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Elements of Hardscape
Using Different Materials in One Space


In Long Beach, California, Solena Landscape, led by owner Mitch Kalamian, turned an outdated, overgrown landscape into the ultimate outdoor paradise. The spaces in the backyard are distinguished through the use of different hardscape elements, including concrete, pavers, and a wooden deck.

When a homeowner wants to distinguish different outdoor living areas, a change in hardscapes can be the way to go. Mitch Kalamian from Solena Landscape did just that for this home in Long Beach, Calif., using concrete bordered by artificial turf, pavers, and wood to define separate outdoor rooms.

A Concrete Decision
The majority of the yard, surrounding the new infinity edge pool, was leveled and paved with concrete slabs edged with strips of artificial turf.

"You want to make sure, whether you're using real or artificial grass, that you prep the area, compact it and get it very level and very even all the way through," Kalamian advised. "Grass can undulate and become a tripping hazard."

After leveling the area, the squares were framed and the area reinforced with a coated steel rebar. That way, if any movement or settlement occurs, the concrete squares would move as one. "The rebar has to be coated so it doesn't rust," he explained. "If it rusts, it's going to pop through the concrete."


The pool was meant to be the focal point of the yard, and as the largest element, was the first to be constructed after demolition and leveling of the existing yard. Kalamian spray-painted its outline on the ground before using a backhoe to dig out the hole. "We ended up bumping the pool a little bit further out from where it was initially planned for," he said. "I always like to keep modifying the plan to create something that's even better."


The main hardscape used in the backyard consists of poured concrete with 6"-wide bands of artificial turf separating each pad. The concrete is all connected with coated steel rebar. The grass was installed over compacted road base with sand. A concrete band edges the planter. Because artificial grass doesn't curve, a straight strip was cut to fit the arc. "There ends up being a lot of waste, but that's really the only way to do it," said Kalamian. "You have to have the minimal amount of seams possible when doing artificial turf like this."

Once the prepwork was complete, the concrete was poured into the frames. When it had hardened completely, the frames could be removed and the synthetic lawn areas prepared with compacted road base and sand.

"With the artificial turf there isn't much maintenance," Kalamian said. "Once a year we brush it so that the blades stand straight up. Infill will have to be added every couple of years, depending on how much was initially put in."

For households such as this one that have four-legged friends, use a deodorizing sand with the artificial turf. This needs to be replenished every couple of years.

Paving the Way
For the porch and outdoor dining area, Kalamian elected to use a higher end material: pavers. As with the artificial turf strips, the pavers were installed on compacted road base below a 1-1/2 inch layer of sand. "Once we're done leveling and compacting it, it's permeable, but it's really hard, just like concrete," he said. Polymeric sand fills in the gaps between the Belgard 'Mega-Lafitte' pavers.

Next to this area is an entry to the house that just had a stoop with a few steps leading up to it. "We created a porch instead so it would have an East Coast, Cape Cod feeling," Kalamian said.

Waterproofing the side of the house that was now covered by the porch was a critical step in the preparation of this area. "We cut out the siding and installed the waterproofing materials to make sure that no moisture got between our new patio and the house," he explained. Once done, they could build right up next to the house.


Both the spa and the infinity edge of the pool have a stone veneer. Kalamian cautions that anytime stone is in contact with water like this, the subsurface must be waterproofed. "Otherwise, water gets behind the stone and it might pop off," he explained. "These projects are very, very complex."


When building steps such as the ones seen to the right of this photo, the two most important factors to consider are the rise and the tread. The rise, or height, should be approximately 6" - any shorter and it's a tripping hazard, while taller steps are uncomfortable. The tread, or depth, should be at least 14" to allow for a natural stride.

All Hands On Deck
The third hardscape texture used for this backyard was a wooden deck. "In this space, I wanted to create something that felt a little bit different and had its own outdoor room," Kalamian said. The deck backs up to one of the home's two chimneys and has a bar and a large fire pit, which was built from CMU blocks veneered with stone and stucco. A stone wall bisects the feature, giving it a surface to create artful shadows.

"I wanted a fire pit that felt like it was the right scale from anywhere in the yard," he explained. "Even when you're all the way up close to the house looking out at the fire pit, it's the right scale. It doesn't feel puny in a big yard."

The 15,000 square foot backyard took just shy of 5 months to complete, with a full crew of 8-10 workers every day for that time. "Demolition took a solid 3-4 weeks," he said. That encompassed removing the outdated kidney shaped pool, filling the hole where it had been, gutting the existing, overgrown plant material, and compacting the ground.

"We keep it in house," Kalamian said. "My guys are trained and know how to do all of this stuff." He does this for two main reasons: scheduling and quality control. The customer only has to communicate with one person throughout the process.


A wooden deck was used for this area to break up the materials and keep the overall Cape Cod inspiration for the yard. One end is capped with a bar and the other with a fire pit constructed out of concrete masonry block veneered with stone and stucco.


The Belgard 'Mega-Lafitte' pavers in this area were installed over road base and a 1-1/2" layer of sand that was compacted and screeded to make it level. Polymeric sand was swept into the joints. The barbecue island was constructed of CMU blocks that were scratch coated and stuccoed. A poured-in-place monolithic countertop was polished with a special masonry sandpaper to make it look like granite and feel like glass. It was sealed to retain the color and resist stains.

The Last Word
In addition to the design and installation of this yard, Solena Landscape offers high-end maintenance contracts. A crew visits this yard weekly and, in addition to the gardening service, wipes down the patio furniture, cleans up animal waste, and cleans the barbecue and rain gutters. As needed, they will replace seasonal plantings and change out night lighting.

"It's important to start with a really good design, and then of course always use the highest end materials," advised Kalamian.

"These hardscape elements are not foolproof and nobody's perfect," he continued. "Concrete cracks, things settle, wood splits and breaks apart and can get termite damage. So it's important that you follow the best business practices possible and the best installation practices possible so that you have the best longevity for each of these projects."

Solena Landscape won an award for this project from their chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association in 2016.


A Brick of a Different Color


This home has two chimneys made of red brick that did not complement the new look of the landscape. Tearing them apart and rebuilding with new bricks would have been cost-prohibitive, so Mitch Kalamian of Solena Landscapes opted for a grout rub instead.

"We took colored cement powder, grout, and water, and mixed them together without any rocks. We rubbed the existing bricks with the mixture so that it would change the color," he explained. "It makes it look like it's brand new and meant to be with the house."

"Not too many people know that trick, but we've been using it a lot to change themes," Kalamian said. "It's inexpensive to do and can change the whole look completely."

The color isn't limited to shades of gray - Kalamian spoke of a recent project where they transformed red bricks to brown tones to create a Mediterranean vibe.

As Seen in the August 2017 Issue of Landscape Contractor Magazine

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December 14, 2018, 5:22 am PST

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