Do I need a retaining wall?

February 19, 2015

It is the classic case of ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’.

We often get calls from potential clients that think they know exactly what they need in their yard and don’t understand why it would cost so much to design something that they already have figured out. Sometimes that might be the case, but often we can come up with different ideas that may look or function better. A fresh set of eyes with design expertise will look at a space much differently than someone who has been using the space in the same way for many years.

The most common is ‘I need a retaining wall to make my yard level and more usable’. Level does not always mean the space will be more usable. A level yard is a bit like having straight hair… the people that don’t have it want it and vise-versa. Multi-level or tiered spaces are much more interesting than flat spaces and usually give way to more opportunities for multiple garden rooms.

This client like many others called and said ‘I need a retaining wall to make my yard level so that it is more usable’. In this case a retaining wall was not the best solution. We can often create a much more interesting space without that retaining wall. Thankfully the clients trusted us and were very open to other ideas.

So we went to work on designing options for their space without a retaining wall that took advantage of the existing slope. The design created a backyard suited for entertaining that maximized the space of the small yard. What they got was a larger deck for grilling, a dining patio, bubbling rock water feature, and a sunken fire pit patio with built-in seating. All with keeping the back yard dog friendly for their little escape artist… And no retaining wall.

Retaining walls are often not necessary and tend to eat up a large portion of any size budget. Not to say that retaining walls should always be avoided though. In this case we used boulder outcroppings to help retain the areas where we needed it and designed the patio levels to work better with the natural grade. All of which allowed them to focus their budget on including additional elements into their space that they could enjoy, like the water feature.

Need help designing a usable area for your sloped space? Tell us about your project!

~ Kryssie

3 comments... (add a comment)

  1. I like that you mentioned that a level yard doesn’t mean that space will be more usable, and that tiered spaces are often more interesting than flat spaces. My wife and I are in the process of renovating our yard, and we already have a retaining wall that we love. But I can understand what you mean when you talk about usable space. I appreciate your design ideas!

  2. Thanks for explaining when it could be good to get a retaining wall. It’s good to know that a multi-level wall can help you have multiple garden rooms. This sounds like it could also be a fun way to organize different plants or even coordinate them in a visually interesting way.

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