Front and back makeover

How to maximize outdoor living spaces around your home

Front and back makeover

After: A series of staggered walls lends privacy to a new entry and outdoor dining area; the swath of red barberry echoes the intense reddish brown foliage of the Japanese maple in the entry courtyard, while a low hedge of rosemary along a new wall points the way to the entry. Square-cut flagstone pavers are edged with colored concrete.

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Front and back makeover
Front and back makeover
Front and back makeover


  • Front and back makeover

    The former nondescript front yard was dominated by an asphalt driveway gravel parking area and large trees.

Dining alfresco on the coast usually calls for jackets to stave off the chilly air, especially on shaded patios. That's why John and Libby Alexander located an outdoor dining area in their west-facing front yard ― the sunniest part of their Santa Cruz, California, garden ― and turned their backyard into a space for occasional entertaining.

Before the renovation, a wide asphalt driveway and gravel parking area dominated the front yard of the 1960s house; two large oaks obscured the front door.

In the backyard, a decaying wood deck served as the sole outdoor living space, while several of the coast live oaks beyond the deck were unsound and in danger of falling.

Following an extensive house remodel, landscape architect Michael Bliss designed a contemporary landscape that perfectly complements the home's midcentury modern architecture.

Staggered walls for privacy

The owners' desire for privacy and the house's most prominent architectural detail ― multilevel, tilting rooftops ― inspired the front-yard design.

"I wanted to acknowledge the overlapping roof planes in the landscape," Bliss explains, "so I mimicked their movement with a series of staggered walls." The 6-foot-tall concrete partitions provide shelter for the dining area and help define the front entry without looking imposing. In addition, the partitions create generous planting pockets for burgundy and green foliage plants.

Bliss carried out the staggered theme on the ground as well, designing four connecting, offset terraces that lead to the front door. Blue moor grass ( Sesleria caerulea) grows between the cracks.


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