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Backyard Makeovers: No Need to Break the Bank

Transforming a backyard within clients’ budget

 

Project Showcase: This family wanted an entirely new makeover for their mid-1980s backyard pool and surroundings. They had big dreams for this upgrade but initial estimates from other companies were way beyond their budget. To their delight, we were able to offer creative ways to give them all they wanted for a price they could live with.

The key element to stay within budget was to keep the existing pool but upgrade it with all new plumbing, main drain, returns and skimmers, new pool equipment, and a new finish on the pool interior.

The addition of accent boulders along the backside of the updated geometric pool contributed to a warm natural pool setting. In addition, because the backyard was very overgrown and the pool couldn’t be seen from the house, the surroundings had become like two separate backyards. That had to be addressed in order to create a unified backyard retreat that was inviting, particularly when entertaining.

 

To stay within budget, we kept the existing pool but upgraded it with all new plumbing, main drain, returns and skimmers, new pool equipment, and a new finish on the pool interior.

To stay within budget, we kept the existing pool but upgraded it with all new plumbing, main drain, returns and skimmers, new pool equipment, and a new finish on the pool interior.

 

Other than the pool, everything else in the backyard was removed to make room for a new upper patio with a fire pit, hot tub/spa, barbecue, outdoor kitchen and dining area, as well as a new lower patio with custom cabana-pavilion. Connecting it all would be a spectacular multi-faceted backyard water feature.

The homeowners were also delighted that during the construction process we retained and transplanted most of their property’s original mature growth trees. They now have a beautiful pool and wonderful places to entertain, like the cabana, that are set in lush surroundings.

Our outdoor living expert retained and transplanted most of property’s original mature growth trees to create a lush setting for pool and cabana area. Resort-style mood of backyard retreat is at its romantic best at sunset.

Our outdoor living expert retained and transplanted most of property’s original mature growth trees to create a lush setting for pool and cabana area. Resort-style mood of backyard retreat is at its romantic best at sunset.

 

Pavilion floor was created by our outdoor living expert as an extension of pool area's patio pavers, creating one continuous surface.

Pavilion floor was created by our outdoor living expert as an extension of pool area’s patio pavers, creating one continuous surface.

 

 

Tying the whole project together is the backyard’s spectacular water feature which creates a natural look, in an eco-friendly way, while turning needed retaining areas into exquisite settings.

The original property’s sloping backyard needed retaining in several areas. Our team did something called “cut and fill.” This process cut into the hill and used the cut out fill in lower areas to create the level space needed for entertaining.

Fill was also needed around the backside of the pool because of the grade. However, you can’t take loose soil and put it behind a pool. It has to be compacted properly so things don’t shift and move.

At Deck and Patio, we have a terrific way of cutting costs and increasing the aesthetic value by using large moss rock boulders instead of expensive and unattractive retaining walls.

In this case, we integrated these boulders into the staircases that surround the water feature. A machine puts them in rather than needing a skilled mason. And it creates a very natural look. In addition to retaining the grade level of the sloping property, these natural moss rock boulders create the ideal surroundings for streams and waterfalls.

We have a terrific way of cutting costs and increasing the aesthetic value of graded property by using large moss rock boulders instead of expensive and unattractive retaining walls.

We have a terrific way of cutting costs and increasing the aesthetic value of graded property by using large moss rock boulders instead of expensive and unattractive retaining walls.

 

 

Indeed, it is this backyard makeover’s water feature, with multiple falls and streams, that is the heart of the transformation. The waterfall offers 360-degree viewing in the backyard, say the homeowners. They love the soothing sounds of all the water areas.

We installed one side of a waterfall to spill toward the house, just outside their backdoor. It can be enjoyed even during the months when the pool is closed down. From there, this upper-level waterfall gets split into two streams that flow downward along the property grade, into two separate waterfalls that can be enjoyed from the swimming pool area.

Collecting the water at the lower level is a pondless reservoir designed to seemingly disappear into the gravel instead of being collected. The reservoir acts as a ‘green’ maintenance-free source for the water feature that can run from March through December, 24-7. City water is not used. The water is harvested from rainfall on the roof of the house and gravity alone collects it into pipes.

Deck and Patio created the upper-patio source-waterfall to spill away from pool so it can be enjoyed from the house and upper patio including during the months when the pool area is closed down.

Deck and Patio created the upper-patio source-waterfall to spill away from pool so it can be enjoyed from the house and upper patio including during the months when the pool area is closed down.

 

 

For the new custom pavilion-pool house, the homeowners wanted it to be a gathering area around the pool that was protected and private. The finished pool-pavilion includes a shower, and a sitting area where they can watch television or entertain.

