Client’s contemporary Westwood Hills home – view from curbside.

This past summer the outdoor living specialists at Heinen Landscape took on a large-scale, full-backyard transformation for a Westwood couple – a longtime client who had engaged Heinen’s services at previous residences. The husband had recently retired from his career as a prominent ER doctor and his wife is an active sculpture artist. The couple had recently acquired an under-construction modern-design masterpiece when the previous owners transferred out of town. The Doctor and his wife completed the home to suit their own design tastes – and they had much to work with: namely, a stunning, four-story tall, contemporary home with multiple decks, balconies, and spectacular views.

With the house complete, the couple wanted to create an outdoor living space to complement the home and make the most of their backyard living space. The couple’s objective for this large-scale project was twofold: to have a place where they could easily entertain a large group of friends and family and, to have a more intimate space where the couple could enjoy their own version of the great outdoors space alone together during relaxing evenings at home.

Heinen had completed landscaping projects at two of the couple’s previous residences and had also landscaped the street-side of this new residence.  They had first-hand experience with Heinen’s landscape expertise and respect for their attention to detail and work ethic and felt Heinen was the perfect choice to design and build their future outdoor entertaining space.

A critical design objective for the Heinen design team was to create an elegant and modern outdoor space that would perfectly complement the couple’s one-of-a-kind contemporary home. An equally important objective was to design a space that worked equally well entertaining large groups – or small gatherings.

A Series of Terraces and a Fire Feature

Blueprints for future outdoor living space.

The Heinen team began by surveying the backyard space. At the high eastern end of the long westward-sloping lot sat the home itself. The back of the home has plenty of glass and multiple upper-level porches. Attached to the back of the home is a large, elevated deck wooden deck. The home is arguably one of the highest points in the Westwood Hills featuring vast western views, offering a vista that stretches for miles over miles of treetops.

Sunsets from the home’s existing decks are quite spectacular. In fact, the client described the late fall view at sunset as “unbelievably serene and peaceful.” And, with finger-like and leafless Autumn tree branches randomly poking through a rainbow-pastel sky, the view is a bit surreal – the client noting “if you squint, you can almost mistake the view as that from a treehouse looking out across the Serengeti!” The not-insignificant challenge then would be to create an outdoor living space with an opposite direction focal point – toward the home – that was just as striking!

The client’s backyard was long, slightly narrow, with a significant slope downward toward the end of the property. Although the slope was certainly helpful in draining rainwater from the property, its steepness did present challenges in planning a navigable space for outdoor entertaining.

Gravel added to freshly excavated terrace pits – stamped down by machine to prevent shifting.

The Heinen team developed a plan featuring two-tiered terraces with pathways and stairways to connect the home to the upper and lower terraces. The slope would be maintained on either side of the terraces, but the yard space for the two terraces would need to be excavated and leveled for guest comfort. The upper terrace would be the larger of the two patios and would be geared toward hosting larger gatherings. The smaller, lower patio terrace was designed to be more of a cozy conversation pit – complete with a custom fire feature and a wrap-around seat-wall.

The seat-wall would prevent surrounding soil from falling into the sunken patio area and, with its smooth horizontal capstone crowning the entire wall perimeter, would conveniently offer more seating capacity near the patio’s fire feature – perfect for cooler fall evenings. Custom downlighting was built into the seat-wall to provide evening ambiance and nighttime safety – and all light fixtures were connected to a central lighting control system, seamlessly allowing the new outdoor space to be enjoyed whether it be day or night.

The Heinen hardscape team building the lower Techo-bloc patio terrace.

For the terraces, walkway, and stairway the Heinen hardscape team recommended utilizing Techo-Bloc manufactured stone slabs. These natural-looking manufactured stone slabs come in a wide variety of colors, tones, and textures, giving homeowners a wide variety of looks to choose from. Another advantage beyond the visual aesthetic of the block is its incredible durability. Whereas flagstone and concrete patios are prone to cracking and chipping over time, Techo-Bloc slabs are much stronger and virtually impervious to freezing weather conditions that may crack natural stone or concrete.

Before the Techo-bloc slabs were cut to size and installed, the Heinen team excavated and leveled sunken pits for the two-tiered patio installations. A gravel base was laid atop the soil and pressure compacted down to prevent shifting, followed by a layer of sand for final leveling, then lined with a weed barrier to prevent rogue plants from sprouting between the blocks.

Next, each Techo-Bloc slab was precisely cut to size with heavy-duty masonry saws and then laid to plan to create a visually interesting pattern – making frequent checks to make sure all blocks were level. Once all the slabs were laid, a layer of sand was spread onto the final patio surface and worked into precise channels between each block. Beyond adding a visual appeal similar to tile grout, the sand-packed channels also serve as expansion and contraction joints to deter cracking from seasonal temperature shifts.

Multi-Use Entertainment Spaces

Elegant Techo-Bloc upper patio terrace for large gatherings with steeping stone border walkway.

The elevated rear wooden deck of the home rises 10 feet above the backyard and has direct stair and pathway access to the two western patio terraces. The larger upper terrace was designed with dinner parties and larger social gatherings in mind. That terrace includes space to expand a large dining table, comfortably seating at least 10 – or it can be broken down into smaller cafe-style seating for tables of 2-4 each. At the western edge of the upper terrace, Techo-Bloc steps guide guests down to the lower patio.

