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Unique Backyard Design Ideas for Californians on a Budget

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Sina Kamran

Founder and Owner of Design Scapes Inc.

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Seating Area Backyard Design Ideas

Your home is not just a shelter; it’s a canvas that represents you and your unique style. So, why settle for boring, traditional landscaping designs that look like everyone else’s? You can easily spice up your outdoor space and make it a true extension of your home with just a few small touches! Eager to transform your backyard but unsure where to start? Here are some of our favorite unique backyard design ideas for California that you can DIY, or do-it-yourself, even with a modest budget!

Unique Backyard Design Ideas for California

1. Stone Filled Gardens

In many dry climates like those found in California, homeowners and their properties can suffer from the harsh realities of drought. That is why having drought-resistant landscaping is not only stylish but also critical for the environment and your water bill. You can make a huge difference in both aesthetics and sustainability by creating stone-filled gardens. There are a plethora of different designs you can find online, in gardening books, or even conjure up from your own creative mind to get inspiration. All you’ll need to get started are some drought-resistant plants for the center, a variety of stones and gravel to fill in, and a good design plan to bring it all together!

2. Reused Bricks

Have you recently completed a home renovation and find yourself left with a pile of unwanted bricks? Instead of paying to dispose of them or letting them gather dust, why not incorporate them into your landscape design? You can repurpose your old bricks to create an unusual, eye-catching pathway or even use them as unique edges to your gardens, adding texture and contrast to your outdoor space.

3. Repurposed Items

In a society where so much gets discarded and goes to waste, you can make a positive impact both environmentally and aesthetically by repurposing items. Did you know that an upside-down big wash bucket can serve as a rustic table, an old rake can be hung on a wall to function as a tool rack, a skateboard deck can be transformed into a cool swing, and even empty wine bottles can add a splash of color to your garden? The opportunities for creative reuse are truly endless! So, before you consider throwing something out, give it a second life in your backyard.

4. Fairy Tale Gardens

Who says gardens are just for adults? Bring a bit of enchantment and magic to your life with a fairy tale garden. Whether it’s creating a whimsical pixie village in your flower beds, crafting a fairy’s cozy home out of a tree stump, or even making a ladybug crosswalk out of carefully painted rocks, the possibilities are limitless. You’re only restricted by your own imagination! And if you find yourself struggling to envision a fantastical world, don’t hesitate to get the little ones involved too. You’d be surprised what creative, magical ideas may pop into their imaginative minds.

5. A Foot Wash Stand

Especially if you are located near the beautiful California coastline, you’re likely familiar with the constant battle against sand invading your home. A simple solution? Keep that pesky, gritty stuff out of your home by building a foot wash stand right in your backyard. All you’ll need is a sturdy wood frame, a few large, smooth stones for comfort, and easy access to a hose for rinsing off. Fill the frame with rocks that aren’t larger than your palm to provide a nice scrubbing surface. Just make sure to design it so that the water has an efficient drainage system!

How do I design my yard layout?

Designing your yard layout involves multiple steps, each crucial for achieving a functional and aesthetically pleasing outdoor space. Start by assessing your yard’s dimensions, soil type, and sun exposure, as these factors will affect your plant choices and layout. Sketch a rough blueprint of the area, noting any existing structures, trees, or features you’d like to keep. Decide the purpose of different areas—like recreation, gardening, or dining—and plan accordingly. Integrate paths to connect these zones smoothly. For plantings, choose a mix of perennials and annuals suited to your climate, and layer them in terms of height for visual interest. Always leave room for growth and consider maintenance needs. This comprehensive approach will help you create a well-designed, functional yard.

What are the 7 principles of landscape design?

The seven principles of landscape design serve as guidelines for creating a cohesive, balanced, and aesthetically pleasing outdoor space. These principles are:

  1. Unity: Ensures all elements work together, creating a harmonious design.
  2. Balance: Establishes equilibrium in the design, which can be symmetrical or asymmetrical.
  3. Contrast: Uses differing elements like color, shape, and texture to add interest.
  4. Rhythm: Creates a sense of movement by repeating elements or patterns throughout the design.
  5. Scale and Proportion: Ensures all elements are well-sized in relation to each other and the space as a whole.
  6. Focal Points: Utilizes eye-catching features to draw attention and add interest.
  7. Simplicity: Emphasizes the “less is more” approach to avoid clutter and maintain focus.

Each principle plays a crucial role in shaping a well-planned outdoor area. For a more in-depth understanding of how to apply these principles to your own space, read our comprehensive blog post, “Landscape Design Principles: How to Design the Perfect Space.”

