Utilizing Retaining Walls in Poolscape Design

Dimensional multi-level design is one of the hottest trends in modern poolscapes. Belgard segmental retaining wall products make an outstanding medium for dimensional poolscape design. Here are some inspirational ideas of how segmental retaining walls can be used to enhance a poolscape:

Multi-Level Decks and Sunken Rooms

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Steps and Columns

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Dimensional Gardens and Planters

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Built-in Seating, Water Features and Fire Features

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Adjoining Kitchens and Bars

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Parapet Walls and Fencing

Beyond the Water’s Edge

Trends in Modern Poolscapes

To create a modern poolscape, not only must you think about the design of the pool itself, but the surrounding environment as a whole. Modern pool designs incorporate a cohesive look that flows through the entire back yard—from the back door to the outdoor kitchen, garden retaining wall, outdoor fireplace, pool and the surrounding patio.

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Celtik® Wall and Dublin Cobble® pull this multi-level poolscape together into one cohesive design. The Dublin Cobble extends from the pool deck into the outdoor kitchen and outdoor living room. Celtik Wall is used for the pool coping, steps and surrounding retaining walls.

“Countless pool designers and contractors prefer our paver products for pool decking because of the versatility and ability to create an entire environment that all works together as one unified and gorgeous design,” says Ken O’Neill, Executive Vice President of Belgard.

The options for creating a cohesive pool design scheme are endless. Gone are the days of the standard blue rectangle with a wrap-around concrete deck. “I grew up in the pool business, and concrete decking was always a necessary evil. But, the durability and look of pavers has revolutionized how we do business,” said Danton Townsend, designer with Leisure Pools in New Braunfels, Texas. “Almost 100 percent of our pools now use paver decking. Customers love the look, the warranty and the maintenance-free aspect.”

In addition, the versatility of Belgard products enables multi-dimensional designs that are as unique as the individual owner. “Belgard’s products allow us to build a pool with a lot of different elevations with walls, steps, raised decks and multi-level seating areas,” said Townsend.

The same products used to create the pool decking and coping can also be used in the surrounding poolscape design to create that cohesive look. “A multi-step water feature can be built right from the decking into the pool, a fire box can be added at the edge of the water feature, and the same products can be used to build a retaining or garden wall,” added Curt Mansfield, hardscape designer with Stone Deck in Austin, Texas, who has often worked with Townsend on hardscape installations for his pool designs.

To continue the cohesive design to the rest of the outdoor living area, the same hardscape products used in the poolscape can also be used to build an outdoor kitchen, a custom fireplace, seat walls, patios, walkways, column wraps, and more. The end result is an elegant resort-like environment that is an extension of the homeowner’s personal sense of style, whether a classic tailored look or a backyard oasis.

HERO-PoolTrends

This poolscape uses a variation in paver style to help define separate rooms. Mega-Bergerac® defines the pool deck, and Mega-Arbel® defines the outdoor living room, but is also used as accents throughout the design to tie everything together. Weston Stone® is also a cohesive design element with its use for the column wraps, outdoor kitchen and surrounding garden walls.

“Many people today are trending towards a very natural look,” said Mansfield. “Belgard offers a number of products that look so natural, you get the look and feel of a lagoon that was chiseled out of European stone, but with the benefit of a manufactured product that has a lifetime warranty. Natural stones can get brittle or crack and just don’t hold up to a salt water system.”

Although creating a cohesive outdoor living environment and poolscape from scratch is a simpler process, there are also a number of techniques that can be used to keep a pool renovation or addition from looking like an afterthought to an existing design.

“Once the poolscape is designed, you can easily work the new hardscapes into the pre-existing living areas in the form of seat walls, planter boxes, trim, and various embellishments,” says O’Neill. “We also offer a number of products that can install over an existing concrete deck, like Lafitt™ Rustic Slab, Lafitt™ Grana Slab or Mirage® Porcelain Pavers.”

Bullnose Coping and Mega-Arbel® pavers were used in unique ways for this modern poolscape. Instead of a traditional wooden porch, the design uses Mega-Arbel to create a raised paver porch, which is tied into the look of the pool by edging it with Bullnose Coping to mirror the pool edging. To expand the design, Weston Stone®, used to build an outdoor kitchen could be used as another design element elsewhere in the poolscape, for example a fire pit or seatwall.

Instead of a traditional wooden porch, this design uses Mega-Arbel® to create a raised paver porch, which is tied into the look of the pool by edging it with Bullnose Coping to mirror the pool edging. To expand the design, Weston Stone®, used to build the outdoor kitchen could be used as another design element elsewhere in the poolscape, for example a fire pit or seatwall.

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Click the video image below to watch a dramatic poolscape makeover using Lafitt Rustic Slab.

PROMO1-PoolVideo

The Secret to Perfect BBQ Ribs

BBQ Ribs on the Grill

For those who subscribe to the “Hail to the Pig!” philosophy, there is nothing more fabulous than perfectly cooked ribs. Many people shy away from cooking them at home, instead preferring to trek to their favorite local BBQ joint, knowing the ribs there will be perfectly seasoned and fall-off-the-bone tender. After all, cooking ribs is a science that can’t be mastered at home. Home-cooked ribs are typically tough and lack flavor, right? Wrong! Read on to learn the secret to cooking perfect BBQ ribs at home.