Half of the pavilion’s space is for seating and there is an outdoor flat-screen television with a ceiling fan overhead. There is also a two-level bar — one level for sitting at the bar and another set at counter height for cooking and bar-tending.

The finished pool-pavilion includes a shower, and a sitting area with an outdoor flat-screen television where they can watch television or entertain; a ceiling fan is overhead.

The finished pool-pavilion includes a shower, and a sitting area with an outdoor flat-screen television where they can watch television or entertain; a ceiling fan is overhead.

 

Bright delicate impatiens, moss rock boulders and large mature trees beautifully naturalize original geometric pool area.

Bright delicate impatiens, moss rock boulders and large mature trees beautifully naturalize original geometric pool area.

 

How To Choose the Perfect Pond for Your Property

Whether your property is large and expansive — or no bigger than a postage stamp — most yards can accommodate some type of pond. As you’ll see from examples we’re highlighting today, ponds come in many sizes, shapes, and depths, and sometimes these water features may not be classified as ponds at all.

“When it comes to the pond’s location on the property, we recommend locating it where it can be enjoyed from a patio or deck, bedroom, or kitchen,” says Dave Stockwell, owner of Deck and Patio.”

 

Ponds, Decks, and Landscaping

Ponds, Decks, and Landscaping

This deck, for example, was designed with a viewing platform from where the clients can enjoy the pond and the robust landscaping — rich with aquatic and other plantings. Also note that we  installed large stepping stones for walking across the pond to other areas of the water feature.

“However, if the clients are hoping for a more private escape for relaxing and meditating, the ideal spot for a pond may be farther away from the house,” says Dave.

 

Ponds With Additional Waterfalls

Ponds With Additional Waterfalls

In this case (above), the homeowners wanted the best of both worlds: a glorious private pond-escape further away on the property, and an additional waterfall located near the house. Deck and Patio set the extra waterfall at the top of a slope facing the clients’ indoor kitchen.

“From inside their home the family can enjoy the sights and sounds of this waterfall. A stream on its right flows down through five separate cascades into the lower, and more private pond area — a beautiful oasis for stillness and quiet,” says Dave.

 

 

Fitting Ponds Into Tight Spaces

Fitting Ponds Into Tight Spaces

When space is at a premium (and even when it’s not), Deck and Patio can help clients find ways  to creatively add a pond. The above photo showcases a Trex deck with two handsome “platform” staircases; we installed a beautiful micro pond and waterfall in and around the staircases in what was a former planting bed. “Every time they enter or leave the house they enjoy the sounds and sights of a delightful pond,” says Dave.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Aquascape Inc.

Photo courtesy of Aquascape Inc.

 

 

When children are very young, clients often opt for a “pondless” waterfall, in lieu of a pond. With these water features river rock allows flowing water from a waterfall to seep down into the ground where a reservoir captures the water and recirculates it.

 

 

 

 

Natural Playscape with Pond

Natural Playscape with Pond

In the case of these clients, their children were not toddlers. However, they thought them still young enough that some safety precautions should be taken. So Deck and Patio designed/built their city oasis (above) with a temporary 8” shallow pond.

The pond was constructed to “grow” with them. It is actually a deeper pond with boulders that are covered with fabric and gravel which, when they are older, can be removed, exposing a full-sized pond they can stock with koi — offering an entirely different experience for more mature children.

 

Perfectly Placed Pond

Perfectly Placed Pond

Deck and Patio located this pond in view of the home’s back patio and pool area, as well as from the house. Part of what makes a pond spectacular to look at is its landscaping. This requires knowledge of not just soil and sun but how each planting is affected by water and moisture. Here (above) we included Cone flowers, Spirea Anthony Waters and Coreopsis for pops of bright color along with deep green ground cover and tall grasses.

 

“Whatever the size or shape of your yard, there is a perfect pond for your property,” says Dave.

 

 

Backyard Fire Pits: Keeping the Home Fires Burning

 

insert-1In days of yore, when family members had to travel to hunt for food, etc., candles in the windows and village campfires were welcoming signs that led them home. And it’s no different today. Home fires still beckon family and friends to gather round a warm blaze.

Of course, in this millennium we can get a bit more sophisticated with our home fires than our ancestors. Modern fire features are stylish, designed to harmonize with their immediate surroundings.

Choices vary widely: e.g., pre-made fire pit tables, custom fire features that are set-in-stone, easy-to-move portable campfires, cast iron fire pits, and dramatic custom or pre-fabricated fireplaces.

crespi“The size and complexity of any fire feature depends on how you plan to use it, and the amount of outdoor space that requires warmth to extend the outdoor season,” says Bill Renter of Deck and Patio.