How can I make my backyard look good?

To give your backyard a luxurious upgrade, consider investing in high-quality elements. First, we recommend shade structures like pergolas or gazebos that can provide both function and elegance, defining your outdoor spaces. Next, we advise upgrading pathways using premium materials like natural stone or quality pavers to add sophistication. Lastly, professionally designed outdoor lighting can dramatically elevate the ambiance, highlighting features and providing safe navigation. If budget allows, a koi pond or modern fountain can serve as a focal point for added luxury. By focusing on these upscale features—shade structures, elegant pathways, and atmospheric lighting—you’ll create a backyard that’s both beautiful and functional.

Design Scapes Inc. to Implement Your Backyard Design Ideas

Looking for more inspiration? Would you like to discover even more inventive and sustainable ideas on how to create personalized backyard design ideas for California homes? Feel free to explore our extensive blog archive for additional tips, or better yet, give us a call to schedule a consultation today. We’d be delighted to help you realize the backyard of your dreams!”

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Reviews

Andrew H.
Los Angeles, CA
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Sina and his team worked with us to design and build both our front and backyard. The results exceeded our expectations and the team worked patiently during COVID and through a challenging permitting process with LA City. The team was professional and always prompt. The pricing was fair and transparent, and communication was great. The project was large overall so we worked together with Design Scapes for almost one year. I have recommended the team to many people already and think they do great work.
Ben L.
Los Angeles, CA
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We hired Design Scapes to turn our backyard into a hostable space that would feel welcoming to guests, but more importantly, utilize what we felt was completely wasted space. It's hard to put words to just how incredible of an experience we had with Sina and his team. From the get-go, they were efficient, communicative, and dedicated to making us feel content. Sina, Aaron and everyone they work with truly understand design - the technical, architectural, and aesthetic elements that are needed in order to create the best results. We never had any doubt that we went with the right company. The results were ten times better than we ever could have imagined. Our backyard is a total haven, we feel like we're on vacation at our own home! We would give ten stars if we could!
May M.
North Hollywood, CA
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I worked with Sima at Design Scapes on a recent backyard renovation. He was extremely patient as we began from concept to finished project! His crew was very professional and it turned out exactly how I envisioned. The reno included building a pergula with a cover, hardscaping with pavers and adding lighting and ficus trees. We were so happy with the finished product!
Jeff R.
Santa Monica, CA
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Design Scapes constructed a composite wood deck and two planters in my back yard and I couldn't be happier with the result. Very professional, terrific work, really nice people (especially Heli, who worked with me throughout), and they got it done when they said they would, completely satisfied with the whole experience!
Charles M.
Santa Monica, CA
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Sina and his team are your go-to for innovative and beautiful outdoor construction. They installed a gigantic, closeable pergola over our wrap around deck. They handled the entire process from plans to permits to installation and did a tremendous job. We feel like we've added a room to our home. They did an amazing job. Five stars!
Laurene F.
Manhattan Beach, CA
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Design Scapes is very highly recommended! Very professional, creative and reliable. They were very timely and reasonable with their estimated budget and time line to complete the project. Also, they were very responsive with additional requests after the initial project. I will refer them to my friends.
Mersedeh M.
Los Angeles, CA
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I can not say enough how great working with Design Sacpes was. My husband and I met with several landscaping companies and Design Scapes seemed to be the most honest and professional one. Sina is an awesome person, he guided us in choosing the best design for our backyard while he was considering what we want in all the steps. We ended up planting some great fruit trees in addition to a cute fountain and some design with beautiful rocks. The crew was very clean and professional. We did not feel we have workers in our background the whole time. The final invoice reflected exactly what we had spoken of, although we made some changes and ended up choosing better material and plants in some occasions. I highly recommend Design Sacpes if you are looking for the best landscaping company.
Bob K.
West Hills, CA
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Sina and his crew are great. We started off with replacing a block wall we shared with our neighbor with a wood fence. Once we saw the excellent quality of the work we had him transform our backyard which was basically a dirt lot into a backyard oasis with pavers, a grassy area, a new tree and a section of plants. His crew is unbelievable. Vert talented and hard working. On time every day. Courteous and friendly. Always kept the work area clean. Sina when not on site was always available by phone or text. His estimates were clear, and his on line billing system was easy to use.
Charity B.
Thousand Oaks, CA
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We did 2 projects with Sina at the same time. One was done on time and was exactly to our specification (even though we changed our minds once the project started as is sometimes the case when you start to see it come together). Sina was always available with ideas, feedback and keeping us up to date. The other project was delayed through no fault of Sina's. The material he ordered came in damaged. He took care of it completely and rescheduled his crew to come back once the material was received. I didn't have to fight with anyone over damaged materials and he didn't even ask me to accept sub-quality. He just rejected it immediately and took care of the problem. Both projects were beautiful when finished. I am very happy with the quality of work. I have worked with many contractors. I can easily say that Sina is one of the best. He is amazing because he does exactly what he says he will do... follow up calls, shows up on time, sends detailed work plans, etc. Seems like a little thing but if you've worked with contractors, you know that's rare! I have already referred him to friends and will definitely use him again in the future.
Bill O.
New York, NY
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When my wife and I moved into our new home at the beginning of 2020, we loved the potential of our new backyard. It has a pool with lots of room for gatherings and two healthy fruit trees that provide good shade. Unfortunately the existing planters were overrun with tall unorganized grasses and the "grass" area was nothing but dirt. As soon as I called Sina at Design Scapes, he scheduled a quick visit to view the property and get an understanding of my design intent. He listened closely to what I wanted, offered his expertise and suggestions when appropriate, and created a plan that met all expectations. When I explained that the plan was slightly above my cost limit, he offered adjustments that kept the design incredible while aligning with my target budget. All work was performed professionally and on schedule and he has consistently followed up to ensure satisfaction. I would absolutely work with Sina on all future exterior projects! (Before and after photos attached)
Keithh N.
San Francisco, CA
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I can't express how happy we are with Sina's work. He is extremely professional and reliable. He was always at the job site when needed. And he clearly went the extra length to get our work done. One of the things we needed done was adding mesh to a quarter acre property around the Fenceline. Sina's team made sure to dig down over a foot under the dirt to make sure our animals couldn't get underneath it. He made sure The mesh was tied tightly to the fence around the entire property line. His work was very clean and he did not disrupt any of the plant life. He is extremely knowledgeable about landscaping and plant life. I would definitely recommend using him again and sure we will in the future! Thank you for everything Sina