STEP ONE: THE RIBS

There are a number of different cuts, but if you’re cooking at home, your best options will be spareribs, St. Louis cut ribs or babyback ribs. Babyback ribs are smaller, leaner and include delicate loin meat, which makes them a little pricier. Spareribs are cut from the ends of babybacks down to the breast bone. The flavor of the meat is typically richer because of increased marbling, but the texture is less delicate. St. Louis cut is simply spareribs with the rib tibs cut off, which can be a little more manageable for both cooking and eating.

STEP TWO: THE RUB

Lay aluminum foil on a baking sheet — at least double the length of the rib rack — and place your ribs meat-side down for rubbing. There’s no one recipe for a good dry rub. In fact, feel free to buy a prepared rub or experiment with different flavor profiles. The key is to use only dry seasonings and use way more than you think you’ll need. Liberally coat both sides of the ribs and pat it in. For a basic foolproof homemade rub, try sprinkling salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin and coriander on your ribs. You CAN overdo it with the salt and cayenne pepper, but be generous with the others. For best results, sprinkle all seasonings on the underside, pat everything in at once, then flip and repeat. Remember…use lots of rub!

STEP THREE: THE WRAP

Completely wrap your ribs in the foil. Now do it again. Now a third time. Why so much foil? Simple — you want to tenderize the meat by allowing it to steam in its own juices, so a tight wrap is important to the process.

STEP FOUR: THE BAKE

Nope, that’s not a typo. You will finish the ribs on the grill to get that smokey flavor, but first you want to cook them low and slow in the oven. Bake them at 325 degrees. The time will vary depending on the type and quantity of ribs. Babybacks will cook more quickly, and a single rack will usually be ready for the grill in about 1.5 hours. For two racks, you might want to add about 10-15 minutes. Spareribs or St. Louis ribs will need to cook for about 1.75 hours for a single rack, adding 10-15 minutes for a second rack. To test the ribs, unwrap a section and test the meat with a fork. You don’t want it falling off the bone yet, but it should be fully cooked. The meat should be firmly attached to the bone, but tender.

STEP FIVE: THE SEAR

Unwrap your tenderized ribs and transfer them to a hot grill for about 10 minutes on each side. Whether you’re using charcoal or gas, you’ll want to add wood smoke, if possible. Cherry or pecan, in particular, will add an excellent flavor. Sear both sides of the ribs until you create a nice brown outer layer on each side. If you like wet ribs, coat with your favorite BBQ sauce before the last five minutes of cooking time. Otherwise, leave them dry and serve the sauce on the side for those who like to dip.

STEP SIX: THE MEAL

Remove your ribs, slice and serve with your favorite fixins. You’ll never go back to that BBQ joint again.

Preplanning for Future Improvements

Bluprints

Sometimes it’s just unrealistic to build everything you want at one time. However, you can still save yourself a lot of money and headaches by planning ahead. If you have an overall vision for your backyard that you plan to build out in phases, below are some questions you’ll want to consider before beginning the process.

SHOULD I HIRE A PROFESSIONAL DESIGNER?

If you’re talking about a large scale makeover, it’s often a good idea to enlist a landscape designer to design your completed makeover, even if you don’t plan on doing everything at once. For example, if you plan to install a pool now and an outdoor kitchen down the line, you’ll need to know where the gas and electric lines will need to go, as well as footings for any heavy items, such as a porch post or a fireplace. The added cost of a professional design can save you from having to rip up and replace sections of a patio or pool deck later.

WHAT FUTURE IMPROVEMENTS SHOULD I KEEP IN MIND?

When you’re planning an outdoor living space, think of what you would plan for an indoor living space. Think lighting, music, televisions, gas or electric appliances. Consider your local climate and think about ways of keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Installing junction boxes or live outlets where you may need electricity later will make a huge difference. Just remember that everything will be out in the elements and needs to be outdoor-rated with safety in mind.

DOES BELGARD OFFER DESIGN SERVICES?

Yes, working with a Belgard Authorized Contractor gives you access to the Belgard Design Studio, which offers over 50 free 3-D design templates and can also create custom designs with fly-through animation. However, your contractor may need to consult with a professional plumber or electrician, as needed, to plan for immediate or future utilities.

Future PhasesThe multi-faceted design above (created by the Belgard Design Studio) represents the perfect opportunity to plan a phased project. Phase I could include the patios, walkways, and fire pit. Phase II could include the outdoor kitchen’s grill station and brick oven. Phase III could include the outdoor fireplace and bar. Phase IV could include embellishments like the arbor, seat wall, TV stand, pillars, and hardscape lighting. In order to phase this out properly, before installing the patios, all future utilities would need to be run, and placement of future heavy elements would need to be fortified with the proper footings.

Dimensional Design with Container Gardens

Catalog photography for national hardscape manufacture in Arizona for Oldcastle plant Superlite.

