The challenge Chuck and Judy Reavis faced as they planned a backyard makeover for their Leesburg, Va., home was how to make it stand out in a community where most of the houses look very similar.
"We share the same home style as many of our neighbors, and we all strive to make our property unique and to maximize the limited property sizes, which are approximately one-third of an acre," said Judy Reavis, an interior designer.
As the homeowners began putting together a landscape plan for the backyard, they quickly encountered some challenges. They scrapped the idea of a hot tub because of the overall lack of privacy. But another problem remained; their property is several feet lower than their neighbors'.
"When you stood in our backyard, it felt like the house was really tall and falling down on us," she said. "It just didn't feel right to sit out there at ground level."
Contractors solved the sloping problem by terracing the backyard with retaining walls. The homeowners settled on a two-tiered patio connected by steps. Land & Water Design, the landscape architect, designed a project that fit into the natural sloping site, owner Don Nesmith said.
Ipe wood, an exotic hardwood often used to build decks, was used for a custom grill area on the upper portion of the project nearest the house. It features a privacy screen, outdoor gas fire pit, and a small fish and lily pond below.
On the opposite side of the house, they went for another ipe deck, with custom-built composite planters and a small decorative wall fountain mounted on a cedar privacy screen.
"The sound of the fountain helps diminish the noise of the neighborhood, and provides another area to view and enjoy the backyard," Nesmith said.
For great entertaining, an outdoor pavilion was added, complete with wrapped support columns, audio system, ceiling fan, outdoor lighting and yet another ipe deck floor with stucco retaining walls.
"The deck floor of the pavilion is cantilevered over the lower pond area, to give the illusion the pavilion floor is floating," Nesmith said.
Korfonta Landscape installed the Techo-Bloc paving, fire pit and water feature. Thanh Pham, a master carpenter, built both ipe decks and pavilion. Korfonta handled the landscaping.
Reavis said now, sitting in her backyard is "like sitting by a lake."
"The movement of water and the landscaping has attracted birds and frogs for great entertainment," she said. "The neighbor's children delight in feeding the fish."
The couple also does a lot of entertaining, and thanks to the fire pit the outdoor socializing can last well past summer.
"When everyone else is shutting down in the cooler weather, we light up the fire pit and our enjoyment stretches for months," Reavis said.
Reavis cautioned that undertaking major home renovation projects takes some patience.
"It is loud, dirty, messy and takes a long time, about eight months for everything," she said. "Our yard was torn up forever. But it was worth it."