Our Certifications

We hold the following ICPI certifications:

Concrete Pavers

ICPI—Concrete Paver Installer Course

  • Introduction to the construction of interlocking concrete pavement systems using concrete pavers and slabs

 ICPI—Certified Concrete Paver Installer

  • Job planning and layout
  • Safety
  • Soil classification and compaction
  • Bedding and joint sand
  • Paver selection and installation
  • Use of labor-saving specialty tools
  • Edge restraints
  • Base material selection and compaction

ICPI—Residential Specialist Course

  • Creating an outdoor living area.
  • Bringing the indoor comforts outside.
  • Locations
  • Heat Materials
  • Utility Hookups
  • Appliances
  • Building Codes
  • Overlaying pavers on existing asphalt or concrete, and best installation methods. 
  • Includes paver overlay application around the perimeter of a pool, and general construction of a paver pool deck around most common types of pools (linear pool, fiberglass shell, or concrete shell.
  • Existing Site Conditions
  • Existing Pavement Preparation
  • Installation Details
  • Paver Overlays with Mortar or Adhesives
  • Types of Pools
  • Construction Details
  • Drainage
  • Paver Selection
  • Building Codes
  • Seat Walls
  • Lighting
  • Decorative Borders and Edges
  • Utilities under the Pavement
  • Once course is completed, requires documentation of 50,000 square feet of concrete paver installation experience in residential projects to receive Residential Paver Specialist credential.

ICPI—Certified Concrete Paver Installer—Residential Specialist

                        • The Residential Professional Course is the highest level designation for ICPI certified installers.
                        • Base and Subbase
                        • Edge Restraint
                        • Bedding Sand
                        • Concrete Pavers
                        • Joint Sand
                          • Supervisor’s role in finding and fixing workplace hazards.
                          • Jobsite Planning and Logistics
                            • Site Management
                            • Equipment
                            • Common conversions and equations needed when estimating materials, including perimeter, area and volume. Converting between different dimensions such as cubic feet to cubic yards.
                            • The three basic components of a functional and attractive raised patio: walls, flatwork, and steps. Visualizing the levels and steps and then developing solutions for the site. 
                            • Considerations
                            • Steps
                            • Railings
                            • On-Site
                            • Building Codes
                            • Once course is completed, installer must document 25,000 square feet of concrete paver installation experience and 20 residential projects to receive Residential Paver Specialist credential.

