Project Spotlight: A Case Study In Creating Usable Space In The La Jolla Hills

Landscape Design and Construction Project Spotlight: A Case Study In Creating Usable Space In The La Jolla Hills

Coastal southern California is one of the most desirable places in the world to live in and visit, and for good reason. The weather is nearly perfect 90% of the year, the views are to die for, and you have easy access to some of the country’s most diverse and lively cities.

One major problem for those on the long waiting list to live here is the local topography – the coast is often filled with hills, canyons, and washes that make building properties that take advantage of the area’s high points a difficult proposition. Many stunning homes have property lines extending far past the boundaries of the building itself, but cannot enjoy them thanks to the rugged terrain.

This was the case for one La Jolla homeowner, whose ¼ acre property was beautifully situated in the ocean-facing hills that line the neighborhood. While they were still able to enjoy a backyard lawn, a large portion of the land was fenced off due to the dangerously steep slope.

The homeowner became determined to get the most out of the sunny California environment and the full scope of their outdoor space by turning their backyard into an extended all-ages entertainment area. To accomplish this, they contracted the services of Torrey Pines Landscape Company, who immediately began drawing up plans for maximizing the property’s usable space.

The Challenge

The homeowner had three primary goals for the landscape redesign:

  1. A pool for family fun and entertaining guests.
  2. A space for their children to play in.
  3. Use of the full extent of the property.

Roughly one-third of the property was fenced off due to the sudden drop-off in elevation, with the rest dominated by a featureless lawn bordered by planters.

To accomplish all three goals, the space would need to be partitioned into four primary sections: the pool and hardscape, the play area, the formerly inaccessible hillside, and a structural area. The slope necessitated the creation of one or more terraces, which meant that a safe and aesthetic walkway would be needed to connect the different levels of the property.

One of the biggest challenges in the redesign was ensuring that the hill the property was resting on would maintain its stability in the event of an earthquake or heavy rains. Torrey Pines would need to thread the needle in maximizing how much of the previously unusable space while ensuring that the hillside would remain safe and stable in the near and far future.

Torrey Pines’ Bespoke Solution

With the plans laid out and the area partitioned into its four primary sections, the Torrey Pines crew began work on removing the existing lawn and fencing and regrading the upper terrace.

The Pool And Hardscape

The conjoined pool and spa and its surrounding hardscape would extend from the home itself right to the edge of the slope, terminating in a cistern that takes advantage of the downhill elevation and would capture overflow. The patio overhang for the pool would stop short at the slope, allowing swimmers a leisurely ocean-facing view of the setting sun.

Two large concrete patios would straddle the north and south sides of the pool to allow for seating and lounging. The northerly patio would extend to the slope and connect to the newly constructed lower terraces through a stairway, while the southerly patio would stretch to the play area and outer edges of the property.

Concrete steppers would form a path from each of the side entrances to the property, resting in newly constructed beds of crushed rock interspersed with localized shrubbery and trees. The south end of the property would utilize a raised bed containing citrus and avocado trees constructed atop a flagstone retaining wall. 

Nestled in the raised planter would be a new rest area, an in-built stone bench that looks as if it were carved out of the rock itself. The centerpiece of this little space would be a new fire feature, perfect for hosting late-night discussions or just peering into the flames and letting the warmth wash over you.

The Play Area

The homeowner’s children were to be the prime beneficiaries of the landscape redesign. Not only did they get an incredible new pool, but they also still had plenty of space to play soccer and a dedicated area for their playscape.

The play area consists of two interconnected sections of lawn, one open and inviting and the other dominated by the playscape. High-quality artificial turf would be installed for durability. The play area would be bordered by retaining walls to separate it from the borders of the property and the steep hillside, ensuring a playful tumble wouldn’t result in a long fall down the hillside. Citrus and avocado trees would fill the raised terrace, providing welcome shade on the hot sunny days and plenty of privacy for the youngsters.

Hillside And Terraces

Now came the hard part. To ensure the integrity of the hillside, the Torrey Pines crew would need to use a combination of native plantings and constructed terracing to provide stability and prevent erosion. The native plants were also an educational decision for the kids to learn about pollinators. They also lower maintenance costs and water usage while retaining the slope.

Lines of boulders would be used as naturalistic retaining walls to hold the weight of the newly redesigned hillside. Acacia trees were installed to provide shade and create deep root systems that would provide additional stability to the soil. For the top layers, native southern California chaparral and coyote bush would serve as ground cover to ensure the ground wouldn’t get too sodden during the rainy season.

With the structural integrity of the hillside intact, the crew could move on to more interesting work: creating the second and third-level terraces to maximize the available yard space. Each level would be connected via a stairway constructed of dark timber and crushed river rock, lined with more boulders and native plantings.

Descending down from the northern patio, the first terrace would open up into a full bocce ball court. The court is designed to take full advantage of the western-facing slope and long summer days, providing optimal light for the game until the last rays of sunlight dip below the horizon.

The stairway then curves downslope to terminate in one final terrace overlooking the hills and ocean, carpeted by crushed stone and dominated by a massive fire bowl feature centerpiece. The area is shaded by the long branches of a leaning acacia tree and bordered by stark ashen boulders to provide optimal stability and comfort as guests and family members sit by the fire and watch another iconic Pacific sunset.

With the completion of the final terrace, the project was completed. Where over a third of the property’s outdoor space was previously rendered unusable, the redesign had shrunk that down to under a fourth, with the entire property now open to view and presented as fully intentional. The homeowner got their pool, and their children had their dedicated play area.

If you have a property whose location or design provides a landscaping challenge, get in contact with Torrey Pines Landscape Company today. The company’s specialty is taking on the toughest challenges and creating beautiful, creative designs that maximize every square inch of space in the property!