Transform a Yard with These Genius Hardscaping Ideas

Smart hardscape design carves multiple zones and functions out of a Bay Area backyard

Mike Irvine
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Romancing the Stone

When Renée DuPree (right) moved into her modern Oakland bungalow in the fall of 2016, the 1,700-square-foot garden was nothing special. Later that season, she decided it was time for a remodel. A friend recommended Beth Mullins, the owner of San Francisco’s Growsgreen Landscape Design and a specialist in hardscape, which is “basically anything that isn’t planted or movable,” explains Mullins. “You can design different areas or rooms in the garden that fit together like a puzzle.”
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Makeover Vision

So Mullins started creating vignettes—irresistible moments that draw you into the landscape 
and encourage you to explore, whether with a glass of wine after work or a cup of coffee on a clear morning. “I like setting up sightlines,” says Mullins, who also styled the space with containers, furniture, and textiles. “No matter what corner you’re in, there’s something interesting to look at and move toward.” In DuPree’s landscape, that means several seating areas—including one around a Corten steel fire bowl and another by a concrete planter doubling as a coffee table—that call out for relaxation or a gathering of friends and family. Right after the three-month-long project was completed, DuPree hosted 
a joint 40th-birthday party for herself and a friend with more than 35 guests. They threw open the doors to the yard, encouraging visitors to enjoy drinks under the trellis, snack on appetizers while admiring the olive trees, and chat around the firepit. “Almost everyone ended up in the garden,” says DuPree—just as she had originally hoped.
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Hardscape Design Elements

Create lines of sight that pique curiosity and encourage wandering to other sections of the garden. From the seating area, an overhead trellis and a dining table beckon, as do two wooden benches and a sunken patio.

Use gravel light on color to open up a smaller space. “It makes the garden feel larger,” says Mullins. Here, she used a neutral salt-and-pepper rock.

Lay concrete pavers to create
 a landing pad for some R&R. Varying lengths and asymmetrical placement add a sculptural element that breaks up the gravel.

Think outside the box--using 
a gravel sack to shape it, Mullins made a custom, hand-poured concrete planter that doubles as a coffee table.

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Drop into Fragrance

Cedar steps lead to an aromatic seating area with nearby lemongrass and licorice-scented Agastache rupestris—a delicious tea plant with orange blossoms.
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Close Quarters

Mullins recommends a narrow table for outdoor dining, so she brought in this vintage find from the Bay Area’s Elsie Green (elsiegreen.com). “It keeps things intimate,” she says, plus it makes passing plates easier. CB2’s Victory Pendant Lights ($199; cb2.com), rustproof with a light industrial feel, encourage post-dinner chats well into the night. Mullins also installed inconspicuous outlets, so DuPree could work on her laptop without running out of juice.
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Opening Up

Mullins upgraded the deck off the kitchen by switching out the orange wooden sides and railings with a wire grid. The result is less constricted and allows more light and air to come through. “It’s a section that’s just for me,” says DuPree. “It’s where I drink tea, read the paper, and grow potted kitchen herbs.”

DuPree’s other go-to spot is the concrete bench next to Paloform’s Bol Corten Fire Bowl (from $2,200; shopboxhill.com). “It gets good sun, and in the evening it’s a great place to have a glass of wine,” she says. She hosts her ladies’ wine club here and often harvests from the bushy hedge of lemongrass.