Topic: Hardscaping

Date Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2015
Posted by: Tanya Zanfa (Master Admin)

Hardscape project transforms Meridian couple's outdoor living space

Hardscape project transforms Meridian couple's outdoor living space

Dusty Parnell - Special to Treasure Magazine

​Sometimes backyard magic can happen without involving a single blade of grass.

That's what happened at the home of Louis and Jo Anna Hansen in the Saguaro Canyon neighborhood in Meridian.

They moved to Idaho in 2010 after many years in Ohio. Louis is originally from Filer and a Boise State graduate, class of '71. They have now have been married for 11 years and had made annual visits to Idaho for many years.

"He always told me, 'I am moving back to Boise, Idaho, so if you don't want to leave Ohio, then we wouldn't work out,'" Jo Anna said Louis would remind her while they were dating.

So when Louis took a job as a construction defect litigation adjuster with Berkley North Pacific Group in 2010, they needed a place to live in the Treasure Valley. They wanted a single-level home, and Jo Anna wanted a courtyard. They found a home that they liked, but the landscaping was incomplete, the gate wasn't attached yet, and Jo Anna admits it was rather plain. But they liked the location and the 2010 price, so they bought the house before Jo Anna had a chance to see it in person.

As sometimes happens, the Treasure Valley can be a magnet; the Hansens were soon followed to Idaho by their youngest daughter and Jo Anna's sister.

Even though the landscaping was in, it still didn't have quite the right fit for them. The fence was starting to sag a bit, and it was time to do some tweaking.

"It just kind of morphed into what we have today," Jo Anna said.

The morphing started small. They would put concrete on the side of the house and fix the side gate.

"Then she wanted a firepit," Louis said. "But I didn't want it to look like anybody else's. And I thought if we were going to do that, we should have a fountain, too."

They hooked up with Tim Fellin of T&R Masonry, the team that did the original masonry work for their home. (T&R does the masonry contract work for Boise Hunter Homes.) The ideas went back and forth; the firepit became a firepit table, planter boxes grew in number, lighting and electricity were added, and the ideas started to come together with the help of inspiration from Sunset magazine, T&R's landscape designer and other sources.

"It's gone through a lot of changes and a lot of insanity," said Samantha Barrientos, the daughter who followed them to Idaho and now goes to the College of Western Idaho.

"The important thing to us was that it flowed and didn't look like it was pieced together," Louis said.

Samantha, though, wasn't convinced turning the backyard into an all-encompassing hardscape project was going to achieve any desired family haven.

"I thought, 'Oh no. You guys have a gorgeous house, what are you talking about?' " she said. "I have a slab of concrete in my backyard - why would you think that?"

She also shook her head when she heard how many dozens of lights would be added to the backyard.

"It's going to be crazy bright," she thought.

But opinions can change once someone sees the end result of a project.

"I would live out by their firepit if I could," Samantha says today. "But it's not anything I would have thought of. I think a lot of the neighbors had the same reaction I did. But everybody loved it. It got rave reviews, that's for sure. I heard the word 'amazing' a lot."


T&R Masonry has been doing these kinds of projects for several years now. One crew does new construction and another crew works on outdoor living spaces and paver driveways.

Fellin says more people these days are putting money into "their own oasis," rather than purchasing a vacation home or taking expensive vacations. And hardscaping can be a great option because it lasts "forever."

"It's not like a deck that requires maintenance," he said.

But just because it's easy to take care of doesn't mean it's easy to throw together.

"You really are giving birth to something," Fellin said.

"Everything was gone, right down to the dirt," Louis said.

About the only thing that remained was a pair of juniper trees out front. Otherwise, trees were pulled out, irrigation drip lines were pulled out, and a trench was dug around the house to ensure a proper drainage system. The air-conditioning unit needed to be removed to create access in the back for the Skid Cat. It was offline for almost two months during the hottest part of the summer. Lack of air conditioning was probably the biggest challenge during the entire three-month project, which speaks well for the whole planning and construction process.

As the project grew, so did the required solutions to pull it off.

All of the years Louis has spent with defective construction litigation means he is aware of the things that can go wrong. Drainage was clearly important. He has seen more than his share of drainage problems over the years in his profession.

"Because of what I do, I'm kind of a pain, ... " he said.

"He drove me nuts, but it was OK," Jo Anna said with a laugh.

"Louis is the kind of client I want," Fellin said. Together they figured out how to incorporate the basement ventilation through a planter so it would be both efficient and aesthetically pleasing.

"We tried to anticipate what the issues would be, not just now but further down the line," Louis said.

The planter boxes are all independent structures, too, which can eliminate future problems; 6-inch conduits were put under the pavers for the plumbing and electrical systems; low-voltage LED lights were put under the planter caps; and 110 outlets were placed in every planter for potential future use. (Christmas lights, anyone?)

"You don't ever see 75 percent of the job," Fellin said.

Jo Anna's job was somewhat easier.

"I did nothing but go pick out stones and rocks," she said.

She does underplay some of her role, as she often supplied Gatorade, muffins or lunch to the workers in her backyard.

"I feel like if you take care of your contractors, they'll take care of you," she said.

Speaking of rocks, a lot of effort went into choosing just the right rocks for the firepit. Let's just say that the choice of those blue rocks, along with the orange flames of the fire, make for a rather appropriate color combination in this Bronco-loving town.

After it was all completed at the beginning of October, the couple invited neighbors over for a small party to both show off their backyard and thank the neighbors for their several months of construction patience.

What they saw was a lovely firepit table that will seat a large gathering (it now has a custom cover, too), a three-stone fountain, numerous planters - including stepped planters in the corner to add height - all new pavers, concrete on the sides, a mahogany half-wall to block the view of the air-conditioning unit, and about 80 or 90 LED lights around the house, amber in back, white in front. Most are placed under the planter caps (which double as seats), and nary a one shines into anyone's eyes. Nor do the lights leak into the neighbors' yards.

"This is actually a pretty cool yard," Samantha said. "It turned out great."

"They did it right," Fellin said.

While all that (low-maintenance) concrete may seem a bit much to some, the side of the house opposite the firepit is the perfect spot for a rousing game of cornhole. At least that's what they call it back in Ohio. Some people around here will likely recognize it as bean bag toss.

And back to those missing blades of grass: Actually, they did keep a square out in the front yard.

"We didn't want to make it look like a concrete jungle," Fellin said.

That means Louis can still go out and mow the lawn whenever he's in the mood for two or three minutes with his mower.

"He takes pride in that little patch of grass," Samantha said.

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