Hardscaping: What You Should Know

Learn about the most important aspects of hardscaping for your outdoor living project.
Backyard Flagstone Spa

Backyard Flagstone Spa

By: Sean McEvoy

Hardscaping refers to paved or stone walkways, patios and other "hard" surfaces or objects incorporated into a yard's landscaping. Fences, lawn ornaments and rocks can also sometimes be referred to as hardscaping.

Hardscaping can greatly improve the appearance and overall appeal of an outdoor living space by creating a transition between a home's interior and exterior. Paths, walkways and patios are areas where you should pay particular attention in creating a design that's seamless and aesthetically pleasing.

Hardscape Ideas

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Embrace Your Home's Style

For her own front yard, designer Margie Grace of Grace Design Associates Inc. matched the hardscape to her home's architectural syle for a cozy cottage garden. To keep the yard low maintenance she laid a large patio using Arizona flagstones, then filled the rest of the space with lush flower beds. A reclaimed concrete bowl is transformed into a water feature that brings the sound of rain to the garden.

Use Your Imagination

An outdoor getaway is the perfect place to flex your creativity. Designer Matt Partridge of Juergen Partridge Limited suggests thinking of a place that inspires you — maybe a luxury resort you stayed at on your honeymoon or even just a photo you saw online or in a magazine — decide which elements you like best and incorporate those into your design. For this backyard, Patridge designed it to resemble a Caribbean resort. Separate destinations, from the pavilions to the pool, provide many features for the family to enjoy.

Add Ambience

A fireplace takes an outdoor living space from typical to luxurious. It's the perfect gathering spot for adults and kids, whether they're cozying up on a cool evening or roasting marshmallows. Designer Heather Lashbrook Jones of a Blade of Grass Landscape Design uses American and Corinthian granite to create this custom fireplace.

Create Go-To Destinations

Designed by Scott Cohen of The Green Scene this backyard has an oasis-like feel. Located below the infinity edge pool is a lounge-like seating area, which can only be reached by walking over the concrete stepping pads. Water spills over the stacked stone wall creating the sound of rain sticks.

Leisurely Walk Through

This sunken garden is designed in a formal style with stucco perimeter walls in quadrants. Because the garden's grade drops three steps, proper drainage is a must. Designer Margie Grace of Grace Design Associates Inc. added a runnel down the stairs leading to a one-of-a-kind water feature she created from a big copper syrup kettle. "In every space, add something to make people want to linger," recommends Grace.

Work With the Natural Setting

Make the most of your outdoor space by working with the surroundings. The lines of this garden and structures are geometric closer to the house and become wavy and organic as the cultivated areas blend into the natural forest. Design by Juergen Partridge Limited

Don't Compete With Surroundings

Arches covered in creeping fig vines lead to the back entry of this elegant home. A neutral stone patio provides timeless flooring without distracting from the beautiful architectural details of the walkway. Design by Thompson Custom Homes

Have Some Fun

Stone crowns atop columns lead the way to a giant chess board made of prefab 2x2 concrete squares with exposed pebbles. Taking inspiration from Alice in Wonderland, designer Margie Grace of Grace Design Associates. Inc., has red roses on one side and white roses on the other. Fourth of July roses, which are speckled and look like they're being painted for the Queen, are in pots behind the benches. "If it's your fantasy, just go there," says Grace. "Don't do it by halves."

Rethink the Space

When designing for the outdoors, designer Matt Partridge of Juergen Partridge Limited says, "Be objective. Look at your current space as if you have never been there before and think what would I do to make this better?" For this casual entryway, he incorporates an integrated seating wall, which maximizes the use of the space without furniture.

Think About the Journey

Crossing over water is an enjoyable experience, so designer Scott Cohen of The Green Scene uses a concrete bridge to link one patio to another. "An important part of hardscaping and landscape design is determining how one will walk through the space," says Cohen.

Take a Seat

Not only do this patio's low walls act as room dividers, they're also just the right height to be used as extra seating when entertaining. A bluestone cap tops the fieldstone walls for a smooth, comfortable surface. Design by a Blade of Grass Landscape Design

Switch It Up

Designer Scott Cohen of The Green Scene varies the flooring materials of this backyard patio to add visual interest as well as to help create separate outdoor rooms. The covered seating area features Sweetwater flagstone, while stone-textured concrete is used in the lounging area beside the pool's Baja shelf.

Plan for the Elements

Brick is used throughout the flooring and walls to create a cohesive design in this outdoor living area. One of designer Brian Thompson's top tips for designing outdoor spaces is to know where the sunrise and sunset happen, as well as which direction is the historic prevailing breeze. "In Houston most of the year, our prevailing wind comes from the coast out of the southeast, so we try to always make sure we take advantage of the southeast exposure," says Thompson.

Use Hardscaping to Define

Even minimal hardscaping can be used to define an area. For this brownstone garden, a bluestone border delineates the formal lawn, which serves as a transition space within the landscape. Design by a Blade of Grass Landscape Design

Find the Right Material

Consider your home's style when selecting exterior materials; for instance, the classic hardscape — brick — lends a traditional look to any home. To tie the flooring and ceiling together, brick is also used in the archways and above the windows. Design by Thompson Custom Homes

Mix Stonework

A combination of different stones gives this outdoor space a customized and visually interesting look. Stacked New England fieldstone is used throughout the backyard to create seating walls on the patio and retaining walls that terrace the yard. Antique cobblestone divides the bluestone patio to create a separate dining room and conversation area in front of the fireplace, and reclaimed granite is used to make the steps and pillars. Design by a Blade of Grass Landscape Design

Create a Secret Garden

Tucked into the corner of this backyard is a quiet spot for morning coffee or a friendly chat. A pebble pathway leads to the hideaway, and various stone slabs are placed together to form the patio. Design by Juergen Partridge Limited

One-of-a-Kind Touches

Custom pieces take your outdoor space to the next level. Designer Scott Cohen of The Green Scene found a craftsman in Mexico that follows the Old World technique of hand carving stonework, and he commissioned four fire torches to display on the pergola's columns. Cohen says he loves to use fire in hardscapes since it creates lighting and a relaxed resort-style ambience.

Make It Work

One of the most important things to do when creating your outdoor space according to designer Margie Grace of Grace Design Associates Inc. is to select things that work. "Choose plants that will thrive where you intend to put them and materials that will resist the elements. Even if you love it now, if it's a battle to maintain, you will come to dislike it intensely," says Grace.

Extend Your Living Area

Before stepping down into the backyard, the homeowners first walk out onto a curved patio, which acts as an extension of the living room. Sofas mimic the shape of the patio and provide a cozy spot to gather under the pergola. To tie the patio up to the pergola, stacked stones create the lower half of the columns, and Sweetwater flagstone is used to veneer the patio. Design by The Green Scene

Hardscaping can serve many functions other than simple beautification, as well. It can provide privacy in the form of fencing, shade and shelter via overhangs or structures like gazebos; it can also provide topographical organization in the form of retaining walls.

Hardscaping also naturally reduces the amount of exposed lawn in an outdoor space, which will appeal to anyone who's "mower averse."

Whether your hardscaping is intended for purely aesthetic purposes or also to configure and organize your outdoor living space, you're sure to find a more pleasing, proportional and easy-to-maintain space once it's installed.

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