Ultimate Backyard with Built-in Hot Tub - River's Bend

Materials: Lumber; Slate; Gravel; Stone Dust; Landscape Lighting; Pavers; Wall Block; Built-In Grill; Fire Pit; Soil; Seed; Plants; and Mulch.

We already had a view…

The backyard here was already beautiful- constant breeze, view of the river, bass boats flying down the Chickahominy, and wooded spaces on either side. It’s really hard to find a better spot to enjoy the evening!

One Slight Complication

Because the backyard is so wide open, it was actually a bit difficult to settle on a design. Here are the requirements we started with:
  1. Durable, functional, and attractive outdoor shower.
  2. Hot tub with a built-in feel and not awkward.
  3. Gas, stone fire pit
  4. Outdoor kitchen with space for a Big Green Egg
  5. Enough free space for outdoor furniture and dining.
Even though this was a beautiful yard, it did come with a few complications. It sloped a few feet from the house to the end of the future patio area. This whole area consisted of clay and poorly draining soil. Because of the amazing Chickahominy River views, we also didn’t want to plant, landscape, or build anything which would eventually block the view.

Getting Down to the Base-sics

After a few design iterations (which you can see on the left), we ended up with a more modern, rectangular design, and decided to use all Techo Bloc for our hot tub enclosure, seating walls, pavers, and accents. For the space to be large enough and meet our client’s needs, we settled on roughly 510 square feet of paver space.

Soil Soft Spots

We first started on the base construction of the pavers and walls. The property had been cleared in 2017, so lots of stumps, trees, and roots were still rotting below grade. Because of this, we found several soft spots in the soil during our excavation. These had to be removed down to a few feet below base grade, then filled and compacted with stone.

With the soft spots out of the way, we finished our paver base. We compacted the base soil and spread out thick geotextile fabric to separate the soil from our stone. Easy insurance to protect our stone base! As we built out the base; we also installed the first course of Techo Bloc Mini-Creta wall to hold the base in place. Because of the way the grade fell away from the house, we started with about 5″ of stone base and ended up with around 13″ against the back of our wall. As the stone was installed, every couple inches we compact the it with a plate compactor to make sure we built a solid foundation for our construction. We added three sleeves into our stone base. We needed a sleeve for the gas to the fire pit, one for outdoor kitchen, and one for our electrical and landscape lighting on the far side of the patio.

Outdoor Shower Construction

While the base construction was going on, the outdoor shower was also being constructed. The shower needed to be doorless, robust, and visually attractive. This called for a design using louvered walls constructed from treated lumber. The frame was made from 6×6 posts sunk 3’ in the ground and then cemented in place. Definitely hurricane proof!
We attached a new drain line for the shower with an easy access floor for future maintenance and/or drain cleaning. The ground below the shower floor was graveled and covered with a 45 mil EPDM liner. The shower has hot and cold water connected to the home’s plumbing through a frost-proof faucet with a removable shower head. Now the whole shower can be winterized in literally just a couple of minutes.
The louvered panels for the shower were constructed off-site for easy installation. They were built to the exact size between each of the large posts. We were able to attach the walls in one piece, completing this custom outdoor shower!

Ready for the Patio

Back to our patio: the first course of Techo Bloc Mini-Creta wall was installed. We also leveled and installed our 770 pound Techo Bloc Rocka steps. Not an easy feat! But we were now ready to install our pavers: Techo Bloc Eva pavers in Shale Grey. These are an awesome paver with a bit of stone texturing. To accent the pavers, wall, and our Rocka steps, we installed Techo Bloc Antika pavers in Onyx Black around the stairs, exit to the river, and the gas fire pit. The goal was to break up any monotony of the pavers while adding additional texture and color.

Next Up: Hot Tub

Pavers completed we focused on the seating walls and hot tub enclosure. Our client chose and supplied a Hot Springs Grandee Spa. Beautiful hot tub! We needed to recess the hot tub into the grade for easy entry access and use. We also needed to make sure this hot tub didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Per the design, we installed Techo Bloc Mini-Creta walls on three sides of the hot tub to match our seating walls around the patio. We also installed a drain underneath the hot tub to capture any rain or moisture that may collect. Wrapping up the look, we used more (of the very heavy but awesome looking) Rocka steps. We placed these around the base of the wall.