                                                  Permeable Pavers


                                                  ICPI—Permeable Interlocking Concrete Pavement (PICP) Specialist Course

                                                  • Use of permeable pavers can reduce the quantity of runoff and maximize irrigation of your property.
                                                  • Benefits
                                                  • System Components
                                                  • Types of Systems
                                                  • Precautions

                                                        National Concrete Masonry Association Certifications


                                                        Certified Segmental Retaining Wall Installer (CSRWI)


                                                        • Advanced topics include: 
                                                        • Wall layout and planning
                                                        • Water and drainage
                                                        • Cut and fill walls
                                                        • Tiered walls
                                                        • Corners and curves
                                                        • Stairs and patios

                                                                  Pricing

                                                                  • Our pricing is completely transparent. 
                                                                  • Estimates, quotes, and invoices are always line-itemized for different trades or sections of scope of work. No big mystery numbers where you don’t know what you’re paying for.
                                                                  • We quote the installation based on existing site conditions, local codes, bespoke materials or layout, and/or pattern picked.
                                                                  • If there are any change orders, they are quoted and approved by the client first. They are fully documented, leaving a complete paper trail. 
                                                                  • Labor cost is based on what it takes to do the job right, and do right by a professional crew.
                                                                  • Expect to invest up to 7% of your property’s value for a completely new outdoor space. 
                                                                  • The design phase cost is approximately 3% – 7% of the total installation cost.
                                                                  • Each project is custom designed, and cost depends on design.
                                                                  • When needed, we work with you to accomplish your project in stages—rather than diminish your vision.
                                                                  • You know what your costs are upfront before any work starts.

                                                                  Payments

                                                                  • We accept Visa, Master Card, Amex, Discover, check, cash, wire transfer, Venmo and Zelle.
                                                                  • You get a payment schedule with your project schedule. 
                                                                  • You only pay for labor, and materials delivered up to payment date. You’re not paying in advance so we can buy materials.
                                                                  • When implementing your project in stages, the Design Phase is completed and paid for in advance of implementing the first stage.

                                                                  Return on Investment

                                                                  • You expect a return on investment when improving your property. 
                                                                  • Studies show that a beautifully landscaped yard can increase your property’s value by up to 20%. 
                                                                  • Money magazine estimates that you can recover up to 120% of your project’s cost when you sell your property.

                                                                  Implementation Phase

                                                                  • We provide you a detailed project and work schedule that shows orders, deliveries, installation dates, and payment due dates.
                                                                  • You know exactly how many days your project takes, and what to expect each day.
                                                                  • Your designer / estimator is present on-site every day of installation, supervising the project from start to finish. Eagle-eyed supervision prevents aesthetic or functional mistakes.
                                                                  • Our team includes only trusted workers who have been with us for years. All workers are bonded.
                                                                  • Design Scapes Inc is fully licensed under both C27 Landscaping and General B licenses.
                                                                  • We never sub-contract our work to others, or hire from the parking lot of the local building supply superstore.
                                                                  • Every installation team member has decades of experience and expertise in their area of specialty.
                                                                  • All work is insured, and supervised. 
                                                                  • We carry all required insurance policies like workers’ compensation, liability, and vehicle coverage.
                                                                  • Our efficient process controls the chaos of construction. Only the tools, equipment, and materials that are needed for the work week get delivered and stored for that week. 
                                                                  • Site, tools, and materials tidied up and secured at the end of every work day.
                                                                  • We need no interior access and bring our own toilets and power generator.
                                                                  • We leave your work site spotless and hazard-free.

                                                                  Design Phase

                                                                  • You get one-on-one consultation from an award-winning landscape designer, Sina Kamran.
                                                                  • I will generate picture designs for your new outdoor space, and present them to you.
                                                                  • Design goes through an extensive revision stage. Together, we go through all different layouts, patterns, material types and colors, or different functions to consider. 
                                                                  • The revision stage eliminates problematic surprise change orders and project delays. It also enables us to deliver your project per schedule.
                                                                  • Your project installation is scheduled as soon as you approve the final project plans.
                                                                  • Lead time is usually three to five weeks from approval.

                                                                  Complimentary Estimate

                                                                  • We get a copy of your plot plan and general yard measurements in preparation for the initial consultation.
                                                                  • We draw inspiration from your property and listen to your dreams for your outdoor space. The meeting focuses on your vision and how we could help you realize it. 
                                                                  • We survey the area and point out possibilities and discuss potential issues. 
                                                                  • We make a point of providing an accurate bid rather than bidding low to get the work. You have our promise on this.
                                                                  • We want you to have the peace of mind of knowing exactly what your project will cost from the very start. No surprises.
                                                                  • Once you approve the initial estimate, we move on to the Design Phase.
                                                                  • You receive a final and firm quote once the Design Phase is completed and all work has been identified.