“Whatever home fire(s) you decide on, however, we do recommend that the fuel source be propane or gas, rather than wood-burning. Gas/propane features are smoke-free, and they don’t cause sparks and embers to blow around whenever there is a puff of wind.”

In the end, style, size and fuel remain very personal choices — as you will see from the variety of Deck and Patio fire feature projects we’re showcasing today.

HOWEVER! There is one thing all fire features have in common: s’mores frequently are involved. Frankly, if the warm glow of fire features aren’t sufficient to beckon friends and family, warm gooey marshmallows with melting chocolate definitely will.

So enjoy some of our Deck and Patio projects with fire features (below). And because we treasure our readers, we follow these with a s’mores recipe from no one other than Long Island’s own Ina Garten — the Hampton’s Barefoot Contessa. YUM!

 

 

Customized Gas Campfire:

Customized Gas Campfire:

Like many of our clients, these family members are true outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to a beautiful pool with spillover spa and natural-looking waterfalls, the homeowners had room for an expansive patio with several areas designed for different uses. For their inviting seating area, they wanted a gas fire pit surrounded with natural rock that complemented the natural look of their pool’s waterfalls.

 

 

Custom Fire Pits:

Custom Fire Pits:

Throughout this enticing outdoor living area, Deck and Patio emphasized earth’s natural elements such as wood, stone, fire and water. A backyard stream with waterfalls, surrounded by moss rock boulders, moves past a portable hot tub set against a two-level patio with fire pit. The patio was made from Techo-Bloc “Borealis” modular slabs that allowed us to give the patio the rich look of wood flooring. The fire pit was faced with stone for its handsome natural appeal.

 

 

Customized Gas Campfires:

Customized Gas Campfires:

Because of the five different patio levels we created around their pool with cascading waterfalls, a hot waterfall into a new spa, then a spillover from the spa five feet above the main pool, plus diving rock, natural stone was featured throughout the yard. Because the various gathering area, warmth was needed in a variety of places. Again, natural stone was used to make natural gas campfires fit their surroundings.

 

 

Cast Iron Fire Pit:

Cast Iron Fire Pit:

Sometimes clients want to burn wood or coals in their fire pits. This handsome cast iron fire pit warms not only the deck seating area but also those sitting in the hot tub. It fits perfectly with a natural wood deck.

 

 

Custom Outdoor Fireplace:

Custom Outdoor Fireplace:

Sometimes Deck and Patio’s fire pits go a bit larger — and become a whole fireplace. This is because clients occasionally want a stronger architectural statement as well as the fire. Set beside a lovely shingle-roof gazebo/pergola, this fireplace offers warmth in autumn and winter months and creates a perfect ambience.

 

 

Custom Outdoor Wood-burning Fireplace:

Custom Outdoor Wood-burning Fireplace:

At one edge of their patio, a beautiful wood-burning stone fireplace with mantel beautifully harmonizes with the stones surrounding an adjacent pondless waterfall. A blazing fire makes you want to gather round, doesn’t it.

 

 

An Invitation to S’mores:

An Invitation to S’mores:

Especially when the properties are small, Deck and Patio tends to push pools off to one side and leave lawn area for the children to play or just to have some “softscape.” In this case, such planning allowed the homeowners a nice spot for a much-desired outdoor campfire. The campfire we added uses propane stainless steel burner with moss rock boulders around it and outdoor fireplace logs. Note the amusing s’more’s sign the homeowners put behind their campfire.

 

This leads us to the promised Ina Garten recipe for S’mores. Enjoy!

 

S'mores photo: © Ina Garten

S’mores photo: © Ina Garten

Total Time:
10 min
Prep:  5 min
Cook:  5 min

___________

Yield:  1 serving
Level:  Easy

 

Ingredients
1 marshmallow
2 Graham crackers
Milk chocolate with raisin and nut or dark chocolate with raspberry

Directions
Thread a marshmallow onto a stick or skewer and toast it over an open flame. Sandwich the cooked marshmallow with a piece of chocolate between 2 crackers.
2012, © Ina Garten, All Rights Reserved.

Putting the ‘Eco’ in Pond ‘Ecosystems’

Just what constitutes a healthy pond ‘ecosystem’? Basically, such a pond works with Mother Nature to provide food, shelter, and safety to the wildlife around it, while it creates a low-maintenance piece of paradise for nature lovers.

To attract desirable wildlife (frogs, birds, etc.), and even the insects they eat, requires the right circulation system (pumps and plumbing), proper filtration, aquatic plants, and, of course, fish, which are an integral part of it all.

In addition, Deck and Patio’s Outdoor Living Expert, Bill Renter, frequently introduces clients concerned about water conservation to the option of ‘rainwater harvesting’ — a system which collects water from roofs, and other areas of a client’s property, and stores it in an underground tank to be recirculated. These systems are RainXchange Harvesting Systems, produced by Aquascapes Inc., St. Charles, IL which we sell and install.

