Scene Changer: Scottsdale Family Renovates Backyard into Outdoor Oasis
A contemporary face lift turns a basic backyard into a stylish and family-friendly outdoor living paradise.
By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Michael Woodall
aster-planned communities are big draws for parents raising children. They usually offer a variety of recreational facilities, bring people with the same interests together, and make it easy to meet other families. For Lisa and Alan McIntosh, finding a home in one such Scottsdale neighborhood for themselves and their two kids offered the added benefit of being right next to the McDowell Mountain Preserve. “We see all sorts of wildlife, from bobcats and the occasional mule deer to javelina and all kinds of birds,” Lisa says.
When the family moved into their home, their long, narrow backyard, which is situated below the preserve, consisted of a putting green, a grassy area with a bike path and a barbecue bar. To make it more to their liking, they added a pool with a large boulder waterfall, pavers and plenty of plants.
“The yard seemed disconnected and not very integrated,” Lisa recalls. “We had a large retaining wall we were trying to hide with tall-growing plants and boulders, but it started to look overgrown and congested. There are a lot of windows in our home, and having a pretty view of the yard was important.”
When the McIntoshes contacted swimming pool and landscape designer Kirk Bianchi, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, it was in regard to a number of issues. “It all started because we had a large tree with roots that were pushing the elevated barbecue area up,” Alan notes. “We knew this was a potential hazard with the underground gas pipes, and we needed to remove and rebuild that space. This opened the discussion to look at all the changes we wanted.”
For Bianchi, it was clear what needed to be addressed first: an unattractive retaining wall he called “the elephant in the room.” He explains, “The yard was burdened by a typical pool with a water feature that was heaped higher with boulders, trying to hide the towering wall behind it.” Wanting a clean, well-manicured look and a landscape with better functionality and flow, the couple agreed with him to strip the entire yard, leaving only the pool shell and starting anew.
Working with landscape designer Morgan Holt, also a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, they first painted the baked potato-color wall a darker shade of earthy brown. “This enabled the wall to visually recede,” Bianchi points out. Because the existing retaining wall had been poorly sealed, unsightly efflorescence was appearing. The solution was to float vivid panels of rusted steel in front of the wall.
Then came four statement-making arbors positioned along the perimeter of the backyard that were designed to pull the eye away from the wall, notes Bianchi. Set on columns clad in native stone gathered from the adjacent mountainside and accented with copper detailing, the arbors appear to be floating in the landscape. “The idea was to distract the eye from the wall, solving what the boulder waterfall could never do.”
The existing spa was removed and a new overflow spa was built into the side of the replastered pool. Covered in turquoise glass tile, the vibrant water feature sits directly in eyesight of those entering the home. “It became the yard’s focal point and created a stately first impression from the front door,” Bianchi remarks. “This teaser was just a glimpse of what could not yet be seen, serving as an invitation to explore and enjoy as the yard unfolds.”
A full-service kitchen designed by Bianchi and installed by Holt features a bar, the shape of which echoes the curvaceous lines of the swimming pool and planter walls added on the property. “We put the bar side toward the house as a serving counter to hide the appliances and host guest seating,” Bianchi says. A shade cover floats over the cooking space via beams anchored to a wall behind. Constructed of steel beams that were engineered to cantilever, they use only the arbors for support. Finally, to lessen the heat of the sun, a fabric shade was attached to its top, allowing for a soft glow of light to filter in.
Around the pool and spa, decorative pebble detailing not only helps create a transition between hardscape elements, but also hides drainage elements. New travertine pavers were laid throughout the yard, and banco seating and a concrete fire pit were installed for entertaining. Holt then selected the new plantscape, keeping with a low-maintenance but visually appealing desert palette. Twisted myrtles and mesquites add height; bells of fire and orange jubilees provide color; and agaves, golden barrels and totem poles offer structure.
The homeowners say the yard is much more functional, spacious and beautiful to look at. “Given the complexity of our yard, we needed an experienced designer with a vision who could see all the potential,” Alan states. “We needed someone who was meticulous and brought high-quality detail into every aspect of the project. We knew that Kirk and Morgan were a great team and could bring all those qualities to our landscape. We love everything about this yard.”
- Landscape and pool designer: Kirk Bianchi, Bianchi Design, Phoenix, bianchidesign.com
- Landscape and hardscape installation: Morgan Holt, Phoenix, email@example.com
- Stone walls (DC Ranch Cobble): Anasazi Stone, Scottsdale, anasazistone.com
- Spa glass tile: hirschglasscorp.com
- Pool pebble sheen (Seafoam Green) and SVR marine waterline tile: National Pool Tile, Tempe, nptpool.com
- Pots: stoneyardinc.com
- Patio furniture (Summer Classics): All American Outdoor Furniture, Scottsdale, allamericanoutdoorliving.com