I love my job. Sometimes you walk onto a prospective job site and you can practically see the future landscape unfold itself right before your eyes. Other sites are more challenging. We got a call from a new homeowner, who just moved into a house in Moraga that had a large backyard, which sounds exciting, except it was entirely unusable. Her goal was to take advantage of her garden and create outdoor spaces that her busy family could enjoy.
There were old decks with heavy rails off of the two main living areas. A rickety staircase that may or may not have been to code dissected both levels, reducing usable spaces, and then descended to a small path that only accessed a portion of the garden. There was no access to over half of her garden, and no usable space in the landscape that was accessible. The entire space was frustrating. My goal was to understand how she and her family wanted to use the space – and then work within the parameters of the existing conditions, budget, the requirements of the homeowners association, and the guidelines from the City of Moraga to ensure we designed the garden accordingly.
Reconfiguring the decks was a key element of the design because it creates usable space directly off of the main living areas, and opens the lovely views of the golf course and Mount Diablo. Her contractor was able to work with the substructure of the decks, and upgrade the actual decking to Ipe ironwood for a clean, modern look. Cable rails open up the views and contemporize the home. Changing the location of the deck stairs increased the square footage of the lower deck, and voila, a second outdoor living space in a space that was previously just a little too narrow to completely enjoy. The owner furnished her decks and garden beautifully, creating individual outdoor living, dining and lounging rooms.
The landscape design focused on terracing the slope into two distinct usable spaces separated by planting areas. The level closest to the house was designed for entertaining and relaxing in the spa. The family opted for a modular hot tub rather than built-in. Rather than plop it on top of the patio, we partially sunk the tub into the slope and built walls at seat height around the perimeter. We located it close to the stairs for fast access from the hot tub to the house. The space also provided the most screening and the best views.
The lower level is a lawn area mainly intended for the family’s two golden retrievers. It also functions as a swath of green to pop up the colorful planting plan. The homeowners wanted a lot of bold color, which is provided by salvias, roses, wisteria, phlomis, nepeta and the like.
The view of the landscape from the deck is also important. Before design and construction, the property was cut in half by a fence and looked treacherous and uninviting. The finished product visually pulls you into the garden. What once was an unflattering, frustrating, unusable space is now accessible and open on all levels. Low-voltage lighting twinkles on at dusk.
The end result of this project is a tamed slope that quadrupled the useable areas and transformed this Moraga landscape into a neighborhood jewel.