Turnkey Fire Pit

We also tackled the fire pit during the wall construction. Our sleeve for the gas line was run directly under our fire pit area. We used the same Techo Bloc Mini-Creta with pre-formed corners. When we installed our gas fire pit insert, we added an electronic ignitor and a gas valve on the backside of the fire pit. The stainless steel tray was finished off with fire glass. Now, with the turn of a key and a push of the button, our client can have a fire and roast some marshmallows

A Blaze-ing Outdoor Kitchen

Our outdoor kitchen was next up on the checklist. For our grill in the kitchen, our client selected a Blaze LTE 40″ – 5 burner with rear infrared burner. The Blaze grill also came with heat rated halogen backlights for the grilling area and red LEDs to illuminate the control knobs- a handy feature when grilling at dusk or in the evening. In addition to the Blaze grill, we also needed a space for a Big Green Egg. When we laid out the kitchen, we included a lower space just large enough for it to fit.
We used all Techo Bloc Mini-Creta for framework and walls of the grill. We reinforced the area over our door opening with 1″x1″ solid steel to support the grill, block, and span the distance. Because the grill was run from a house-wide liquid propane system, we needed to vent the backside of the outdoor kitchen in case the gas ever leaked. To match the stainless steel on the grill, we used Blaze 40″ door kit. (Always try to match manufacturers to make sure the stainless steel has the same tint and finish and doesn’t clash!) Our electrician also installed an outlet inside the outdoor kitchen to run the grill and landscape lights.
With the outdoor kitchen block and framework now completed, we set our grill into the outdoor kitchen, inserted the door, and finished our vent. Now we started on the finishing touch- the caps. We used Techo Bloc York caps in Onyx Black. We used these on all of the walls, the counter for the outdoor kitchen, the column tops, and around the hot tub enclosure. The Onyx Black color was a perfect contrast to the Shale Grey of the Mini-Creta walls

Lighting Up the Landscaping

As we built and laid out each step of the hardscape, we made sure to run our landscape lighting wire throughout the space. One of our final steps before we glued our caps into place was to attach and wire the LED landscape lights into the transformer. As you can see from the pictures, these accent the space beautifully. We used all low-voltage fixtures run from a single transformer with a WiFi controller. Thanks to this technology, the whole system is controlled directly from our clients phone.

Our “Hidden Garden” Design

At this point, our hardscape was complete. It was time to turn to the landscaping. Because the lot next door will eventually be developed, we needed to consider this in our design. Our client wanted a decent amount of flowers and color throughout the space, in addition to low-maintenance shrubs and plants that won’t require pruning every 4-6 weeks.
We used Little Lime HydrangeasKnock Out RosesRussian SageNepeta Junior WalkerCoral BellsBlack-Eyed Susan, and Miss Huff Lantana for our range of color. We used evergreen Otto Luyken Laurel‘s and Green Mountain Boxwood to hide our flowering plants during the off-season. We used Schipkaensis “Skip” Laurel for screening around the hot tub and a buffer between them and their future neighbors. We wanted the outdoor shower to feel a bit like a destination tucked beside the house, with the landscape eventually hiding most of the shower, so we created a winding pathway using slate stepping stones, added large hydrangeas on either side. We then added low-voltage LED landscape path lights to illuminate the way.

Now for the Clean-Up

We removed all the lawn with a sod cutter before planting. Due to the poor soil mentioned earlier, we had to heavily amend the area with a pure, sifted compost. During this process, we also tilled gypsum and calcitic lime into the soil. After all our planting was completed, we used plenty of Delaware Rock (or grey chalet) to accent the curves and remaining steep transitions in the landscape. Finally, we mulched with a brown dyed, double-shredded hardwood. Any areas that our machines ran over repeatedly, we aerated and seeded.

Final Touches

With this amazing space complete and our job finished, we were able to successfully accomplish all the original goals, plus a few more! Waiting for this landscape to mature will be a true test of patience though! Nuts and bolts: excluding the cost of the Hot Springs Grandee, this project tipped the scales at just over $62,000.

Phase Two?!

After the initial patio was completed, we were invited back two years later to expand the space. We worked with River Pools to install an M35.