Backyard Retreat in Toano

Materials: Stone; Gravel; Pond Equipment; Landscape Lighting; Drainage Parts; and Mulch.

Creating a Unique Contemporary Backyard

Our clients had very specific goals when they approached us to design and build their backyard patio area. Their number one priority was wanting a design that felt unique compared to other backyard patios we had completed. After doing some traveling, the wife fell in love with the contemporary backyard designs she saw in Southern California. She wanted to capture that same look and feel, with some angular lines and modern elements, for her own backyard in a way that made sense for their home.
Beyond having a contemporary design unlike other backyard patios in the neighborhood, the clients also emphasized wanting to maximize the usable space since they love entertaining. With a young and energetic kid, having room for him to play while also accommodating seating areas for adults was important. We kept all of the clients’ goals and priorities, like maximizing space and incorporating a contemporary design, in mind as we brought their Southern California-inspired vision to life in a cohesive backyard design.

California Inspiration

The Southern California aesthetic often utilizes drought-tolerant native plants and a color palette with neutral tones of grey, black and beige. This provides an earthy, relaxed vibe even in urban settings. The overall goal is to blur the lines between indoors and outdoors with large swaths of horizontal hardscaping balanced out by vertical landscaping accents. The question is, can we bring the California vibes to the east coast of Virginia?

Asymmetrical Layout

When designing the layout, we decided to move away from a traditional square patio and go for something more contemporary.
To achieve the contemporary look, we incorporated angular shapes and asymmetrical elements throughout the design. Rather than one large rectangular patio, we opted for two square patios connected by stepping stones. The squares create a more angular feel, while the asymmetry between the two patio spaces and stepping stones adds visual interest.
This contemporary layout diverges from the typical symmetrical backyard patio. I had to convince the homeowner to embrace asymmetry and avoid matching everything on both sides. Symmetry looks great but leaves no room for imperfection. If any minor details are off, it stands out glaringly. By intentionally creating an asymmetrical layout, there is flexibility for items like pots, chairs, and grills to be placed freely without throwing off the design.

Patio Design

The clients wanted a contemporary backyard design with angular shapes, so we suggested using 440 square feet of Techo Bloc BluGrande pavers in the color shale grey to achieve that modern aesthetic. 

We used an open grade base and woven fabric underneath the pavers for proper drainage and prevention of settling. For the joint material, we went with nitro sand which gives a nice, clean finished look.

The large BluGrande pavers provide a sleek, modern, and clean look. Their color palette ranges from soft neutrals to bold onyx black, so shale grey was an ideal choice to complement the contemporary style the clients were seeking.

With the total square footage of the patio areas combined, there was plenty of space for seating areas, a fire pit, and pathways throughout the backyard. The BluGrande pavers enabled us to create a cohesive, seamless design that unified the separate patio sections beautifully.

Stepping Stones

The stepping stones connected the two patio areas, providing a seamless flow across the backyard. We used 2 Techo Bloc BluGrande stones for each pathway, locking them in place with the snap edge system.
Each stepping stone pathway consisted of:
The BluGrande pavers matched the same style and color used on the patio areas, creating a cohesive look. The modular nature of the Techo Bloc system allowed us to precisely fit the stepping stones in between the patios.
We compacted the aggregate base thoroughly before installing the pavers. The snap edge connectors between each paver ensured the stepping stones stayed locked in place and created a safe, wobble-free walking surface. In the end, the stepping stones tied the whole backyard landscape together, letting the clients easily traverse from one patio area to the other.

Seating Wall

The seating wall was built 18 inches tall, retaining and stabilizing the hillside grade. We used Techo Bloc Graphix pavers in a mix of greyed nickel and onyx colors to construct the wall. The client loved how the two-tone look added visual interest.

Behind the wall, we installed 12-15 inches of #57 gravel to facilitate drainage. Perforated drain tile was embedded in the gravel and diverts water away from the seating area. Proper drainage prevents buildup of hydrostatic pressure behind the wall, ensuring long-term stability.

