Form meets function in landscape steps made from diverse materials.
Image courtesy of Allen Land Design
This Santa Rosa, California home features stone slab steps and patio landings with a stucco wall, curved steel walls and boulders for retaining. The multi-level garden boasts a mixed Mediterranean palette of green-grey foliage, ornamental grasses and lavender and yellow flowers. Tall containers are used with Italian cypress for vertical interest.
Landscape steps aren't just flat stones these days. Wood, rock, concrete, brick, tile, steel and other materials can be used alone or together to create unique porch stairs, hill steps, pathways and more.
If you want steps for a front yard or street-facing area on your property, consider the architectural style of your home when designing stairs or pathways that lead toward your house. Both traditional and contemporary home styles can support eclectic step design, but the key is to choose materials that blend into their surroundings.
If your home is red brick, for instance, you might use bricks or brick pavers to match your home for consistency. For a rustic look or to bring an element of tradition to an angular contemporary home, consider combining brick stairs with a stacked stone border. Likewise, brick borders can dress up concrete steps or sidewalks. Terrace steps – small or large – can be bordered by bricks, railroad ties or landscape timbers and filled in with pea gravel or river pebbles to give a stately home a natural flair.
For steps leading uphill or those that transition through a retaining wall, be sure to use materials that are level and not slippery. While flagstone laid into earth looks great on a flat surface, when used in steps it requires mortar for strength and stability. Landscape timbers and ties make great joints for steps, which can be filled in with poured concrete, gravel, bricks or flat stones laid in mortar.
Concrete stamping is a surefire way to bring visual interest to concrete steps, while stone risers can add visual interest to stairs with concrete or wood treads. Stairs designed with space for under-step lighting add drama to your landscape at nightfall. Scrap metal and repurposed steel beams, when soldered to erase sharp edges, bring industrial chic to the backyard.
Tile can also be a secret weapon in landscape step design. Check with your retailer about tile durability to decide which type is right for your project. Broken tiles can form a mosaic in mortar when built into a step riser. When square tiles are used in stair treads, extra care must be taken to install support materials (such as a layer of concrete) to protect the step from too much weight. Also, be advised that painted tiles are too slippery for treads!
If stone, brick and wood aren't for you, don't underestimate the simplicity of the regular, square or rectangular concrete stepping stones that are available at your local garden center. Amidst a lush landscape of flowers and shrubs, they add clarity and clean edges – which is exactly what you want when trying to find your way!