Is the front yard just for show?
Our landscape architects spend a lot of time developing front yard landscape designs and “arrival experiences” for our Northern Virginia clientele. But much of the attention we get from the press goes to our back yard landscapes where people can enjoy privacy and special time with family and friends. And, practically speaking, it makes a lot of sense to invest in landscape design that organizes a back yard into functional spaces that can be used for play and relaxation throughout three seasons.
So, what about the front yard? It’s just for show, right? Not exactly. The street facing side of your home actually performs an extremely important, although subtle, function. A realtor might call it curb appeal. We call it “an arrival experience”.
These three examples of front yard landscape design, all by landscape architect Howard Cohen, demonstrate that you can create that magic “welcome home” feeling by investing a little or investing a lot.
Small changes to big effect
Here’s an example of a little project. The landscape design specified a new walk way, front steps, entry porch and an overhaul of the planting beds. The front steps and stoop had settled and were crumbling with age. The the plants were not doing well and were difficult to maintain. The walkway was too narrow and the surface was uneven. The owners felt the whole look was just tired and past due for a refresh.
Now the front walkway is wider and has a gracious curve to it. The effect is that the walkway is longer and more grand.
Keep the best of the old and mix it with fresh and new
I appreciated that they reused some things already on the site. They also recommended better spots for some of the plants I’d never been able to get growing well. Lisa Narod, Herndon
The landscape design specified the reuse of stones and plants that were on the property. The landscapers moved select plants around so they would be in the best spot for growing and for visual composition.
Overall, the design gave the front yard more depth and visual variety. It spreads out from the house more and invites you toward the front door.
We’ll be outside doing yard work and people we don’t even know will come walking by and compliment us. Bob Narod, Herndon
Balancing Aesthetics and Common Sense
This next front yard landscape design required a more ambitious plan in order to remedy all the outstanding issues.
- There were serious drainage problems that needed correction. The site sloped to the left (as you face the house) and that caused a wet spot and puddling against a corner of the foundation.
- The entry walkway was crudely assembled from flat cut slates framed by drab landscape timbers.
- The front entry porch was not quite a porch. An exposed beam structure, open to the sky, it had the appearance of a pergola leaning against the house. It provided no shelter from the weather for a guest waiting to be let in. The homeowner says, “The structure was probably meant to achieve an aesthetic effect, but it was just impractical. It didn’t make sense.”
The homeowners wanted to resolve functional issues in a way that would enhance the curb appeal of their home. To resolve the drainage and front walkway issues, landscape architect Howard Cohen added fill, built up the the front yard, leveled it and held it back with a low retaining wall. With the new landscape design, a front walkway now leads directly and gracefully up long shallow steps that cut through the retaining wall and arrive at the new front stoop.
Cohen’s porch design added curved detailing to the new front entry. He used synthetic wood for the structural posts and beams but did the porch ceiling in natural pine with a light stain.
What Howard came up with was a surprise. He added woodwork that’s almost sculptural. It’s a really nice entry without being over the top. Rick Bress, Great Falls
The front of the home is now organized visually. It is a blend of organic and constructed forms presented on a variety of levels that lead the eye to new front entry porch. And, all the functional problems have been resolved by the aesthetic solutions.
Seventy-Five Truckloads of Dirt
That’s how much earth had to be removed to ease the grade of this front yard so it could be built back up into a fully functional and welcoming arrival area.
I knew nothing about landscaping before this. We got a real appreciation for what stone work requires. Seeing people day after day for months doing it. It really is skilled artisan work. Craig Ellison, McLean
The front yard of this McLean Virginia home was, according to the homeowner, “bland and dated”. The extremely steep grade of the driveway was a serious problem. He says, “I had a Porsche Turbo at that time and I was bottoming out every time I’d pull out onto the street”. Also, there was a small turn around space to the side of the driveway that wasn’t even big enough to easily make a turn. The owner says he had to do a 3-point turn to avoid bumping a tree that had been planted too close.
The landscape architect proposed excavating the entire front yard in order to rebuild the grade. He extended that awkward turn around space to the side of the driveway and turned it into a semi circular drive. This opened up the whole front of the house and created a smooth alternative approach to the main drive way.
The architect’s landscape design plan specified low curving retaining walls to border the new driveway and to define the front entry. He added an entry porch with a curved roof that reflects the curves of the retaining walls.
Originally the homeowners thought they wanted to have walls along the street for privacy. But the architect cautioned them that a fortress-like street presence might alienate the neighbors. They took his advice. Instead, planting beds and low trees provide a softer kind of privacy screening on the street side.
I enjoy just driving up every day when I come home from work to this really nice and tastefully done yard. There’s nothing overdone or garish about it. It just fits the place. Craig Ellison, McLean
So there are your front yard landscape designs—small, medium and large. Each resolves a different set of aesthetic and practical problems. But all arrive at the same place: a visual composition that welcomes you home and causes passersby to turn their heads and stare as they walk past.
A little bit of smart landscape design can go a long, long way. If you’ve been thinking about investing in a landscape design project, our eBook: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams, is full of valuable information to help you get started.