Terraced Design Adds Form and Function to a Sloped Yard

This home originally had a steeply sloped and mostly unusable yard. With the help of a multi-level terraced design, it was converted into a family backyard oasis.

Prior to purchasing this home, an Atlanta family of four saw the potential to create their dream backyard and consulted with a design/build contractor who had a terraced design in place before escrow closed on the home. Construction began immediately after the closing.

The existing backyard included a small terraced section held in place by 6’x6’ timber walls, with the remainder of the mostly unusable yard sloping down to a large wooded pond. The renovation design focused on increasing the functionality of the available space with the help of segmental retaining wall to create four terraced levels: a pool level, a sunken outdoor kitchen pavilion, a secluded fire pit terrace, and a recreational play level for the family’s two children. The project was constructed in four phases.

Phase 1: Structural Walls

Since the design included a pool, the first step of construction was to demolish the timber retaining walls (which weren’t capable of supporting the additional weight), remove a few trees to enlarge the main terraced level, and construct new walls capable of supporting the pool. Mega-Tandem™ Mass Segmental Retaining Wall® was selected for its strength and natural stone appearance and was used to create the structure of the two main terrace levels, as well as coordinating built-in planter boxes. Before the walls were capped, wiring was run for low-voltage hardscape lighting, which would be installed during the final phase.

Planter boxes on the second level were adorned with Azalea bushes. Transitions to each level were constructed with natural stone slab step treads. Hardscape lighting lines all walls to improve evening aesthetics and safety.
Phase 2: Poolscape

The second phase of construction was to dig and form the pool and shoot the gunite pool walls. The design of the kidney-shaped pool includes wedding cake steps, a submerged tanning ledge, swim-up bar stools, a raised eight-person spa, and a vanishing waterfall that overlooks the fire pit terrace below.

The vanishing edge waterfall creates a dramatic backdrop for the cozy fire pit terrace that overlooks the wooded landscape and pond. Wooden posts and handrails for the cable fencing were embedded inside the structure of the retaining walls for stability.

Next came the installation of the paver pool deck, tiered garden walls, and rectangular fire pit. The pool deck extends to walkways that continue around both sides of the home. For these projects, Lafitt® pavers and Tandem® Wall were selected, which both offer a modular ashlar pattern and have a natural stone look that coordinates with the Mega-Tandem retaining walls of the primary structure.

The false-jointed ashlar pattern of the garden walls mimics the look of the paver field. Low-voltage hardscape lighting lines the garden walls for ambiance and safety.
Phase 3: Pavilion
The outdoor kitchen offers multiple cooking spaces and includes an open cabinet under the brick oven for storing wood. The texture of the wall veneer and Lafitt® paver flooring complement the natural stone elements to create a cohesive design.

The next phase was to build the 18’x30’ outdoor kitchen pavilion, which includes an open gabled metal roof, exposed cedar-wrapped beams, and staggered cedar shake siding. The base of each outdoor kitchen counter is constructed with Tandem® Modular Grid and capped with a granite countertop. The Tandem wall units used on Modular Grid incorporate the same face texture and color palette as the Tandem Wall and the Mega-Tandem retaining walls, which allowed all of the walls throughout the outdoor living design to have a cohesive look and feel.

The well-appointed kitchen includes a double sink, double-door refrigerator, kegerator beer dispenser, and multiple cooking surfaces—including a gas grill, Big Green Egg® ceramic grill, and a wood-burning Chicago Brick Oven®. The kitchen also includes ample seating, including a countertop bar that overlooks the pool and faces the swim-up bar, for ultimate pool-side entertaining. Natural stone slab step treads were used to transition to each level—from the house to the pool, down into the outdoor kitchen, to the fire pit terrace, and down to the play structure.

The two-sided bar is capped with a granite countertop and offers dry seating under the pavilion and swim-up seating from inside the pool.
Phase 4: Final Touches & PLay Area

The final phase of the project began with landscaping and trimming out the pool with natural stone coping and pebbled tiling, including the 20-foot-wide vanishing waterfall edge that serves as a dramatic backdrop for the cozy fire pit area and overlooks the picturesque wooded pond. Each of the terraced levels were finished with protective cable fencing, outlined with wooden posts and handrails painted to match the color of the pavilion roof.

Next came the playground installation, which required a fourth level to be terraced. Timber wall was selected to terrace this level to coordinate with the wooden play structure and the surrounding natural wooded landscape.

The final task was to install all of the lighting, including low-voltage hardscape lighting that had been pre-wired during earlier phases, which both added an aesthetic element and improved the safety of the multi-level structure. All electrical elements of entire design—including the hardscape lighting, spa, waterfall, pavilion lighting, and sound system—can all be controlled by an app on the homeowner’s phone.

For a fly-through view of the entire multi-level terraced design, watch the drone video below.

