Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Project Backyard - Take 3

Being impatient, busy, and picky is not a good combination.

In round 2 of our patio/yard planning adventure, we had a very nice and seemingly very knowledgeable landscape designer come and draw a plan and give an estimate.  His plans for fixing drainage in the yard, for the plantings, and even somewhat for the patio itself.  But of course, there’s a catch.

Our yard has a couple of design challenges, and so far neither of the two contractors we’ve talked to have (in my opinion) adequately addressed one of those.  Our breakfast room is in the middle of the back of our house, and bumps back into the yard, with an additional bay-window-shaped bump. The glass door (currently a slider, though I’d like to swap it for a French door) is in the middle of the bay.  The threshold of the sliding door sits about 40” above the grass level.  That’s too high for a simple step or two down to a ground-level patio.  Our current, temporary, wood staircase required 5 steps down to the grass, and juts about 5-feet into the yard (remember that the whole breakfast room already juts into the yard).

In short, because of how our breakfast room sits on the back of the house, the stairs out of it to the yard cut the yard in two.  

The stamped-concrete contractor suggested we have a nicer set of decking steps built.  We could choose composite for the stairs, handrails that were vinyl or pvc (and these days those come in several colors that would coordinate nicely with the house). Great, except that what we end up with, looking down from above, is basically a 6ftx6ft square out of the middle of a section of patio that is approximately 12x12 (there would be another larger section of patio where we could actually put the table and grill). That’s a lot of concrete whose sole purpose seems to be making a focal point out of stairs, since the space around the stairs is too narrow to actually put furniture on.

The garden landscape designer basically suggested the same thing, except that he proposed to build the stairs themselves out of paver stones to match the proposed paver patio. So his 6ftx6ft chunk out of the middle of the 12x12 patio would be solid stone. And his way would leave this strange little 3 foot high by 3 foot wide by 7 foot long crawl tunnel under the bay window itself. (I'm sure the kids would be thrilled, but it's going to look silly from the side)

*sigh* With both guys, I told them that I hate the stairs and that I want something else. I didn’t mean just a different material. I don’t want to spend my money buying stairs and concrete for under the stairs. I want to actually sit there or grill there or have it look pretty. Patio with stairs taking up the middle doesn’t accomplish any of those objectives.

If we stick to the patio idea, the best option for "something else" is to make the patio in two levels. The higher level would be 2-3 steps down from the breakfast room, and would require building-up the space with fill dirt and a retaining wall. It would then step down 1-2 more steps to a lower patio off the side. Stairs would still be required, but would be split up, smaller, nothing quite so huge and dramatic and did-I-mention-huge. But building up a retaining wall and laying a patio on it is even more expensive than building giant stone monolithic stairs, and would trade the crawl-tunnel for a 4-5 foot ledge that the kids can jump off of (see, the door is 40" from ground level, but the yard slopes away from the house).  

On to plan C.  This time, a deck designer. If I’m going to give up a chunk out of the middle of our yard, I want it to be useful. I'm thinking a 12x12 deck off the breakfast room, with stairs off one side down to the patio (rather than toward the middle of the yard, further severing it in two).  The stairs would only need to be 36 or 48 inches wide, not 72, and that 12x12 foot space in the middle of the yard become seating area instead of a shrine to the stairs.

Then we call the garden landscaper back to re-work the stone patio at ground level (about 2/3 of the original patio, with no stairs), plus the rest of the grading, drainage, and trees that he proposed.  I am probably being overly optimistic that this will be the final iteration of our landscape design.

What I would really love at this point is for one of those tv shows to come in and make me a new yard in two days. The whole thing, start-to-finish, concept-to-bbq-party. Every communication with a contractor takes a full week—one week from initial contact to when they show up at your house, another week before you get a quote back, another week before they come back to discuss revising the plan. Maybe it would go faster if I didn’t work every day. But then, we wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for anything.

I should have started in January, and called everyone in the phone book at once. Maybe then we would have  hada nice yard in time for spring.  Because right now, I'm not sure we will get this pulled together before Memorial Day.


Bethany said...

I like your deck idea, but also what about doing a set of stairs to each side of the yard, kind of a semi-circle? Of course this is me saying this without really looking at a photo.

Kathy G said...

I was going to suggest stairs to the side, but it sounds like you've figured that out by yourself!

Isn't being a homeowner wonderful?

Kristi Lea said...

We have two contractors lined up for the estimates for a small deck.

I had considered the dual-stairs option before, or even just a small landing out to sideways stairs. It just ends up looking like a lot of construction with no additional place to sit. (Can I just raise the level of my backyard about 2 feet so I don't have to invest in stairs??)

We'd also kicked around the idea of changing the sliding door into a large picture window and adding a single-sized door off one side of the bump-out (not off the bay itself, but off the rectangle part). That option is probably more expensive, and either direction we go out of the breakfast room, there is an obstacle--on one side, you'd get only about a 3x3 landing before hitting another wall because of the family room fireplace. Going out the opposite wall, you would walk straight into the master bedroom's bay window. We are actually taking the patio toward the master bedroom side, because it's farther from the road (though a nagging part of me wonders if the family-room side of the house would be better simply because the patio would NOT be up against our bedroom window).

As for photos, I'll get there. I should have a snapshot or two somewhere that will be the "before".

But I also would love to find a good (cheap) (easy) modeling tool that would let me visualize it. We bought a software program, ten years ago, before we had the deck built on our old house, but it was clunky and doesn't run on newer versions of Windows. (I think I had trouble convincing the tool that I was allowed to have a two-story house with a walkout basement--that seemed to be too many levels for it to comprehend).

Google Sketchup might work (its free), but it seems to require a bit more study to figure out how to get going (I only get about 5-minute bursts to work on this, not 2-3 hours or more at a time to learn a new software package).