Retrofit | Ready to Party!

I am rarely offered a blank slate on which to create an outdoor living space.  Nine out of ten landscape or garden projects I design for my clients involve keeping at least some of the existing elements.   These types of ‘retrofit’ projects have distinct challenges from start to finish.  The trick is to find a way to make it all look like and work as a unified garden space.

In the case of the  almost completed project pictured below, the clients–who are wonderful to work with–had a laundry list of things that they wanted to keep:  mature trees, two sheds, a gazebo, a deck/patio combination, a fire pit area built by the client, and an existing 25 year old vinyl pool with a too small and decrepit paver deck and a retaining wall built of landscape timbers.  My job was to unify all of these disparate elements into one unified party space.  The  pool deck was to be replaced as part of that effort and a spa hot tub added–but not in the pool area.

A color study for the proposed party space
A color study for the proposed party space

My biggest design challenge was to create a logical flow of movement that would allow people to get from each of the existing areas to the others on a complex but not steep slope.   The home was built in a ‘bowl’ and the pool was 3′ up a slope above the patio and the gazebo was above that.  There was space available to enlarge the pool deck.  Three new sets of steps were added to create a seamless flow–to the front of the the gazebo, to the existing wooden deck and to the new and greatly enlarged pool deck.  The new bubbling box (read hot tub) was placed next to the deck allowing for winter use.   A  stone retaining wall was built into the existing slope to enable to pool deck to be enlarged and actually be useful–the old deck was a 3′ strip of brick that didn’t accommodate people or furniture.  No ‘before’ photos–I started the project last January when it was under ice & snow.

Overview existing and new garden elements still to be planted
Overview existing and new garden elements still to be planted

Rather than try to unify all of the somewhat randomly placed geometric structures, I opted for a curvilinear plan that would allow each structure to function within a more natural setting.  The photo above (with newly seeded lawn areas under salt hay) shows the curvaceous layout.

New stone deck allows for entertaining and relaxation by the pool
New stone deck allows for entertaining and relaxation by the pool

Bluestone, granite and sandstone were combined in this project and all are local to my region.  The pool deck was originally going to be aggregate but we couldn’t settle on a style.  Once stone was chosen, the challenge was to find one that worked after all of the other materials had been installed.  The blond sandstone was partially picked because it will be fairly cool on bare feet.

Three stone detail on new steps
Three stone detail on new steps

Another challenge proved to be the surpise that the 25+ year old pool was not aluminum–it was plywood and therefore had to be treated with kidgloves and couldn’t have a new stone coping added to it–the plastic ‘clips’ had to stay.  We scored the concrete deck foundation to allow for future replacement should that become necessary.

Slab steps were added to the gazebo to allow for access to the front.  Previously the only way to access this space was to walk all the way around it.  Steps were also added to the deck on the gazebo side to allow easy service from the grill and kitchen–again previous access was to walk all the way around and up the hill.

Slab steps added to gazebo
Slab steps added to gazebo

The plantings have been added and there are hoses on timers that will remain for a few weeks until they are established.  I’ll take photos of those next summer.  This project was started in April and was supposed to take 6-8 weeks.  It took 16 due to over a month of rain, changes in materials, modifications to the original plan, a couple of small ‘flubs’ and a mason who is an absolute perfectionist and could not, would not work any faster.

It’s now ready to party.

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8 thoughts on “Retrofit | Ready to Party!

  1. Amazing job, Susan! I know only too well how profit is eaten up with projects that take more time than you allow. Hope this wasn’t the case for you! You did a fabulous job giving this huge stone project elegant and naturalized character. It will be beautiful once the plantings are established and nestled in.

  2. Susan,
    It looks great.

    The steps going up to the pool level are very inviting. I love the combo of different stone materials for the pool decking…must have been a huge price difference between that and aggregate. I also like the natural looking, wide steps going up to the gazebo. Nice coordination of materials and I see you spent a lot of time on access and circulation. What a nice project. Looking forward to future pics.

  3. Very interesting to read about the process. It can be harder to design when you must work with so many existing elements, but is often more rewarding as it forces you to stretch yourself. Everything looks lovely. I particularly like the step detail and the choice of curvy pathway.

  4. Thanks for all of the positive feedback here and on Twitter and Facebook. I’m happy that everyone has taken the time to read this. Chloe–I was project manager not contractor here. The issues were between me and the contractor. Susan & Susan–yes challenging and yes the stone added to the price of the pool deck. Shawna–Thanks for visiting–I lurk on your blog a lot.

  5. I’m always amazed at the amount of work that goes into garden design.
    It’s a challenging and difficult profession, and the completed projects that you ultimately achieve are proof positive of your talent and dedication. I know many people who talked about being designers, but the reality quickly put their dreams to rest. So many skills involved…
    Kudos to you, Susan!

  6. Alice and Helen–Thanks for the kind words. It’s nice to have a project so well recieved.

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