PROJECT TEAM:

Designer: Clint Tucker, PLA
Contractor: Sugar Hill Outdoors, LLC
Engineer: John R. Gehrlich, Jr., PE
Engineering Firm: GeoWerks Engineering, LLC
Pool Construction: Bennett Custom Pool Construction
Play Structure Design/Installation: PlayNation Play Systems, Inc., of Georgia

NEXT WEEK’S BLOG: Come back to the Outdoor Living by Belgard blog to get inspired by winning designs from the 2017 Hardscape North America Project Awards.

Outdoor Fireplace Design Ideas

Over the last decade, outdoor fireplaces have continued to be a rising trend in outdoor living design. A fireplace provides an elegant focal point that visually transforms a patio into an outdoor living room, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. When planning an outdoor fireplace, there are a number of options to consider.

Custom-Build versus modular units

Custom outdoor fireplaces can be built using a variety of masonry products, including nearly any Belgard retaining wall product. The benefit to a custom-built fireplace is that you have the design flexibility to create any size or style that suits you. Belgard also offers the Belgard Elements™ line of modular fireplaces that are pre-built in a factory setting, shipped in sections and installed with a pallet loader. The benefits are lower installation costs and a shorter construction window.

This custom-built fireplace, constructed with Celtik® Wall, features a raised hearth, symmetrical arched built-in wood boxes, and built-in low-voltage lighting for ambiance. A row of smooth-face block adds a contrasting element to the rough-hewn look of the design.
Belgard Elements™ fireplaces, such as this one from the Bristol™ Series, offer a custom-built look for a fraction of the cost. Custom-built elements, such as the landscape wall and water features in this design, can be added to enhance the custom-built look.
USE interior design principles

To enhance the “outdoor living room” feel, employ interior design techniques when designing your outdoor fireplace and surrounding patio. Examples include accessorizing the room or creating a faux rug in the paver design.

A semi-circular design of Mega-Arbel® pavers creates the look of an inlaid rug in front of this Brighton™ Elements fireplace and Bristol™ Elements wood boxes.
Research Local building codes

Codes will vary by municipality, but in general terms, gas-burning fireplaces have fewer restrictions and can typically be placed anywhere in a design, including directly against another structure. Wood-burning fireplaces typically need to be placed at least 10 feet from another structure. Some building codes require additional safety measures or restrict the use of wood-burning units altogether.

The chimney of this wood-burning fireplace from the Bordeaux™ Elements collection was extended upward to comply with local building codes, due to its proximity to another structure.
Built-in outdoor gas fireplaceS

An economical option that can typically be installed anywhere is a built-in gas fireplace, which can be built on the exterior of the home, on a porch or under a pavilion.

The built-in outdoor gas fireplace on the left was designed to emulate the look of an indoor fireplace using Tandem® Modular Grid. The same wall product was used to build out an adjacent outdoor kitchen. The design on the right used Weston Stone® retaining wall block with accents of Urbana® Stone and Mega-Arbel® pavers to emulate the look of a freestanding Bristol™ Elements fireplace. The same paver and wall products were used throughout the design to tie the look together.
Think outside the box

When creating a custom build, consider how you want to use the space and work with your contractor to come with with creative solutions and ideas.

This custom fire feature is both a fireplace and a brick oven. A built-in overhead light adds a dramatic look to the piece while providing ample light for operating the brick oven in the evenings.
This outdoor living room incorporates dual open-sided European-style gas fireplaces, constructed using Tandem® Wall. The same wall product was used to build seat walls around the perimeter of the patio, as well as columns for the pavilion, tying all of the outdoor rooms together into one cohesive design.
Consider built-in seating

Built-in seating is one of the leading trends in outdoor design and makes an excellent addition to an outdoor fireplace, adding both form and function to an outdoor room.

This custom natural stone fireplace is flanked with two seat walls, constructed with Celtik® Wall. The rough-hewn face of the Celtik® Wall adds a textural element to this eclectic design.

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Next week: If your yard is sloped, come back to the Outdoor Living by Belgard blog for ideas on using terraced design to create more usable space.

Gift Ideas for the Outdoor Chef

With the number of outdoor kitchens continuing to rise, more and more people are cooking outdoors on a regular basis. Gone are the days when this pastime was limited to barbecued chicken or the occasional grilled steak. Self-proclaimed outdoor chefs are now cooking everything from pizza to pineapple in their outdoor living spaces. With this in mind, here are our favorite gift ideas for the outdoor cooking enthusiast in your life.

