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A Habit of Great Works


A steep slope in the backyard of this house in the northern San Diego County town of Carlsbad was transformed by Backyard Vacations into a multi-tiered relaxation, entertainment and play space for the owners and their two small children. Using a skid steer, the slope was cut back about 20 feet to accommodate the features of the design.


Plank pavers from Olsen were used for all the hardscaped areas. They are 3 3/4" x 15" and came in a variety of colors: 35 percent were limestone, 25 percent were cafe, 20 percent charcoal and 20 percent gray. The existing patio cover was in good enough shape to remain but the landscape crew cut it back some, added a post, cleaned up the edges, painted it and added little travertine bands around the bases of the posts.


The outdoor kitchen counter was constructed with concrete masonry units that were then veneered with 18" x 18" Durango travertine pieces that had been honed and filled. Honing is a process done by the manufacturer to smooth the surface, giving it a glossy look. Filling with grout then removes any small gaps. The countertop was built out of 12" x 12" pieces of granite in a shade called Santa Cecelia. The crew from Backyard Vacations cut and joined all the pieces. A door was installed on the side of the counter giving the residents access to a separate gas line with a quick coupler for the portable heater.

Justin Cummings and his company, Backyard Vacations, have been featured in this magazine before for their outstanding efforts. In fact the first story I wrote for LC/DBM, three years ago this month, was about one of his projects. I remember how impressed, bordering on jealous, I was of that outdoor living area - never having experienced anything close to that in my backyard or those of my friends and family members.

Since that time, I have viewed and written about many other extraordinary outdoor upgrades including another one from Backyard Vacations, and once again, the landscape company from Carlsbad, California was selected to represent outdoor living/custom residential work at its finest.


Tumbled lava stones cover a stainless steel fire ring in the 3' round fire bowl from a nearby precast concrete manufacturer.


The playground structure was a kit that was installed by its manufacturer. An inch and a half foam pad underneath the artificial turf provides a little extra cushion for the children's safety. Both the pad and turf, from local supplier Purchase Green Artificial Grass, were installed by the landscape crew, as was the stackable block wall that has two tiers on this side of the yard but only one on the other side.


Three sheer descents were installed in the pool's raised edge that is veneered in 6" x 6" Durango travertine tiles. The same precast concrete company that supplied the fire bowl provided the Salerno #45 coping and stair treads.

The company's name speaks volumes about what they specialize in and strive to accomplish. Cummings' path to the green industry began after high school in 1988 working some side construction jobs. He then was employed by a landscape pool contractor, helping him run the company. When he was laid off in 2008, Cummings decided to go into business for himself.

As for how he came up with the company's name, Cummings recalls, "It was the recession and people were not traveling as much and I figured that if people put money into their backyard they could enjoy staying home."

It was just him at first, using rented equipment, hiring temporary crews and subs. He now has 17 employees, a skid steer, dump trailer and utility truck, and runs his business out of an office with a storage garage. The latest featured project for Backyard Vacations is for a residence that is also in Carlsbad, a town on the coast in northern San Diego County. Originally the yard sloped down from an old wall to a lawn and covered patio. There was a spa and fountain and not much else.

The owners' two small children were now of the age that they could enjoy a playground area and a pool, both of which were included in the design that was created over the course of six months. Low maintenance was also important.

Everything was removed except the patio cover and fence. The slope was cut back 18 to 20 feet with the help of a skid steer.

"We did it in tiers, that is why we raised the pool," says Cummings. "And that is why we have a separate patio structure on an upper tier - so we could get back further."


Jules tiles in rustic blue from National Pool Tile were installed on the spa's spillway and used as an accent border around the pool.


Kichler path lights and spotlights help illuminate the outdoor living area.


Plantings included a number of different types of palm trees such as king and foxtail, crape myrtle trees, dwarf citrus trees, Karley Rose fountain grass, kangaroo paws, ivy geraniums, trailing sedum and star jasmine. The existing fence was painted by Cummings' crew.

The retaining wall, which has two tiers on one end, was constructed with stackable blocks by the landscape crew who also dug the hole for the pool and built its framework, including a Baja shelf, with steel. Separate companies then installed the shotcrete and the blue quartzscape finish.

The hardscape materials included Olsen 3 3/4" x 15" plank pavers in four different shades: limestone, cafe, charcoal and gray. Durango travertine tiles that had been honed and filled by the manufacturer were used to veneer the outdoor kitchen counter. Pieces of 12" x 12" granite were put together by the crew to make the countertop.

The raised edge of the pool and the spa's wall were also veneered with the travertine. The pool coping and stair treads were bullnose pavers from a nearby precast concrete manufacturer, which also provided the three-foot-round fire bowl that was equipped with a stainless steel fire ring under tumbled lava stones, and situated on the raised patio. Even though the existing patio cover remained, the landscape crew did modify it a little: cutting it back, adding a post, cleaning up the edges, painting it and installing travertine bands around the bases of the posts.

Other work completed by them was installing plantings as well as synthetic turf. Under the turf where the play structure, which was assembled from a kit by a crew from the kit's manufacturer, resides, Cumming's workers installed a shock pad for the children's safety.

With a crew of up to eight at times working on it, the project took six months to complete. There were some delays caused by weather, changes by the customers, and waiting for items that had to be ordered but Cummings gave it a positive final assessment.

"It went pretty well," he summed up with the modesty of one who prefers to let the work speak for itself. "The elevation worked out well."

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, June 2016.

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October 17, 2019, 7:11 am PDT

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