5 Calming Backyards From our Favorite Californian Homes — Pools, Bars, and Firepits Abound in These Spaces

Here's a round up of the most thoughtful, practical and beautiful designs that truly make the most of the natural surroundings

A rain chain coming down from the corner of a house
(Image credit: Lisa Romerein. Design: Assembledge+)

It might not be backyard season in a lot of places in the world right now, but if re-landscaping is on your 2024 to-do list, where better to offer you sunny inspiration than California.

It doesn’t matter how big or small your backyard is, it's always refreshing and enjoyable to have a space where you can unwind and socialize. There are plenty of ways you can transform this space Think: a pool or a lounge for the family to have memorable moments; a bar to invite friends to, an outdoor kitchen for cookouts.

To give you some food for thought, we rounded up some of the most interesting designs we've noticed this year from Californian homes. Take a look at these wonderful spaces and start pulling together your yard wishlist for next year.

1. This backyard with a maximalist outdoor bar, dining and pool

An outdoor seating area

(Image credit: Pablo Enriquez. Design: Gianpiero Gaglione GG Interior Designs)

Gianpiero Gaglione of GG Interior Design was tasked with remodeling this maximalist backyard with outdoor bar, into a fabulously ornate space. To give it a unique touch, he went with a “more is more” approach, and the bar became a fine example of excess. 'Considering this is an outdoor space, for me, the bar does not look compromised or restrained in any way and I love that,' he says.

To begin with, he applied antiqued mirrors to the surrounding walls to hide the back wall's windows. He added a horseshoe-shaped lounging nook, with pretty coffee tables, and tufted outdoor cushions in an array of pleasing colors. A key point about this space's design is that it serves to blend the indoor and outdoor areas. The living room opens up to the outdoor patio area thanks to the large stacking sliding doors between the spaces, which connect the rooms seamlessly. The communal dining area has a delicate and intimate scale and proportion, inspired by a Mediterranean dining experience.

And finally, no Beverly Hills home is complete without a pool. This particular one is inspired by Italian architect Carlo Scarpa and was fabricated from a whole slab cut into staggered depths in a step formation.

2. This outdoor space with a kitchen island

An outdoor kitchen island clad in green tile

(Image credit: Caitlin Atkinson. Design: And And And)

This Californian outdoor kitchen island is definitely one from our dreams. 'The existing pool area from the 50s was a lot of concrete without definition or real purpose,' explain Daniel Rabin and Annie Ritz, founders of And And And. 'We created the outdoor kitchen as a terminus to one such area - it receives beautiful California light at dusk and frames the greenery while adding warmth to the pool deck.'

For the kitchen counter, a ceramic tiling in dark verdant green was chosen from Heath Ceramics. As a way to balance its look, the shelving is made from Douglas fir. The materials blend with other spaces in the backyard too, including a seating area where a firepit is also clad in the same green tiling along with a sofa designed in the same wood, upholstered in pink. Backyard string lighting adds a warm glow to the space. 'They have gorgeous sunsets from the outdoor kitchen too,' add the designers.

3. This backyard's unique fireplace

A rain chain coming down from the corner of a house

(Image credit: Lisa Romerein. Design: Assembledge+)

Wrapping around a modern home in Fryman Canyon, Los Angeles, this Californian backyard features a peaceful rain chain and a fireplace that truly inspires. The project is the brainchild of David Thompson, a principal and founder of Assembledge, Susan Mitnick of the eponymous design studio, and Michael Fiore of Fiore Landscape Design.

For the uninitiated, rain chains are decorative and functional elements as they add beauty to the backyard, and collect rainwater from the gutters and channel it to irrigate and feed the plants. 'Rain chains offer an elegant and more aesthetically pleasing alternative to typical solid downspout pipes,' explains David. 'It is an understated design element and a great way to add unique design detail to a home to help direct water from the gutters.

The rain chain apart, the home also features a cozy firepit seating area - a standalone focal centerpiece that entices guests to gather around. 'The fireplace sitting area offers a more secluded and intimate experience where one sits below the house, amidst nature, looking towards the landscape,' says David.

4. This backyard with a stunning pool and pool house

pool house and bar

(Image credit: Manolo Langis. Design: Brandon Architects and Brooke Wagner Design)

This is like a classic Selling Sunset home - equipped with a pool, an outdoor bar, ample seating, and a 600-square-foot pool house. This California pool house by Brandon Architects is the perfect setting for both family members and friends to enjoy. ‘The pool was designed to be a focal point of the yard and very fun for our young kids,’ explains Christopher Brandon, the founder. The pool has a bar, that discreetly merges into its surroundings.

Adding to the grandeur of the home is the 600-square-foot pool house with double-height ceilings featuring dark wood beams that contrast the light walls creating a modern but welcoming look. Within this space, is a custom plaster fireplace with a tumbled Carrara surround and hearth, and a built-in bar and wine cellar to kick off any celebration.

5. This backyard with a minimalist garden

A lush yet minimalist backyard

(Image credit: Mikiko Kikuyama. Studio credit SAW)

This home in San Francisco Bay Area has a Japanese-inspired retreat in its backyard, highlighting venerable existing plantings within an overlay of new landscape elements. A majestic Weeping Maple was preserved through careful pruning and protection, and Spiegel Aihara Workshop used stone pebbles, ferns, and grasses to surround and highlight the maple, creating a textural landscape for the tree’s twisting trunk and branches and the drape of lacy, serrated leaves that turn a brilliant red in fall.

'Minimalist backyards and gardens don't need to be empty or austere, but they should have a strong focus,' says Megumi Aihara, co-founder, and principal of Spiegel Aihara Workshop. 'Trees can help provide that focus and if a tree is to become the highlight of your minimal garden, it should maximize your attention in multiple ways.'

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Design Editor

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is the Design Editor at Livingetc. She is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.