CERAMIC GRILLS & ACCESSORIES

Basically, anyone who has ever owned a Big Green Egg is now an official “EGGhead” for life. While these ceramic grills can be a bit of an investment, this blogger has never had anything cooked in a Big Green Egg that was not moist and delicious with the perfect amount of smokey flavor. Big Green Eggs also offer the flexibility to grill, roast, smoke or bake a variety of delicious recipes. To find a dealer near you, click here. Or, if you already have an EGGhead in your life, there are no shortages of EGGccesories to add to their EGGhead collection.

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BRICK OVENS

They’re not just for pizza anymore! From cedar-plank redfish to French onion soup, basically anything that can be cooked in a regular oven or on a grill can be cooked in a wood-fired brick oven. Chicago Brick Oven offers tons of interesting brick oven recipes on their website. Of course, if you’re into pizza, there’s no better way to cook it than with that wood-fired smokey flavor and crisp crust. A brick oven also looks amazing and makes a stunning addition to any outdoor kitchen. Whether you’re interested in a countertop version, a mobile unit, or a built-in oven, contact your local Belgard Authorized Contractor or Dealer for more information.

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PIZZA PEELS

No self-respecting outdoor chef would be caught without one of these vital accessories, especially when there’s grilled pizza at stake. Although you can try to balance a hot pizza on a couple of spatulas, odds are you’ll end up cleaning it up with the “barkuum” (a.k.a. the family dog). If your outdoor chef uses a deep brick oven, you may want to choose a peel with a longer handle, otherwise any of these choices from Bed, Bath & Beyond will do the trick for grills or smaller brick ovens.

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BBQ GRIDDLES

One of these grilltop accessories will instantly convert any grill into a griddle, allowing your outdoor chef to exponential increase their outdoor cooking repertoire to include breakfast items, fajitas, goat cheese crepes and more. For a plethora of cast iron and stainless steel griddle options in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit nearly every possible grill scenario, visit the BBQ Guys web store.

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STEAK WEIGHTS & GRILL PRESSES

Outdoor chefs are typically serious about their steaks. Although this cast-iron bad boy is too heavy to stuff in a stocking, it’s a fun inexpensive gift that will quickly become your outdoor chef’s favorite way to get those perfect grill marks. It can also be used to keep bacon from curling when cooked on a griddle. For a variety of steak weights, bacon presses and grill presses, check out the selection from Webstaurant.

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IS THAT REALLY A THING?

If you want a really unique outdoor chef accessory, you need to visit the Grilling Cookware section of the Sur La Table web store. From Himalayan salt blocks to specialty scallop pans to grill-safe Moroccan tagines, they have a wide selection of reasonably priced specialty cookware items that will bring a smile to the face of any outdoor chef. They also have a section for Tailgating Tools & Supplies for outdoor chefs who like to take their skills on the road.

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NEXT WEEK:  Get ready to snuggle up in your outdoor living room with these outdoor fireplace design tips.

Rigorous Selection Process Results in Attractive Pool Deck Design for HOA

The Morgan Hill Homeowners Association of Temecula, California, takes pride in its impressive community amenity areas, and they should. In addition to the well-appointed community pool, the development includes an expansive clubhouse with pool tables, ping pong tables, tennis courts and an ample lounge area for watching sporting events.

When the homeowners association decided to upgrade the decking of the community pool, they meticulously perused the products, styles and color selections of multiple paver manufacturers, but ultimately settled on a selection of Belgard pavers at the recommendation of the installer, Modern Paving, of Rancho Cucamonga, California.

The group selected the “bishop hat” shape of Moduline Series™ pavers in the Toscana color blend for the primary paver field, accented with 6″x6″ squares of Moduline in the Sahara color. A total of 12,000 square feet of pavers were installed in a castle parquet pattern, creating an contemporary look that complements the elegant development’s modern architecture while blending well with the natural landscape. The project was installed during the colder months of the year so that use of the pool was not disturbed.

2017 Outdoor Living Contractor Wish List

In addition to our homeowner audience, the Outdoor Living by Belgard blog is read by many of Belgard’s industry partners. This week’s blog is a nod to those hardworking professionals who create beautiful outdoor living spaces. With that in mind, we offer season’s greetings to our designers and installers with this year’s favorite picks of gadgets, tools and gift ideas for the Belgard Professional.

VIRTUAL REALITY GOGGLES

VR is no longer just for gameplay, but can be a powerful design and sales tool. With the Belgard Design Studio‘s new Virtual Reality platform, you can immerse a client into the design of their future outdoor living space. Simply slip a smartphone into VR goggles to see a 360-degree view of the design as though standing in the actual future space. Contact your local Belgard rep to learn more about receiving your own Belgard VR goggles.

CONCRETE Cup GRINDER

This handy tool will be integral in turning jobs faster in 2018. Earlier this year, Belgard debuted the revolutionary new Techniseal® DriBond™ Advanced Dry Mudset for laying thin pavers over existing concrete, thus eliminating the need for concrete demolition and removal. A concrete cup grinder will help level and prep the slab for the overlay process, allowing contractors to take advantage of overlay opportunities. The concrete cup grinder can also be used for a host of different hardscape applications and is a versatile tool that all crews should have in their toolbox.