This lower patio terrace was designed to be a cozy, relaxing space with a built-in fire feature and expandable seating to comfortably fit two people or as many as a dozen. The textured sides of the manufactured stone Techo-Bloc bricks give the space a natural, rustic look also but also matched the project’s overall modern aesthetic with similar neutral tones and a smooth top seating surface.

Natural gas fire feature and steps down to the lower patio.

Heinen’s hardscape pros took this lower space to the next level by adding a built-in, natural gas fire feature. The beauty of the fire feature is its ease of use and how low-maintenance it is. By connecting the fire feature to a natural gas line from the house the fire would be instantly ready to glow with a flick of the switch – and the homeowners would never have to worry about replacing empty propane tanks.

The controls for the fire feature are protected from the elements behind a recessed panel below the capstone ledge. For durability and longevity, the Heinen team utilized a stainless steel burner system built to last for years with very little maintenance required.

To seamlessly connect the various spaces, Heinen installed a wide Techo-Bloc stepping stone pathway. By avoiding solid pathways and using natural-looking manufactured stone slabs, the beauty of nature is incorporated into the hardscape elements while creating a walkway that is both visually appealing and highly functional. Also, in using individual stepping stones to connect the spaces in the backyard the contour of the slope could be more easily navigated than an inclined solid walkway or concrete path and, there is less chance of cracking as the ground settles over time.

Adding Natural Aesthetics with Landscaping

With the hardscape elements of the project completed, the Heinen team turned their attention to landscaping and irrigation. Before any planting began, the irrigation pros at Heinen installed a zoned, automated sprinkler system. The automatic underground system was properly zoned for adequate hydration whether irrigating turf areas, shrubs, bushes, trees or other plantings. By designating individual watering zones for different plant types with different hydration needs, the homeowners will never have to worry about over or under-watering their new landscaping.

The tiered patios are surrounded by Catmint plants.

The Heinen team was quite deliberate in plant choices for the space – opting for low-maintenance yet unique greenery to complement the contemporary hardscaping. To outline the patios, and line the walkways Heinen’s planting experts chose Catmint – a low-slung ground cover. These plants are wonderful for accenting hardscapes because of their hearty texture, low profile, full ground coverage, and small, lavender-blue flowers. They’re also easy to care for – requiring only light trimming in the spring with the resilience to last through cold winters.

Heinen’s landscapers also planted short, umbrella-like trees called Lollipop Crabapple and small firs to accent the fence line. The Lollipop Crabapple are well-loved for their natural round shape and dense, fragrant white blossoms that appear in spring. The firs break up the expanse of the fence and add depth to the entire space. The Heinen team also laid a thick carpet of emerald green sod across the entire yard for a completed, well-groomed appearance.

The Secret to Evening Ambiance

To complete the amazing transformation, Heinen installed a choreographed array of outdoor lighting. Since one of the homeowner’s major goals for the space was for effortless entertaining, including an automated lighting system was essential. Internet-enabled smart automation allows for the space to transition smoothly from day to night. Heinen chose the FX Luminaire Light Control System so the homeowners would have easy to operate full control over their outdoor lighting.

For added convenience, all outdoor lights are controlled through a single FX Luminaire lighting hub, installed out of sight of the entertainment area. Lighting can be set on a timer or even set to adjust automatically based on daily and seasonal natural light changes. Another benefit is that the entire lighting system may be controlled from a simple to use phone application.

Pedestal lights reflect light and illuminate the Catmint ground-cover plants below.

No lighting detail was overlooked. Under the ledges of the seat-wall and along the steps to the lower patio, the team installed downward-pointing lights, for ambiance and safety. The pathways and perimeter of the larger patio were illuminated with reflector-topped pedestal lights placed along the row of Catmint ground coverage plants. When the lights turn on at dusk, they give the illusion that the flowering plants below are actually glowing.

Under the strategically placed Lollipop Crabapples, upward projecting lights were focused to illuminate their umbrella-like canopies. With the thicker foliage and shrubs, 45° up-lights were placed for a refined look that outlines the perimeter of the living space. In combination with each other, the variety of outdoor light fixtures give the entire space a warm and inviting feel from dusk well into the night.


A fully transformed, modern entertaining outdoor space.

Homeowners Comments on the Project

When asked for feedback, the homeowner had nothing but praise for the Heinen team and how their work met and even exceeded their highest expectations:

“I had previously worked with Dave and the Heinen team on projects at previous residences, so I was aware of their expertise and professionalism, but their creativity and attention to detail blow me away every time. Dave understood our objectives for the space and gave us great landscape design solutions – like the tiered patios, that was all his idea. He created an incredible space that is perfect for hosting parties or relaxing in peace around the fire with my wife. The whole project couldn’t have come together any better.”

With the backyard living space complete it seemed to be a natural extension of the gorgeous modern home. Several weeks after completion, the homeowners hosted a party in their new outdoor living space. The space worked exactly as planned with the various levels and conversation areas. And as much as they enjoyed the party in their transformed backyard, they reported their evenings for two in the space were just as magical. Noting that nothing beats relaxing on the lower terrace by the fire and admiring the spectacular reflection of the setting sun across the broad windows of their spectacular home.

Call Debbie at Heinen Landscape today at (913) 432-5011 to start planning your own outdoor space transformation!