The Green Scene In The News – 2010

Scott Cohen has many brand new videos on You Tube’s LandscapingNetwork Channel

In the News November 2010

  • Scott Cohen won two GAVA awards at the awards ceremony in Las Vegas on Nov. 7, 2010 for the Weintraub and Beshay projects.

In the News October 2010

  • Landscape Construction – October 2010 – “Lost in Paradise” by Scott Cohen
  • Landscape Architect – October 2010 – “Over The Edge” by Scott Cohen

In the News September 2010

  • Concrete Network: Top 5 outdoor concrete videos: See what everyone’s watching (hint: you’ve seen him on this Web site before!)
  • Pool & Spa News: Builder, Designer…Mediator by Dan Schechner (Pool and Spa News, Sept. 15, 2010)

In the News August 2010

  • 2010 Masters of Design – Award of Merit (Pool and Spa News, August 19, 2010) Category: Concrete Pools Scott Cohen | The Green Scene Design & Construction
  • WaterShapes: Outdoor Living by Scott Cohen (Watershapes, July/August 2010)
  • Welcome Your Guests with Open Arms: (Your Home and Lifestyle, August 2010)

Outdoor Living - By Scott Cohen

The Green Scene in Watershapes, July/August 2010

Southern California watershaper and landscape designer Scott Cohen is known for wildly creative designs that capture and express his clients’ personalities and aspirations about luxury. Along the way, he’s developed a special touch in developing outdoor cooking and dining areas — a pursuit taken up by many watershapers in recent years and one about which Cohen has written a book whose key recommendations he shares here.

If there’s one thing that almost all parties in homes have in common, it’s that people tend to congregate around food and drink in the kitchen. Almost invariably, that’s where the action is.

As more and more homeowners are taking their indoor lifestyles outdoors into their backyards and landscapes, the “action” is moving outside as well, with al fresco kitchens becoming the new hub at social gatherings. This is why outdoor kitchens have grown so much in popularity in recent years, moving past being simple counters adjacent to charcoal barbecues to become, according to the American Institute of Architects, the number one growth category in home improvement.

In plying my trade in a sunny, particularly warm part of southern California, I’ve had a front row seat in watching this trend develop — and I’ve now been designing and building these amenities for more than a quarter century. It’s reached a point where my company, The Green Scene (Northridge, CA) builds at least 25 outdoor kitchens every year across a range of styles and levels of complexity.

Experience has taught us that the more inviting and useful the kitchen is, the more time people spend outside using the entire space and the happier they are with their investment. Getting there, of course, is all about the planning.

Pass The Fun

Even in the soft economy of the past few years, outdoor kitchens have been riding high locally. In fact, it’s not unusual these days for our firm to design and specify an entire space, then install only the outdoor kitchen as a first phase. The obvious reason for this is that the outdoor kitchen is what many homeowners want most — ahead of the swimming pools, fire pits, landscaping, and other hardscape structures we’ve included in their master plans.

Part of the reason is that, by and large, men and women tend to agree when it comes to outdoor kitchens. In working with couples through the years, in fact, it’s one of the few areas in which it’s easy to find common ground when it comes to spending the money. Where a couple might be at odds about every other element in a design, they have a shared sense of the worth of an outdoor kitchen.

And the cool thing is that, in observing the way our clients usually use their outdoor kitchens, it’s clear that these are spaces in which they are much more likely to work together in the food preparation process than is the case in the cramped confines of an outdoor kitchen.

Furthermore — and again this comes through watching behavior at parties, which is something I do as often as I can —these outdoor kitchens are spaces where the tendency for men and women to divide into separate groups always seems to break down. And the same goes for kids and adults and for people at parties who don’t know each other.

Check it out for yourself: if you want to see the place where everyone at a gathering spends time, you generally don’t have to look beyond the outdoor kitchen. In fact, if you’re at a party and want to have the chance to talk to everyone who’s there, just hang out in this area and they’ll all eventually come to you. It’s where you’ll hear the most laughter, receive the most hugs, and by and large have the most fun.

All of this spontaneity and conviviality requires forethought. Indeed, proper planning by the homeowners is by far the most important factor in the relative success or failure of an outdoor kitchen project, which is one of the reasons I never approach these jobs with any preconceptions. No two outdoor kitchens are ever the same, and there are so many options in terms of appliances, layouts, locations, and sizes that homeowners simply must get involved and take the time to consider, in detail, what they want most and what they’ll be most likely to use and how.

In my 25 years with these installations, it’s been my observation that some clients come to me already having considered many of the key issues and approach the design process with fairly clear ideas about what they want. Far more often, however, they haven’t stopped to think about the range of options beyond (maybe) a grill and need help walking through their options.