AERIAL VIDEO DRONES

Those who read the Contractor Wish List each year know that we regularly recommend buying an aerial video drone. Well, with good reason. The technology continues to improve and get easier to use, making it a must-have for the savvy designer or installer who wants to showcase their work on a website or social media platform. Each year, PC Magazine does an in-depth report on the best drones of the year. Click here for their 2017 favorites.

BATTERY-OPERATED PAVER PLACER™

Large-format pavers are a tremendously popular trend in contemporary patio design, which can be back-breaking work to install. Pav Mor® offers a full line of paver-placing tools that help to both reduce injuries and speed installation. Many of their models work off of a standard air compressor, but the one shown is this photo is a battery-operated model that can allow the freedom to function far away from an outlet.

WESTON FIRE PIT KIT

There’s an old saying that states, “The cobblers children have no shoes.” Many an outdoor living professional has neglected his or her own backyard to spend time beautifying other people’s homes. But the Weston Stone® Fire Pit Kit is so easy to install, the kids will not only have shoes this year, but will be roasting marshmallows to boot.

Holiday Toddies

If you’re planning an outdoor gathering during the cooler months, it’s always a good idea to have some hot toddy recipes on hand. With the holiday season ahead, we’ve pulled together some special toddy recipes that will not only help keep your guests warm, but will add to the festive atmosphere.

SPIKED PEPPERMINT HOT CHOCOLATE

Photo: Christopher Testani, Prop styling: Kaitlyn Duross, Food Styling: Chris Lanier

Think of this as more of a dessert than a beverage, but with a little peppermint schnapps to add some holiday cheer. Coconut milk adds an extra splurge of indulgence that pairs nicely with the chocolate and mint.

Ingredients
  • 2 (13.5 oz.) cans light coconut milk
  • 2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • dash of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup peppermint schnapps
  • Optional garnish: peppermint sticks and miniature marshmallows
Preparation
  1. Whisk together the first 7 ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat over medium until very warm.
  2. Remove from heat; stir in schnapps.
  3. Garnish with peppermint sticks and marshmallows, if desired.

APPLE-CRANBERRY WASSAIL

Photo: Jennifer Causey, Styling: Missie Neville Crawford, Claire Spollen

For those who like to go a-wassailing, this festive holiday beverage calls for dark rum but works equally well with bourbon. Or, omit the alcohol altogether for a kid-friendly version that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Ingredients
  • 2 quarts apple cider
  • 1 quart cranberry juice cocktail
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 18 whole allspice
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 4 (4-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 3 (1-inch wide) strips orange rind
  • 3 (1-inch wide) strips lemon rind
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons dark rum
PREPARATION
  1. Combine cider, cranberry juice and honey in a 6-quart electric slow cooker.
  2. Place allspice, cloves and cinnamon sticks on a double layer of cheesecloth. Gather edges of cheesecloth together, tie securely, and place in the slow cooker.
  3. Add vanilla bean and citrus rinds; cover and cook on LOW for 5 hours.
  4. Remove sachet, vanilla bean and citrus rinds from the slow cooker; discard. Pour in rum and reduce temperature to WARM. Cover and serve directly from the slow cooker.

LEMON-PEAR TODDY

Photo: Greg Dupree. Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling.

This hot toddy is on the lighter side and comes together in a flash, thanks to the microwave. A little fresh lemon juice adds a bright top note and balances the sweet pear flavor by adding a light tang.

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup pear vodka
  • 1/4 cup brandy or cognac
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional garnish: thinly sliced pear
Preparation
  1. Combine water, sugar and salt in a small microwave-safe bowl; microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes or until boiling. Stir to dissolve sugar and water completely.
  2. Stir in vodka, brandy, juice and vanilla. Garnish glasses with pear slices, if desired. Serve warm.

SMUGGLER’S COFFEE

Photo: Fredrika Stjarne

Or, maybe it should be called Snuggler’s Coffee, since this double-rum beverage is perfect for snuggling by the fire pit. But the addition of cinnamon and orange zest also adds that holiday twist that makes it work equally well for holiday gatherings.

Ingredients (single serving)
  • 1/2 cup hot coffee, strong
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 once gold rum
  • 1 once dark rum
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1 long strip of orange zest
  • Optional garnish: finely grated orange zest, canned sweetened whipped cream, grated Mexican chocolate
preparation
  1. In a heatproof glass, stir the coffee and sugar until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Stir in both rums, and add the cinnamon stick and strip of orange zest.
  3. If desired, garnish with whipped cream, grated Mexican chocolate and grated orange zest.

Images courtesy of Time, Inc.