Patio of the Week: Outdoor Rooms Transform a Backyard (14 photos)

Patio of the Week: Outdoor Rooms Transform a Backyard (14 photos)

These Southern California homeowners were living in the wonderfully warm climate of Orange County and had numerous doors opening up to their backyard. But their landscape design did not provide good structure for indoor-outdoor living, and it didn’t connect to the beautiful Craftsman-style architecture of their house. They searched Houzz and found landscape designer Sacha McCrae to help them transform their yard and check off every item on their must-have list. These included an outdoor fireplace, a shaded space, an outdoor lounge and dining area, a designated grilling area and the calming sound of trickling water. Here’s a look at how McCrae fit it all into the relatively compact backyard in a pleasing way.

Living Gardens Landscape Design
Photos by Brett Hilton Photography

Landscape at a Glance
Who lives here: A couple who likes to entertain
Location: San Clemente, California
Size: 1,600 square feet (149 square meters)
Designer: Sacha McCrae of Living Gardens Landscape Design

The front entry shows the home’s Craftsman architecture. “This is a beautiful Craftsman house, but the landscape didn’t connect. We really wanted to make it feel cohesive,” McCrae says. She refreshed the front yard as well but kept existing blue-gray pavers. These pavers and the stone on the home’s facade informed the palette she chose for the backyard.

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Before Photo

Living Gardens Landscape Design
Before: The backyard has an L shape and four direct entries to it. The landscape around the house didn’t connect to the Craftsman architecture, and it was a missed opportunity for creating inviting outdoor living spaces.

“Originally their backyard was almost all grass, with a paved path they could fit two chairs on,” McCrae says. In addition, a deep planting bed around the perimeter took up a lot of space.

Living Gardens Landscape Design
After:McCrae narrowed the existing planting beds from 10 feet to 3 feet deep. This opened up lots of space for outdoor living. The main area of the new patio contains dining and lounge areas, and McCrae designed a large wood pergola to provide shade. Wicker globe lights cast a warm glow and interesting shadows at night. An outdoor fireplace at the end is a beautiful focal point.

McCrae chose natural stone patio pavers in a range of grays with some blue hues to create continuity with the blue-gray pavers in the front yard. She also selected a stone for the fireplace that would play off the stone on the home’s exterior chimney. Long rectangular pavers in a herringbone pattern create definition for the dining and lounge areas; one band of straight pavers separates the two areas.

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Living Gardens Landscape Design
The fireplace surround is limestone veneer, which continues onto the built-in benches that surround it. Walls behind the benches anchor the fireplace and give it a presence that suits the scale of the yard and the other new elements.

“I really wanted to bring in a light color,” McCrae says. “The limestone is pretty and creamy.”

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Before Photo

Living Gardens Landscape Design

Before: The patio was narrow and hemmed in by deep planters around the perimeter of the yard.

Living Gardens Landscape Design
After:McCrae ran a border of rectangular pavers around the herringbone pattern that delineates the dining-lounge area. Then she added a narrow row of plants between this patio and the landing directly off the doors on the left. For that paved area she chose larger rectangular pavers in the same material, but composed them in a running-bond pattern. Varying the shapes and patterns of the pavers to anchor different areas of the patio is the outdoor version of using area rugs to delineate rooms within an open interior floor plan. Using the same natural stone tied the spaces together.

The existing chimney on the house inspired the stone choice for the outdoor fireplace. This created a strong connection between the architecture and the landscape.

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Living Gardens Landscape Design

The homeowners wanted to be able to entertain outdoors, so they requested a serving station. McCrae placed this one next to a kitchen entry. The versatile piece can double as a potting station when they want to garden.

Living Gardens Landscape Design
McCrae used drought-tolerant plants wherever she could. Seen here are variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica‘Variegata’), lilyturf (Liriope muscari),aeonium(Aeonium urbicum) and foxtail (Agave attenuata).

“I believe you can create a lovely garden using drought-tolerant plants, and I try to use them as much as possible,” she says.

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Becky Harris
This plan will help orient you within the L-shaped yard. The outdoor fireplace is in the top-left corner. The top-right area of the house contains the kitchen. The serving station is at the inner corner of the L shape of the house.

The door off the kitchen at the top right leads to a grilling station. At the bottom-left corner is a fountain placed to be viewed from the living room’s double doors. McCrae flanked the fountain with two Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) trees.

Before Photo

Living Gardens Landscape Design

Before: This photo shows how much the deep planting beds cut into the yard’s potential living space.

Living Gardens Landscape Design
After: Narrowing the planting beds allowed space for a generous bar around the grill. This provides an area for casual gathering and for serving food and drinks. “It was fine to have this area slightly separate from the covered patio, and it’s close to the kitchen here,” McCrae says.

The new planting bed retaining walls are concrete block covered in smooth stucco and capped with flagstones that match the patio. Their look provides a strong connection between the exterior architecture of the house and the landscape. The designer used the larger rectangular pavers in a running bond pattern in this area. “Using different pavers helped to define the space,” she says. A thin planted gap off the bar area further delineates it from the main patio.

Living Gardens Landscape Design

McCrae used the same limestone veneer for the bar’s base that she used on the fireplace surround, then added a honed-concrete countertop.

Living Gardens Landscape Design

Referring back to the plan, the living room’s double doors are located at the bottom-left portion of the house. McCrae gave this entry a special presence with a small patio, potted plants and a view.

Living Gardens Landscape Design
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Wednesday, 17 August 2022

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