There was enough of this going on that, to aid the process, I finally sat down and wrote a book on the subject.

Living Color

Last year I published Scott Cohen’s Outdoor Kitchen Design Workbook, which, as the title implies, is something both designers and homeowners can use to focus their thoughts and efforts along productive lines.

The book’s 170 pages go into tremendous detail — far beyond what I can cover here — and highlights the fact that the most important aspect of the planning process is to break things down into key areas of inquiry that will enable designers to determine work and with homeowners’ needs, desires, and personalities, such as:

Style Preferences

As with all aspects of watershape, landscape and architectural design, outdoor kitchens have a style. I always ask clients if they have a theme in mind for the space (tropical, classic, contemporary, nautical) or if they’ve seen something that has particularly caught their attention. I also ask them to describe the style of their house, which, although it might be obvious, is often something of which they are unaware or simply don’t perceive. If they can’t get specific, I cast an even wider net and get them talking about any memorable experiences, hobbies or locales they think they’d like to incorporate into the design.

Entertaining Needs

I ask them whether their goal in the project is to have a place for entertaining family and friends – a question that begins the process of determining the amount of space needed for the kitchen and dining areas as well as the size and selection of the appliances. How often do they anticipate cooking outside? How many people do they anticipate entertaining? Will parties include bartenders or caterers? Will they have a dining table? How much space will be devoted to furniture? My goal here is to get them to start visualizing the space and how people and furnishings will fill it.

Counter Configuration

A few quick questions about counter space shift the attention from the social to the practical. How much food-preparation surface do they think they’ll need? How many cooks will be at work when things get busy? Do they want single- or splitheight counters? Of course, there’s also a social component to this resource issue, so we also ask: How many people do they want to accommodate right at the counter?

Lighting and Fire

It’s important to know when clients anticipate using their outdoor kitchens: On weeknights or weekend evenings, or mainly for day-time gatherings on weekends? Most people want the flexibility of using the kitchen day or night, so typically we need to consider illuminating the areas that need to be lit, beginning obviously with the kitchen counters. And if it’s clear that they intend to use the space year ’round, fire or other heating elements generally become part of the conversation.

In each of these areas, there’s room for excruciatingly detailed discussion – and each element should indeed be pursued fully and carefully.

But there are two additional areas I want to mention, both of which are more crucial than any of the points just above in determining the overall success of the design: location and appliance selection.

Well Placed

One might argue that the most important of all decisions when planning an outdoor kitchen is where to put it. This can have a major influence on a space’s functionality, aesthetics and effect on the rest of the property as well as on whether the space will be used constantly – or hardly at all.

As mentioned above, an outdoor kitchen is a place where people gather, so it should be put in a desirable location – perhaps where there are generous views of the rest of the yard or the surrounding area or it is nestled in beautiful landscaping. As with any other exterior room, you should also consider how the outdoor kitchen is seen from various points inside the house.

Many are situated near swimming pools or fire pits, and as a rule they’re set up so they can be covered by some sort of shade structure. And while an al fresco kitchen can be set amid a lush landscape, it’s rarely a good idea to put a cooking or food-preparation area under overhanging greenery: Having plant material fall into the kitchen space creates maintenance, cleanliness and even fire-safety issues.

Traffic patterns are another key consideration. This is going to be an area where people will pick up food and drinks, so it should be easy to move in and out with some sort of reasonable flow – meaning most of the time you’re not going to want to tuck the kitchen into a corner or a spot where bottlenecks will become an annoying fact of life.

In many cases, clients want their kitchen to be located near the home – or even made into an extension of the home’s structure. To be sure, keeping things close can make a great deal of sense in a smaller yard, where you want to maximize the rest of the useful space. And it’s certainly never a bad idea to have the outdoor kitchen within a reasonable distance of the indoor kitchen simply because there’s generally a lot of back and forth between the two spaces.

All that is true, but at the same time, it’s not a great idea to place the indoor and outdoor kitchen areas immediately adjacent to one another. I’ve seen this layout quite a few times and have two observations: First, this approach tends to desegregate men and women, with the men congregating outside and the women gathering inside. Second, the doorway between the adjoining spaces becomes a bottleneck – a problem minimized if there’s a buffer zone between the two spaces.

Sometimes, of course, a buffer zone can be too large – a common problem on larger properties where the outdoor kitchen is placed well away from the house to create a destination in the landscape. This has the positive effect of drawing guests out into the yard to notice and enjoy their surroundings from different perspectives, but it also means the outdoor kitchen must be fairly well self-contained unless the homeowners want to wear themselves out moving back and forth from the grill to the house.