Brian Helfrich, construction manager at Aquascapes, explains that this reserved tank water never stagnates because it is continuously circulated in the pond via a waterfall, or stream, or pond fountain.

“You don’t have to worry about rainfall shortages,” says Helfrich. “With such a system, City water is never being used. Even during draughts, those with an underground storage tank — stocked with water they may have collected a month ago — can not only keep their water feature fresh and moving, but can use some of the reserve to maintain their lawn, or even a vegetable garden.”

 

Pond Ecosystem:

Pond Ecosystem:

This beautiful award-winning water feature system consists of a stream, waterfalls and pond, and is the perfect spot for letting the day’s cares melt away. Enchanting Echinacea (coneflowers) and magenta Lythrum are some of the plants brightening this pondscape.

 

 

 

Beautiful Pondscape:

Beautiful Pondscape:

Along with waterfalls, stream and pond, for a healthy ecosystem, it is essential to choose the right stones and gravel (which provide the correct ph value for the fish and plants). A beautiful Japanese maple shades the pondscape’s bridge; bright red geraniums add a strong burst of color (bottom right).

 

 

 

Pond Koi:

Pond Koi:

Contrary to popular belief, fish will actually reduce pond maintenance, as they graze on string algae and bottom feed from the pond floor. Plants include bullrush, pink canna lilies, horsetail, and a rose arey hybrid water lily.

 

 

 

Pond and Patios:

Pond and Patios:

Installing a multi-faceted water feature that includes stream, waterfalls and pond, nestled in between multi-level patios, creates a restful and functional backyard oasis.

 

 

 

Pond Wildlife:

Pond Wildlife:

Water is the basis of all successful eco-systems. The second you put in a water feature you attract all kinds of wildlife — birds who want to bathe, frogs, salamanders, and insects that the birds feed on.

 

 

Which Type of Pond Works Best For Your Yard?

We feel pretty much any yard can accommodate a pond water feature. Whether you have an expansive lawn or what you jokingly call a backyard postage-stamp, this type of water feature can range from a modest koi pond to one with a glorious vanishing edge.

So prepare to open up your outdoor chaise lounge, pour yourself something cool, and take in some gentle sounds and beauty along with that cool drink.

 

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As design and build experts, we always advise installing your pond where you can enjoy it from a deck, patio, bedroom, or kitchen. It’s important to note that not just humans appreciate a pond water feature. In addition to the family pooch being endlessly fascinated, birds and butterflies will be attracted. Birds, in particular, love gently moving water.

Just provide a place for them to land, such as rock platforms, or design a shallow end as part of the feature. And by keeping the water circulating, this will also help prevent mosquito larvae from hatching.

 

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We used stepping stones as a way to cross this pond. Stones provide a more natural aged look and create an exhilarating way to go from one spot to another.

In addition to increasing the natural appearance of the pond, stabilizing boulders and creeping plant material helped reduce the need for a costly retaining wall.

 

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A helpful tip: Because ponds do not have too much water action, water lilies are ideal plants. Not only do they produce fragrant flowers that are beautiful to look at, they add shade which helps keep the water temperature down during the heat of summer.

This also reduces algae growth and when koi or other fish are present, water lilies provide great shelter for the fish and help keep the water clear and clean-looking.

 

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We tucked a pond and waterfall into the corner of the driveway for these clients. By adding beautiful creeping ground cover and boulders, even the property’s challenging raised grades were turned into benefits.

Also, by installing enough retaining boulders and plant materials, we coaxed Mother Nature’s own gravity into pumping water naturally into a pond.

 

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Here, we were brought in to create an extraordinary outdoor oasis with several water features. One part of the project was to restore an existing 40-foot koi pond which we did by expanding it and giving it a face lift.

It now includes a waterfall, bridge, moss rock cave, a Savio Pond Skimmer and Aquascape Biofalls. The entire plan includes a vanishing edge pool, restored and expanded koi pond, 3,000 square feet of Techo Bloc tumbled stone patio, two natural gas campfires, and large evergreen trees that flank the left and right side for privacy.

 

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We think ponds can reach their zenith when given a vanishing edge. Although these are more commonly done for pools, if local regulations limit the addition of a pool, a pond might be the answer.

That was the case for this multi-part water feature which captures in its stillness the glorious sunsets over Long Island Sound and appears to connect right out to the Sound. The project includes a stream, waterfalls, and second lower pond. Under the feature’s beauty, an extremely high tech and complex natural biological filtration system is continuously maintaining the feature’s crystal clear water.