Randolph's Sunken Patio with Pergola

Small, Cool Outdoors Entry #13

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Name: Randolph P.
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Size: 210 square feet (243 with abutting walkway)

Your Favorite Thing About Your Outdoor Space: It’s a perfect reward following a traumatic year. Last July I was involved in a bicycle accident that left me with a lacerated scalp, three broken ribs, a punctured lung and a fractured collar bone. Six days later my deck was destroyed by fire (cause unknown). Although my injuries prevented me from doing anything about my deck right away, I decided that, since it had to be torn out anyway, I would replace it with a sunken patio...

...As my recovery permitted, I spent part of the fall and the whole winter (with help from my partner, my brother and friends) excavating heavy, clay soil down to a depth of almost three feet. I then spent my spring compacting the soil (with a hand tamper), installing a French drain, shoveling in gravel and sand, and at last building the walls and laying the pavers. Somewhere along the way I also fixed the pergola posts in place. As the anniversary of my accident approached, I finally lost patience and hired someone to pour concrete for an abutting walkway while I constructed and stained the pergola. Now it’s finally finished, my horrible year is over, and I couldn’t be happier.

(Incidentally, a bouquet my sister sent me following my bike accident contained curly willow twigs. My partner rooted them and I planted them in three corners of the patio. So the whole thing really has come full circle.)

Biggest Design Challenge With This Space: Being sited on a corner lot that sits snug against a public sidewalk and street, this space required both privacy and shade. To solve these problems, the patio had to go down and a pergola had to go up. This added extra layers of complexity to the project.

Tips for Creating a Great Small Outdoor Space: First, when working out a design, consider sun exposure and lighting requirements at all times of the day (and night). Second, don’t underestimate the value of black in outdoor design. When used with vivid colors, black recedes into the background, providing a sound backdrop as the colors take center stage; when paired with white, the result is dramatic contrast. Curiously, in an outdoor space black has the opposite effect it does indoors – it makes the space seem larger.

Thanks, Randolph, and good luck!

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