Pavers: Lafitt™ Rustic Slab

While driving past meticulously landscaped yards, you might wonder how to get a look like that without spending every weekend pulling weeds. Container gardens are a great way to soften the look of hardscaped areas and add character to your outdoor living spaces without all the work. Particularly if you don’t have a green bone in your body, container gardening is a low-maintenance way to add pops of color all over.

Pavers: Catalina Slate™

Pavers: Catalina Slate™

Most likely, you have a couple of planters or even random containers that you can repurpose as vessels for this project. Think of each container as a piece of art that will display your garden. Instead of scattering single containers around the area, consider grouping together multiple containers of varying heights. The initial planting stage starts out with smaller plants that will become fuller as they grow. By grouping them, you will give the illusion that they are more substantial than they are, creating a finished garden look immediately.

One of the key elements in container gardening is drainage. Make sure your containers have holes in the bottom where water can easily flow. Aeration is probably the most important part of container gardening. Creating a mixture of topsoil and peat moss is a fine recipe to grow a healthy garden. Peat moss is less dense than soil alone, which allows the water and air to move through rather than collecting in a puddle at the top of your planter. Fill the bottom of your container with a couple of handfuls of rocks before adding the soil mixture, which will keep the roots from staying too moist and rotting.

Consider using a large Rubbermaid container to create your soil mixture. Pour both the peat moss and the soil into the container and mix them well. Go ahead and dig in; this is your chance to connect with the earth without getting too dirty. Make sure the soil you are using doesn’t have sand in it unless you are growing strawberries.

Recycled Window

Pavers: Mega-Arbel®  Wall: Weston Stone®

Mixing multiple plant varieties in a single pot is a way to add a little texture and interest. Choose plants that bloom all year for the outer rim of your container. Pathos, English ivy, or even spider plants can surround a couple of annuals. Your local garden center will have plenty of flowers and other plants to choose from, as well as containers of all shapes and sizes. You may also want to visit your local antique mall, consignment shop, or reclaimed building materials store for interesting items that you can repurpose as garden containers — like barrels, vintage pots or antique milk cans.

Bringing container gardens into your outdoor living area will bring color and serve many other functions as well. Choosing plants that attract butterflies, like Buddleia, is a great way to add an ethereal quality to your seating and kitchen spaces. Also, hummingbirds are attracted to Bee Balm, Larkspur, and Hibiscus, to name a few. The farmer’s almanac is a great resource for types of plants for your area, as well as time to plant.

Container gardening around your outdoor space can also be functional. Start out with some simple easy-to-grow vegetables such as kale, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. One idea is to use metal wash tubs to create an herb garden. Herbs like basil, rosemary, and chives will add so much to just about any dish. Instead of the farm-to-table movement, be a part of the container-to-table movement!

Unplug and Unwind in Your Outdoor Space

Turn off the TV, leave the phones inside, and have some make-your-own pizza family time.

Turn off the TV, leave the phones inside, and have some make-your-own pizza family time in your outdoor kitchen.

Magazines and websites are full of articles that talk about unplugging for a day or a weekend. Making it a reality, however, is a different story. Find a date and mark it down on a calendar. That is a sure fire way to make it happen.

The outdoor kitchen space is a great way to move the family out of the house. Not only is it a place to enjoy fresh air and soak in some Vitamin D, it is the ultimate floor plan. Choosing recipes to utilize amenities like a brick oven are always a big hit and do not require endless prep time. For example, kids love to create fun designs with pizza ingredients — like swirls, flower designs or smiley faces — which makes the prep time a fun family activity. And if you don’t have a brick oven, you can actually cook pizza on the grill.

Mix fruit moctails drink - vintage filter Let the kids mix and match various fresh fruits and juices for creative "mocktails".

Let the kids mix and match various fresh fruits and juices for creative “mocktails”.

Stocking the outdoor refrigerator and kitchen ahead of time is a great way to make your outdoor space self-sufficient. Having everything in one place also saves time and makes the preparation a lot smoother.

Vote on what kind of cuisine to prepare and shop for ingredients during the week, which will save time later. Or, visit the local farmers’ market for fresh produce and make the outing part of the day’s “unplugged” experience.

Think about fun recipes everyone can enjoy. Instead of having cocktails, enjoy some “mocktails” with fresh citrus, berries, and carbonated water or sprite. Serve them in some fancy plastic glasses designed to create the same look as glass without the potential of shattering.

Horse Shoes

Find or make old-fashioned backyard games for some great “unplugged” memories.

Look around and see what kinds of items are available to make fun outdoor games the whole family can enjoy. For example, cut a couple of 2×4’s and make them in to an oversized Jenga game. Pinterest has numerous ideas for outdoor games and old-fashioned family fun. And believe it or not, old standards like horse shoes and badminton will keep your family entertained for hours.

So, corral and turn off all electronics and technology, with the possible exception of  a little music. Making memories in your outdoor living space is a fabulous way of enjoying life’s simplicity and creating the life you love with the people that mean the most: family.