DESIGN PROCESS: BACKYARD BLISS


Once upon a time, there was a sweet Krisel-designed, Alexander-built 1957 midcentury house in Palm Springs that needed some TLC. It was purchased by a Bay Area couple as their retirement home. The couple had the interior renovation well under control, but the backyard had both clients and the contractor stumped. That's when they called us.


The backyard had lots of potential but several key challenges. Two sides of the property were significantly higher than the house itself, which caused the house to flood during rainstorms. The pool was a large, curvilinear shape that made designing the hardscape layout a bit of a challenge. It should be noted that rectangular pools and straight lines are all the rage these days, and this pool was certainly not that. To make matters more complicated, the pool encroaches very close to the house -- especially to a guesthouse casita that is accessible only from the outside (pictured above.)


The clients had three major goals when they called me:

  • capture the view over the house with a raised BBQ island

  • address the grading issues without creating trip hazards

  • maximize both functional hardscape areas and softscape for their dog, Fiona

First things first: my team set about documenting the entire site. I often find that architect's plans of existing properties do not accurately locate the pool. "Permit sets" created by architects, draftsmen, or engineers are largely focused on the building structure and (understandably) are focused on the details that city inspectors tend to scrutinize. As such, the exact pool placement, existing landscape such as palm trees or citrus trees, and other key features are often drawn inaccurately or left out entirely.


Such was the case here. The permit drawings which had been created (before CKI was hired) had not accurately located the pool and it was incorrect by several feet. My Dream Team caught this error. While the existing permit plans were sufficient for the city, my clients were looking to maximize their backyard space, and so, it was important that we document it accurately, down to the inch.


After my team documented the site and put it into into AutoCAD, I got out my Prismacolor markers and tracing paper, as I often do. Drawing in color really helps me visualize the end result and I love seeing my design come to life with the green of the grass, the blue of the water and the grey of the hardscape. Such a refreshing change from the brown dirt that is our blank canvas!


As I sketched, I realized that the best way to address the grading issues, enhance the "sexy curves" of the pool, and add the sense of lushness the clients were seeking was simple: surround the pool with grass (in this case: water-conscious faux grass.)

The faux grass met our programmatic goals for several reasons:

  • it is permeable and allows for drainage, which concrete does not

  • it is pet-friendly and Fiona-approved!

  • the grass was able to subtly "slope" and ramp, turning the dramatic grade change into a subtle pitch, which is not noticeable or problematic the way it is when walking over concrete

Moreover, I knew that the look of this pool "floating in grass" would be beautiful. When they hired me, the clients had expressed some remorse that the existing pool was not the de rigueur "big rectangle." I chose to turn their frown upside down and highlight this pool as the retro-cool Googie shape that it actually is. I knew the end result would be a pool that would make my clients feel like they had their own five-star resort.


As much as I love a "cocktail napkin sketch," we always document our designs thoroughly and accurately, to make sure that the talented craftsmen can bring it to life. My Dream Team took my Prismacolor design on tracing paper and created construction drawings in AutoCAD, documenting everything in great detail. It is sometimes said that "the devil is in the details," but I don't believe in the devil. The details can make or break a project, to be sure. But I prefer to think that God is in the details, and as such, we pay great attention to them.

Then, the team at Shields Residential construction brought our vision to life.


In addition to the faux grass, I designed a series of sumptuous steps that that lead to a viewing platform and sundeck behind the pool, which allows for unobstructed western views. Whereas before the grading issues had been an issue, creating oversize steps leading to a destination -- like a sundeck with views -- turned a negative into a positive.

After the concrete was poured, we brought in the faux grass.

Next, we added the finishing touches of umbrellas and furniture that complete the space.


We even planned a sizable amount of real grass, left of the BBQ island, for Fiona.

Hello, Gorgeous!

The clients also asked us to help with the front yard.


Our goals:

  • add curb appeal

  • create an entertaining space that takes full advantage of the mountain views


As you can see below it needed some help!

The CKI Dream Team again put pen to paper and created a design that met the clients' needs and requests. We designed a perimeter block wall, complete with midcentury breeze bock, and a fire feature. The block wall added midcentury-modern curb appeal while carving out private, usable space.


We created a proper entry procession of concrete pads leading to the front door and designed the landscape plantings. We also selected the house paint colors.