces by building terraces and stairs connecting the different levels. With an emphasis on texture, bold forms, and colors, this garden softens the angular landscape architecture and gives the backyard a more contemporary feeling.
The owners of this Boston area property wanted to stretch their living space to the outside while enjoying the beautiful woodland setting at easy reach from the back door. Landscape designers A Blade of Grass reconfigured the back porch to step down to an adjacent raised bluestone patio. The designer created a series of outdoor rooms that transition from a highly developed space to more naturalized native plantings, including an outdoor fireplace, a koi pond, a shade garden, and irregular bluestone paths.
Plants chosen for the landscape include Viburnum dentatum, pink flowering Astilbe ‘Vision in Pink’, Malus ‘Whitney’, Buxus ‘Green Mountain’, yellow grass Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’, Pennisetum ‘Hameln’, and the tree Betula ‘Whitespire’.
A large water basin is the centerpiece of this Islamic-style courtyard garden in Hertfordshire, England. The clients of landscape designer Fiona Green of Green Tree Garden Design previously lived in the Middle East and wanted their English garden to reflect the styles of their former home. Following the classic principles of Islamic garden design, Green designed a courtyard with a water feature in one corner with a new summerhouse in the opposite corner, which can be viewed from the courtyard seating area. Green completed the renovation by replacing the plants with specimens that offer year-round jewel-tone colors, as well as structure and scent.
A Midcentury Modern With 'Wow' Factor
Tasked with respecting the 1959 mid-century modern origins of this home, (fer) studio, LLP oversaw site improvements of a Sherman Oaks hilltop home owned by Davis Factor, photographer and founder of Smashbox. Preserving its post-and-beam construction and rhythm, (fer) studio added a carport, cabana, and a gym with a private patio serving the master suite. Along the way, Factor bought the property next door and his home was expanded to include a 2,700-square-foot guest house.
Along with landscape architect Victoria Pakshong of [place] landscape collaborative, (fer) studio designed a plan for the enlarged property's natural upslope. A railroad-tie path traverses the entire width of the estate, and the enlarged entryway/ driveway is made of concrete pavers and permeable Grasscrete. The pool and outdoor activity zones are built with an emphasis on the horizontal lines of the property, maintaining a low profile so that nothing obstructs that fabulous view.
CNC Building Professionals designed a long, floating bench that links the interior with the exterior of this home in Sydney, Australia. The homeowners' children enjoy climbing the stairs that lead from one slate-covered patio to another—the higher one acts as a stage for impromptu performances when not used as a courtyard patio.
Landscape designers are often consulted when homeowners' lifestyles and needs change. For these clients of Jane Harries Garden Design, the children had "grown out of football and guinea pig ownership, and they wanted a restyle," says Harries, of Northamptonshire, England.
Starting with the removal of oversized trees, Harries reconfigured the lawn to create larger borders and an informal planting design with a romantic feel. The children's swing was replaced with a porch-style swing settee, and a water feature near the house provides a natural transition from indoors to the terrace.
Water-Wise, Multi-Use Yard
In this landscape, Beth Edelstein of the Los Angeles area firm BE Landscape Design removed the lawn and replaced it with raised stacked-stone planter boxes for growing vegetables and herbs. The drought-tolerant landscape design now includes benches, a fire pit, containers set on decomposed granite (DG) gravel, and concrete stepping stones.
Intimate English Garden
The owners of this home located in the Clapham neighborhood of London contacted Kate Eyre Garden Design for a redo that includes attractive wood fencing, a cozy seating area, and lots of gorgeous Viburnum bushes. The choice of fencing styles can do much to set the style of a landscape—the narrow horizontal rails used here make for a very contemporary look.