The angled shape of the wall matches the contemporary style the clients wanted. It provides informal seating integrated with the landscape, rather than looking like an add-on. The wall becomes an extension of the hillside, while adding a nice modern vibe to the space.

Fire Pit

Our clients wanted an inviting fire pit area to enjoy with friends and family. We built a 4×4 fire pit out of Techo Bloc Graphix pavers in the sleek color onyx. 

For the fire pit insert, we chose the Breeo Zentro model which has a modern square shape to match the contemporary style our clients were looking for. The Zentro has durable stainless steel construction and comes with a vented lid that allows airflow when closed while also hiding ashes and acting as a spark arrestor.

The 4×4 size provides enough room for multiple people to enjoy the warmth and ambiance of the gas fire, while still being an intimate setting for conversation. The onyx pavers create a refined look and their darker color helps the flames stand out.
Overall, the fire pit area we created is an ideal gathering spot that adds beauty and functionality to our clients’ backyard. The contemporary style matches their vision for a unique Southern California vibe with clean lines and simplicity.


We selected a mix of plants, boulders, and mulch to give the backyard a relaxed Southern California vibe that the homeowners were looking for.
For plants, we included:
To add interest, we brought in 3 boulders each 24-30 inches tall and strategically placed them in planting beds. The boulders give a natural feel and tie into the contemporary vibe.
For mulch, we used 4 yards of dyed shredded hardwood mulch in a dark brown color. The mulch provides a clean uniform look and was treated with a pre-emergent herbicide to reduce weeds.
To give separation between the mulch and gravel areas, we installed aluminum landscape edging. This provides a crisp defined edge.
The plants, boulders, gravel, edging and mulch come together to create an integrated landscape that gives the homeowners the Southern California look they envisioned for their backyard.

Drainage & Lighting

Proper drainage and lighting were critical components of this backyard oasis transformation. To manage water runoff, we installed a perforated drain pipe behind the seating wall. This helps prevent water buildup behind the wall structure.
For lighting, we utilized low voltage fixtures to create an ambient atmosphere in the evening hours. Path lights were installed along the stepping stones, illuminating the way from the patio to the fire pit area. We also installed recessed lighting in the seating wall and accent lighting in the plant beds. The low voltage system provides safety and convenience while minimizing light pollution.
Strategically placed lighting transforms the space both day and night. During the day, the fire pit area has a contemporary vibe. When the lights come on, it takes on a relaxed, resort-like feel. This lighting amplifies the California desert oasis design our clients were looking for. Proper drainage and lighting work together to create an outdoor living space that can be enjoyed any time of day or night.

Timeframe & Cost

From start to finish, we completed this incredible project in just about a week. Yes, you read that right, in less than the time it takes to binge-watch your favorite TV series, we turned this clients dreams into a breathtaking reality. With a timeline of around 7 days, we transformed their vision into a stunning oasis, and the total investment came to approximately $37,000. It may sound like a big number at first, but when you see the amazing results, you’ll realize it’s a small price to pay for the beauty and functionality that a new outdoor space brings.


This contemporary backyard project turned out beautifully for the clients and achieved the Southern California vibe they were hoping for. The angular pavers combined with the textured seating wall and custom fire pit gave this space a modern look unique from other landscapes in the neighborhood.
The clients were thrilled with how all the details came together. The stepping stones weaving through the yard lead the eye through the various spaces, from patios to seating areas to the fire pit. The diverse plantings added greenery and color that worked nicely against the grey pavers and wall. And the lighting tied everything together, keeping the space functional and illuminated at night.
Most importantly, the clients felt we truly listened to their vision and brought their dream backyard to life. Our team enjoyed collaborating with them to create a personalized outdoor living space they can enjoy for years to come. We’re proud to have exceeded the clients’ expectations and delivered a backyard oasis with a one-of-a-kind style.