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Always Start With The Hardscape – The Design Process

Tackling Size and Site –

We’ve all seen those HGTV shows on how to spruce up your backyard, and even better yet – how to do it with a few friends in a weekend or less!  While that may be the case for some of us, others more likely have more ambitious of plans or intend to do a little more than just mulch some existing beds. When it comes to a backyard landscape installation or renovation, there are many things to consider.  For the purposes of this article, we focus on why it is important to think about the hardscape design first.

Most backyard plans are designed because homeowners want to increase not only the beauty of the yard but wish to increase the functionality of it. They want to add elements like paver patios, walkways or garden paths, water features, dry creek beds, outdoor kitchens, fire pits or fireplaces, pergolas or pavilions, or seating areas. In our experience, purpose and functionality are the primary motivating factors for updating one’s back yard.  During the client interview with Elegant Estates, we explain that the hardscape is the backbone of the design.  It is there to serve a purpose.  Therefore, it is designed accordingly.   When that is reasoned out, everything else is worked around the hardscape and serves to enhance it.

Define the purpose and scope of the space –

You will want to take some time to consider how your space will be used in order to determine how large it will need to be.  Many times we get called for a project and we find that the homeowner wants to install a 15′ x 15′ patio and they want to install a patio table and chairs on it.  They mention that it is only going to be for our family of 5.  After discussing the scale of the project with them, they quickly realize that in order to accommodate the furniture, there is little to no space left to walk on the patio when the family is seated. Proper planning at this stage can save you thousands of dollars being misspent.

backyard patio area

This patio was designed with multiple levels serving many functions. One area for casual seating, and one for fire feature entertaining and dining. By designing landings, the surface grade was addressed and transitions from the door to the patios were comfortable.


Asking yourself the following questions will get you well on your way to a functional space –

  1. Who will be using our space? (Family, friends, or both?)
  2. How will we use this space? (Daily family gatherings, weekend block parties, occasional dinner parties?)
  3. How will our space be furnished? (The more furniture that you plan to use, the larger your space needs to be)
  4. Do we want to have a grill on the patio area?
  5. Do we want to have a fire pit or fire table?
  6. Do we want to have extra space for people to stand and mingle, or do they have to be seated to enjoy the space?
  7. Think about flow – Have I accounted for enough space for flow of foot traffic to and from, or through the patio?

Identifying water issues –

I am shocked by the number of clients who indicate that we are the first to ask about what the water is doing on their site.  Since water can be public enemy #1 to a successful paver installation, it is a valid question. It used to be that if there were water issues that could not be rectified, then a concrete paver installation would not be possible. Fortunately, now we have access to what is referred to as a permeable paver that allows water to run through it and not over it.  Essentially, you can create a large french drain with a paver as the surface.  See the installation diagram below from our Techo-Bloc product vendor which shows a cross section of how we install these systems.

permeable paver detail

For example, in the early days of permeable pavers, we had a client call to have a walkway replaced.  We found that the grade would not allow for a standard concrete paver to be installed since there is nowhere to run the surface water off of the walkway.  This would lead to premature failure of the paver system.  Rather than declining the job, we were able to offer a permeable paver option as the solution to the hardscape design.  Not only did it look great when we installed it, but we were also able to reduce the water infiltration that the client was getting through that side of the basement. We are discovering this more than ever as we get calls for paver restoration.  Simply put, the pavers were installed in an area where drainage was not feasible, or just not done at all.

courtyard design

Permeable pavement installed that handles 100% of the water between the two building structures – Water is then piped to a nearby stormwater drain

How do I know if I have water that should be addressed?

But how do you know if you should be concerned about water on your site?  We recommend asking yourself a few simple questions about your site below before attempting your hardscape design.  If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, then you, or your contractor, need to deal with the water issue first through the design process.

  1. Do you have mold or moss in areas where you plan to pave?
  2. Do you have a damp or wet basement?
  3. Do you have gutters?
  4. If you do have gutters, where do they run to?
  5. Look at the slope of the land – does it look like water from the surface would run off towards your project area?

The bottom line is this – NO pavement project should be installed without first considering how water will impact the area.  Here are a few of our projects that we have installed where we show what is going on UNDER the ground versus what you see as a finished product.


Other hardscape design considerations –

While we briefly laid out a couple of starting points to consider when designing your hardscape area, there are many more things that will need to be factored in during the process. Other factors can include paver type, paver scale, borders, inlays, steps versus stoops, lighting the hardscape, utility piping, adding water features and landscaping. We will get more in detail regarding those in future posts.

To learn more about our hardscape design service, click here.


Looking for a free estimate? Call us to set up an appointment at 607-533-3699.