Designed and built by Unique Landscapes & Custom Pools. Photograph by Andrew Pielage.

The Perfect Outdoor Living Design Starts With Thinking About The Big Picture

Back in the day, a home’s landscape plan didn’t entail much more than shopping for a few trees and flowering plants and, if you were lucky, deciding where to site the swimming pool. That was when landscapes, secondary to the home, were just outside spaces meant to look attractive from the street and give a couple of options for outdoor play.

Today, homeowners see their landscapes as an extension of the house itself. Conjuring that magic requires a master plan and a team of professionals to collaborate with the homeowner on technological and aesthetic options. This team works towards one ultimate goal: a landscape that looks natural in its setting and fulfills its owner’s functional expectations and overall vision. In other words, the goal is a purposeful, artistic whole.

A stunning poolscape packed with amenities by Ryan Hughes Design Build. Photographs by Joe Traina.

Ryan Hughes, a second-generation outdoor living expert and owner of Ryan Hughes Design Build in Tampa, Florida, says that the best outdoor living spaces “deliver an experience, a feel.” The experience, he says, is different for every homeowner. But in each case, a solid collaboration between pool designer, landscape architect, and often the home’s architect and interior designer is essential.

More complex landscapes require more professionals, such as lighting specialists and product experts. “Years ago,” Hughes says, “we would be asked about components and work off a list of desired elements. Today, we are asked about creating the ultimate in total outdoor living as interpreted by a desired lifestyle and vibe.”

Hughes’ projects include: an exotic space that emulates the homeowners’ travels; a “boutique” experience that zeros in on one great memory; and, for one lucky young girl, a 2,000-square-foot outdoor play space based on the children’s classic Alice in Wonderland, accessible only from the youngster’s bedroom.

The design and style of the home must be front and center in the creation of a master landscape plan, says Gene Brown, president of Valley Pool & Spa, a custom pool design company in Kelowna, British Columbia. Through his decades of work, Brown has seen the incorporation of water features floating to the top of homeowners’ desires. “Most owners want water features such as a vanishing edge, perimeter overflow, and water bowls as well as fire bowls. They want their backyards to feel like a resort and a pool that reflects the house.”  

Brown worked with a team to design an outdoor landscape around an existing stone-clad, French-style house with elegant arched windows and doorways. They extended the interior’s soft gray palette outside. “We tiled the pool in soft gray glass with a traditional-style border in soft teal,” Brown says. “The deck was tiled in quartzite and is in keeping with the stone on the home’s walls.” 

Brown and Nature Works Landscape Design, the project’s landscape architectural firm, continued the home’s formal style. “We kept the fire bowl at the end of the pool so the automatic cover rolls back under it,” Brown says. “The barbecue, outdoor kitchen, and pool area are at the other side of the yard, allowing for the whole pool and outdoor dining area to have a full, unobstructed view of the lake.”

Chris Griffin, owner of Unique Landscapes & Custom Pools in Mesa, Arizona, says he owes some of his best outdoor living space designs to a tight professional collaboration. For teamwork that truly succeeds, Griffin says that communication must be prioritized.

“Success comes with thinking about the big picture,” Griffin says. Contractors, designers, and architects are responsible for their respective tasks, of course. “But the common mistake is that one person assumes what the next person needs,” he relates. The best situations involve professionals who are cross-trained to a certain extent. Ideally, all the tradespeople, designers, and other personnel engage with good drawings and good site meetings, both pre- and during construction.


Unique Landscapes & Custom Pools creates an outdoor living space with a resort feel. Photographs by Andrew Pielage.

Collaboration is especially important since today’s homeowners, Griffin says, want integrated interiors and exteriors, such as sound systems and pool automation technology available indoors and out. He is seeing a design shift as well. “There is a huge migration away from curvilinear and freeform pools. Now 90 percent of our projects are modern, geometric. People want unique architecture and classic pools. They want continuity.”

This outdoor space designed by Valley Pool & Spa is equally as beautiful during the day as the evening. Photographs by Shawn Talbot.

Griffin, who holds certification from the Society of Watershape Designers (created by GENESIS®), says that in the vast majority of his company’s projects, “We are the designer, engineer, contractor, and builder. That’s one value that clients are looking for today.”

“Most owners want water features such as a vanishing edge, perimeter overflow, and water bowls as well as fire bowls. They want their backyards to feel like a resort and a pool that reflects the house.”
Gene Brown, President of Valley Pool & Spa

Outside his firm, Griffin maintains tight working relationships with structural engineers, pool and hydraulic engineers, civil engineers, and architects to ensure that his team is properly integrating with the house. He has been delighted to see interior designers more involved, too: “We love working with interior designers. They seem to be making their way outside.” 

This “lazy river” project by Ryan Hughes Design Build was inspired by the homeowner’s visit to a five-star resort. Photographs by JoeTraina.

A former professional football player who played with the New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars, Griffin says the sport instilled a professional code in him that he will never forget. “I learned my business credo from playing football: do the right thing.”

All three companies have successfully designed and installed outdoor spaces that defy the imagination with their unique designs, lavish amenities, and highly calibrated technologies.   

Hughes recalls the creation of a Tampa, Florida, landscape that left the homeowners and their children swooning: a “lazy river” project inspired by a five-star resort the family had visited. The home’s elegant Mediterranean design was an ideal starting point for the $1.5 million project, he says.

Lined with glass tile and edged with travertine, the river is a wonderland of mechanical feats and aesthetics. Its complex inner workings are hidden from view. It flows for more than 200 feet, a dreamy experience made possible by another team member: the professionals at Current Systems, a division of Riverflow. The exquisite effect, says Hughes, is due to fine-tuned collaboration. “The entire team was on the same trajectory in accomplishing the project’s goal.”,,

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