As we mentioned in a previous blog post, when front yard landscaping falls short of expectations, driveways and front walkways are often the culprits. That is because the experience of getting from point A to point B is an essential part of the “arrival experience” that welcomes you home. If the approach to the house is awkward or visually confusing, you’ve got a problem. On the other hand, when front yard hardscape elements are harmonious, they produce an experience of beauty and pleasure as they lead you from the point of arrival to the front door of your home.
In this article we are going to focus on functional design in the front yard landscape–specifically, as it relates to driveway design. Let’s start with driveway design problems. If you have a long driveway, when your guests park on the street, it can be a long walk to the front door. Or if it is too narrow, the edges of the driveway may get rutted and wreck the lawn. How do we correct the problem of not enough parking and turnaround area?
An experienced landscape architect understands the turning radius required by cars and can design the driveway and accessory areas with the correct dimensions to allow vehicles to move and turn easily. A landscape architect will also take care to balance the percentage of permeable and impermeable surface area (planting beds vs. hardscaping) that the front yard landscaping facilitates proper drainage and water flow.
Solving Driveway Design Problems
Here is a perfect example of a problem caused by a poorly designed driveway: This home sits atop a rise. The original driveway was a long, narrow straight shot up a steep grade on the right side of the house. It was difficult getting in and out–especially in winter if there were snow and ice. There was no place for guests to park and the turnaround area near the garage was tight. For party guests, it was a long, boring uphill trek to the front door.
This is a functional design problem that occurs often in developer built homes because their focus is, obviously, on making the house as attractive as possible. They generally do not concern themselves with correcting site limitations. The particulars of the topography that may negatively affect your experience of getting in and out of the house are not a priority.
The solution in the project photo shown here was to completely relocate the driveway so it traverses the lot, thereby easing the steep grade. Rerouting the driveway also made it possible to expand the paved area near the garage for guest parking with easy access to the front door and generous turnaround space.
The new orientation of the driveway not only solved functional issues but created an opportunity for aesthetic improvements to the landscape that present the house much better and make for an interesting journey from the street to the front door whether driving or walking.
Designing a Driveway and Front Walkway That Seamlessly Work Together
Sometimes a driveway redesign is able to feature the destination –the front door– more prominently. The driveway and front walkway can be designed to work together more fluidly.
Here is a functional design problem that is similar to the first example: a long, narrow driveway that doesn’t interact well with the walkway leading to the front door.
In this case, the driveway was too close to the lot line to be expanded. Instead, a parking area was cut into the large front yard, supported with a curving retaining wall, and merged with a new walkway to the front door.
Because the walkway begins farther down the driveway it shortens the distance from the guest parking pullout to the front door of the home.
The Circular Driveway – A Holistic Solution
In this last project sample, a circular driveway was the solution to a poorly functioning driveway that was completely disconnected from the front entry to the home.
Circular driveways by nature eliminate the issues of turnaround and guest parking but can present a different sort of problem if they aren’t thoughtfully designed. Owners of big beautiful homes want the elegant look of a circular driveway and arrival area at the front door. But, if poorly designed, it could create the opposite effect. You could end up with a front yard that is all driveway, without enough area left for planting beds and low shrubs to soften the transition between hardscaping and the house. When a wide circular driveway overtakes the front yard landscape it can create a cramped feeling that detracts from the grand feeling that you hope to generate with this type of driveway design.
The beautiful effect that comes from carefully wrought functional design can be a great source of pleasure–totally different from but contributing to the aesthetic pleasure derived from tasteful border plantings and groupings.
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