Creating an Outdoor Space: From Start to Finish

Posted by Joseph Hanauer, ASLA & Abbigail Friday on Aug 6, 2018 4:07:00 PM

Last January I received a call from a potential customer requesting a new patio. As we met, he started describing an amazing outdoor space his friend has. He didn’t want anything as elaborate but he would like a built-in grill, a fire pit and a screened in gazebo to escape the mosquitos. What I thought to be a simple patio became a very special and fun project that has turned into one of my career favorites.  My customer has gained an outdoor space they will enjoy for many years.

tomato view

The project flowed as most do. I measured the property doing a complete site analysis. Then, I developed a contour plan showing all the existing grading information. Through this it became apparent that although the yard was large, 2+ acres, the area I had to work with was cut off by a swale that drained water around the house. Once you crossed the swale, there was a hill that climbed a seven or so feet before leveling off.

The challenge became, how do I meet the goals:

  • Create an outdoor kitchen.
  • Provide a patio with an eating area and a fire pit.
  • Develop a screened-in porch.


  • Disrupting water flow.
  • Without getting the patio or gazebo too far from the house that it became too inconvenient to use. 


Before Picture:

Before 1

 After Picture:

After 1


I was able to design a very nice space (as seen above) with all the customer’s request except the screen porch. I recommended a mosquito abatement system called the Nutone Haven mosquito repellant fixture. This caused some leeriness from my customer to give up the screen porch, but they did. In the end, it completely paid off, they were very happy with end project and it is mosquito free.



The final design included a built-in grill along with outdoor cabinets by NatureKast™. We built walls to define and support the structure using cut natural stone. The back wall is built taller acting as a backsplash and providing the ability for raised bar seating. The counter tops are Tahoe Suede granite.

Adds Value Pergola


This project is located just outside of Madison, Wisconsin so it is not used in the winter. A specific request by the customer was to avoid amenities requiring winter maintenance such as a refrigerator or a sink. One of the NatureKast™ cabinets houses a Yeti cooler so that food or drinks can stay cold outside avoiding the cost and maintenance of a refrigerator.

The grill is a Weber Summit S-670 built in natural gas. It is set into the natural cut stone wall. The wall provides a 24” combustible free material surround per the manufacturers specification.The stone was set with spaces to allow venting, again per manufacturer’s specification, to allow the release of natural gas if a leak develops.

The paving is all manufactured by Unilock. In the kitchen area we used Artline with an IL Campo finish. In order to avoid awkward elevation changes to provide for drainage and to maintain level lines along the cabinet structure and the deck steps, we set the Artline with space between the pavers to allow for permeability. We used Unilock’s Easy Pro permeable polymeric sand in the joints.

The remaining patio spaces are paved with Bristol Valley pavers with a soldier course of IL Campo to create continuity with the IL Campo finished Artline in the kitchen area.The fire pit has a 24” band of Courtstone pavers to provide a “warning track” around it.

There is large pergola, which covers the outdoor kitchen area and extends to cover the outdoor eating area. In order for the pergola to be long enough to cover both the kitchen and eating area, a wooden detail was designed to serve as a connector of the two supporting beams. The pergola is nearly 30 feet long requiring 6 posts (2 in the center). For an added festive touch, we added LED bistro lights that drape across the beams.


One of the biggest design challenges was the "snow ball" effect of minor changes to the layout. For every small change in the kitchen, the pergola had to shrink or stretch to so the center pergola posts would land in the raised bar counter. The center pergola posts not only support the pergola but also the cantilivered raised bar counter.  


What is a pergola


The fire pit area extended out far enough that we needed to reroute the swale. The area is defined by a seating wall constructed by the same cut natural stone used to build the kitchen.  The wall is 18” tall on the patio side but 30” tall on the swale side so it along with natural stone outcroppings function as retaining wall as well. The fire pit is natural gas using an insert by Fire Gear and capped using English Mitered Autumn Sky Stone. The paving immediately around the fire pit is Unilock Courtstone.


Fire Pit


To create different textures in the various walls, we set each wall a little differently. The seating/retaining wall was set with the stone ends split providing a subtle textural change. The stones on the columns at the end of each wall have cut ends so the stones fit tightly together making a much more refined look. The stone in the kitchen is also set with cut ends to duplicate the refinement. The fire pit stone is set with the natural stone ends and a slight space between. This was done to create rougher look with some additional shadowing but more importantly to provide venting in case of a gas leak.

The completed project is one of my career favorites for many reasons. First, the customers were special people. They stayed involved throughout the project. I saw them daily during the construction. They would even set coffee out for my crew daily and sometimes doughnuts too. I got to know them well. The design was challenging and had many elements that had to be brought together in a relatively small space. My employees did a tremendous job organizing and implementing the plans. We were able to meet our customer’s goals with a high-quality project. What I enjoy most in my job is watching the transformation in a yard and witnessing my customer’s realization of their project and knowing they will enjoy it for years to come.

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Topics: Pergola, Outdoor Kitchen, Kitchen, Firepit, Outdoor Firepit, Mosquito Free, Deck

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