There are two things that happen when you live in a home high on a hill. The first is that you tend to have a great view. The second is that outdoor projects tend to be less straightforward. In today’s Richmond landscape design challenge we visit a beautiful Midlothian property overlooking the James river.
As you can imagine, these clients are afforded a beautiful view from the elevated grade of the property. However, this same sloping backyard meant that creating usable outdoor space was a challenge. The homeowners were eager to create a larger backyard space that they could relax in while enjoying their incredible view. We were up for the challenge.
As mentioned, the main challenge on this property was the elevation. Being so high up meant that the usable space in their backyard was minimal, as a steep slope dominated most of their outdoor space. During discussions with the client, they cited two main wishlist items–more yard space to play with, and a pool where they could relax and enjoy their built-in view.
However, to do this we needed to get creative. When a property is as steep as the one seen here, the only real way to create livable space is to create level space. And the only way to create a notable, safe amount of level space is to utilize a retaining wall.
The Retaining Wall
To create this finished space, it was necessary to build large retaining walls. The first, a smaller construction, was built to accommodate the entry to the yard from the main level of the home.
The second, larger retaining wall was constructed near the edge of the property. This wall allowed a large area of flat, elevated space to be created. Not only did the construction of this retaining wall allow room for a pool, but it also created space for a sizable patio, and some much needed green space along the sides of the home.
At the end of the day, the addition of the second retaining wall allowed us to extend the property nearly 10 full feet, giving us the space we needed for the main focal point of the new space–the pool. .
The Infinity Pool
The slant of the property and incredible view meant that when it came to building a custom pool, an infinity style just made sense. The homeowners were looking for a space where they could enjoy the scenery without any visual interruption. An infinity style swimming pool creates an unobstructed line of vision, giving the clients the sense that they are hanging off the edge of the world, watching the river down below.
Of course, infinity pools come with their own set of challenges. In this case, the homeowner’s were eager to have an automatic cover put on their pool. Great for both safety and convenience, automatic swimming pool covers are popular among clients. However, the majority of these covers are built on standard, inground style swimming pools–not infinity pools.
To install an automatic cover, a leading track needs to be attached on both long sides of the pool. This is typically done at the level of the pool’s coping. In this design, however, typical placement of the track would have disrupted the seamless effect of water dropping over into nothing, and would have been a visual interruption to the view.
To resolve this issue, we had to get creative. Instead of installing the track in the client’s eye-line, we attached it just below the edge of the coping. This small bit of ingenuity and custom engineering makes a huge difference, and was worth all of the time and problem solving it required. Above, you can see this dropped lead track, and the catch basin for the water overflow below.
The Pool Deck
While the retention wall enabled us to add significant usable space to the yard, we still did not have a large amount of square footage to work with. As a result, the homeowners were focused on a clean, streamlined space that was functional without feeling crowded or over-designed. Sometimes, it’s best to let the view speak for itself.
To achieve this open, uninterrupted living space, we created a clean, simple paver patio using a beautiful bluestone. Around the pool, borealis pavers from Techobloc create contrast and a an organic, naturalistic feel. Dividing the bluestone and the paver is a channel drain, allowing both rainwater and pool water to run off the deck and onto the property below.
Beside the pool is the second focal point of the outdoor space–the fire pit. Raised only slightly out of the patio, the pit is low profile, and positioned along the edge of the deck, creating a secondary destination to cozy up and enjoy the beauty of the James River below.
If your outdoor living space is unusable once the sun goes down, then you’re missing out on a huge time window of functionality. Not to mention, a space that is dark and unnavigable at night is also a major safety concern. This is why Water and Earth puts so much energy into making sure that our designs are functional day or night.
In this space, lighting not only serves a practical purpose, but acts as a way to activate the space and add ambience well into the evening hours. Pathway lighting like that seen below allows the homeowner’s to feel safe walking around after dark, while also allowing the landscaping to shine.
One of the spots that is most critical to keep well lit is a staircase. Making sure a stairwell is properly lit means the difference between a fall hazard, and a safe walkway to the patio below. Like all functional lighting, however, it was important to us that everything we do both works practically, but serves the overall aesthetic of the space as well.
Above, you can see how the stairwell and wall-mounted sconces illuminate the space. However, they also work to highlight the architectural impact of the floating stairs, and the handscaping. The result is a safe space that is as beautiful as it is usable.
From stairs and pathways, to the pool seen above, a good lighting plan is the difference between a design that is rendered unusable after dark, and a space that allows you to get hours of extended use and enjoyment. Both functional and beautiful, great lighting creates navigable spaces, highlights natural and architectural highpoints, and is essential to quality landscape design.
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