Case study: Modern landscape design in Virginia

I get it: when you think of modern landscape design in Virginia you probably don’t think of me. A glance through my portfolio shows a lot of chunky wood and stone, big massed plantings, and several farm and estate properties. And yet, deep within my heart, lurks a love for all things modern.

That’s why I was ecstatic when one day, one of the contractors who hires me for bigger jobs dropped this one in my lap. The homeowners: a professional couple who moved here from the western US. The home: a super traditional 1980s northern Virginia home on a lot with a pool and a deck.

before photo landscape

The good news was that I was told we were taking it all the way down to a blank slate. The pool and spa were staying, but the stone veneer, pool deck, and wood decks were all up for discussion. Not only that, they wanted to change the overall look of the house itself.

Creating the modern landscape design in Virginia

The clients gave us the list of what they wanted: a new and better deck, usable space under the deck, an outdoor kitchen, a pizza oven, a smoker, a firepit, and a water feature. And, of course, it all had to work together and look great while showcasing modern landscape design in Virginia. This is the plan we came up with:

virginia modern landscape design

I’ve always prided myself on my space planning skills, and they got a workout with this one! The clients and I had a lot of conversations about how they would actually use the spaces, which helped me understand how best to lay them out. For example:

  • They saw the firepit primarily as a destination from inside the main floor of the house (so coming out onto the deck and down the steps) and from the pool deck. That meant setting the firepit patio just a couple of steps down from the pool deck, so it was closer to that and the deck.
  • They wanted to be able to see and hear the water feature from the deck and the pool area. That led me to come up with the idea of creating a rill (streambed) through the back half of a seatwall on the firepit patio, ending at a bubbling millstone.
  • Naturally, the smoke-generating components (smoker and pizza oven) needed to be away from the house, but close enough to the basement doors that tending fires and food would be practical.

This is why us landscape designers are worth our fees!

Designing the details

There were a lot of one-off, custom elements of this design, which meant that I had to spend a good bit of time figuring out how they would be built, documenting that, and creating drawings that communicated it to the installers. These drawings were also shared with the clients prior to starting to make sure we were all on the same page.

3D rendering outdoor kitchen

[That included conceptual drawings, like this 3D rendering of the smoker and oven island unit. You’ll see in the finished photos that a lot changed, but the general idea stuck.

custom smoker detail drawing

What’s wild is that because the husband a) loves smoking and BBQing and b) is an engineer, he custom designed his own smoker, right down to air flow and chamber sizes. My job was to figure out how to get all that fabricated, and then how to build around it so it all looked good.

modern water feature drawing

Because the water feature was an unusual piece that was going to be a tricky build, modeling it in 3D helped all of us. I was able to visualize all the decisions I would need to specify, from cap to rill material to tile. The contractor was better able to estimate his materials, and he could hand a drawing to his crews so they could see exactly how it all should look.

The finished modern landscape design in Virginia

So how did it turn out? I love it, and so do the homeowners. Here’s the view from down by the basement patio, looking up towards the pool, before:

before pic alternate view

And, after!

virginia deck and travertine

Here’s a better view of the outdoor kitchen. That massive stump is from the river birch that had to come down. Don’t worry, the client’s working on a screen to conceal all that.

virginia outdoor kitchen

This shot shows the island with the custom smoker and the wood-fired pizza oven. The countertops are concrete counters, fabricated on site, and they match the ones under the deck.  Just visible to the left is the herb garden that’s built right into the island (because you can never have enough fresh herbs for pizza!)

pizza oven and smoker

Speaking of the herb garden, that’s where we hid the control for the smoker’s flue damper. From the moment I designed it I wanted a simple, industrial wheel and my fabricator didn’t disappoint!

damper wheel

Here’s a view inside the smoker. As you can see, there is a ton of room!

inside custom smoker

This is the firepit patio, with the water feature/bench combo.

modern water feature

Two steps take you up to the pool deck, but there’s plenty to keep people around the firepit – especially at night, when the color changing LED lights illuminate the streambed!

We even update the fence between the driveway and the backyard, proving that no detail is too small to be amazing.

modern wood fence

It’s hard getting a feel for the overall project off of little vignettes, so here’s one from the back of the pool looking towards the outdoor kitchen.

deck and travertine

And, here we are on the deck (over the grill) looking out towards the pool and across the travertine patio in Virginia.

pool & firepit

Because I’m a huge sucker, this sweet girl followed me around the whole time I was taking pictures. I always enjoy catching up with clients and seeing how my projects are maturing, but when they have an adorable puppy? DUDE.

PUPPY!!!!!!!


So there you have it, one of the few modern landscapes I’ve gotten to do lately. Are you looking for modern landscape design in Virginia? If so, don’t hesitate to contact me at once! It’s an absolute blast and I’d love to chat with you about your project.

Dave Marciniak is a landscape designer and speaker. He lives in Culpeper, Virginia and can be found via his website and on Twitter.

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