The key here is to think things through and know why you’re placing the kitchen in a remote spot. If there’s a rewarding view or this placement takes advantage of a great garden path or conveys people toward the pool area or gives them access to a special entertainment zone, all that distance might make sense.

In all cases, you also need to consider the elements, especially prevailing winds. This brings the physical orientation of kitchen elements into play, given the obvious fact that it would be undesirable to set things up in such a way that, most days, the smoke from the grill will waft across the kitchen space and into everyone’s eyes and lungs. Having things blow around is not much fun, either.

Finally, consider privacy. Generally, it’s not a great idea to put an outdoor kitchen in the direct line of sight of a neighbor’s house. If this can’t be avoided, we’ll set up privacy screens or patio plantings to create a sense of division (and have noticed that the plants reduce noise as well).

Appliance Science

At the same time outdoor kitchens have been growing in popularity, there’s been a parallel surge in interest among suppliers who want to meet the demand – and they’re delivering big time, having come light years with respect to variety, special features and overall sophistication.

Given all of the possibilities, it’s extremely important to cover appliances early on in client discussions: Their informed choices (and believe me, most of them are familiar only with a few of their options) will have a lot to say about the size of counter spaces and the overall functionality of the entire design.

To illustrate this point, here’s a quick rundown of some of the currently available appliances and features that can make both large and small differences in how an outdoor kitchen will be designed, used and enjoyed:

  • Grills: These have come a very long way in recent times, particularly when you consider approaches such as rotisserie cooking. There was a day when most rotisserie set-ups were awkward because, with their horizontal heat sources placed below the meat, they’d flare up and it was quite difficult to get even cooking.
    Now rotisserie grills come equipped with vertical back-side burners – a significant advancement that enables the preparer to cook meat reliably without having to monitor its progress constantly. This enables the cook to spend more time socializing and tending to guests and less time micromanaging the rotisserie.
    Also, grills these days can come with smoker drawers, steamers, fry cookers, searing zones (one of my favorite features – wonderful for preparing meats restaurant style), side burners, warming drawers, hot plates, griddle plates and wok burners. Most of these relate directly to the types of dishes clients anticipate preparing, so right from the start you must define some culinary specifics.
  • Beverage Centers: I recommend some type of beverage center for all of my projects. These can be as simple as stainless-steel drop-in coolers that work like ice chests or as sophisticated as full-service cocktail stations with separate ice bins, bottle storage areas, cutting boards, drop-in ingredient containers and the like.
    These areas are great because they provide ready access to drinks, are easily cleaned and are infinitely preferable to placing a separate, camp-style ice chest off to the side of the cooking area: They look a bit tacky, involve too much bending over and are simply a hassle relative to built-in alternatives.
    Along similar lines, I’m not nearly as enthusiastic about outdoor refrigerators as I am about drop-in coolers. They work well, but they gobble up considerable energy to do little more than keep a few beers or sodas cold between parties. Truth be told, there’s almost never a need to store food in an outdoor refrigerator, so they end up wasting space and money.
    There are, of course, some exceptions: If there are a lot of kids using a nearby pool area on a regular basis, then an outdoor refrigerator might make sense to keep bottled water and soft drinks at hand (and keep the kids from traipsing in and out of the house dripping wet). Another special case is when the outdoor kitchen is truly remote from the home and there’s some merit to the idea of making the outdoor kitchen more self-contained and complete.
  • Trash Openings: This is a simple thing, but all outdoor kitchens should have through-the-counter trash openings. These allow for convenient disposal of cooking debris while also keeping trash cans out of sight and helping the whole area seem neat and clean. There are also trash receptacles that come out as drawers, which works as well – and some of these units come with built in cutting boards, which can be mighty convenient for scrap and trimming disposal.
  • Drawers: It’s important to remember that even with an outdoor kitchen, most of the food preparation will still take place indoors. This puts a premium on having outdoor storage drawers that can be used to hold prepared foods in much the same way drawers are used to stash food in restaurants prior to cooking. With that in mind, manufacturers have developed models equipped with pullout liners for easy food transfers and drains to speed up cleaning.
  • Paper-Towel Holders: I’m only half-joking when I say that the simple drawer equipped with a paper-towel spindle is, in my opinion, the biggest recent improvement in outdoor kitchens. Placed near the grill, these features help cooks (and others) resist the temptation to wipe their hands on their clothes. And the fact that the roll is hidden inside a drawer protects the paper towels from incidental spills – a great practical feature.
  • Sinks: Although these are seemingly obvious inclusions in outdoor kitchens, they are certainly the most problematic. The reason is simple: Once potable water passes through human hands, by code it has become contaminated and must flow to a sanitary sewer instead of into a simple drainage system. This can mean significant effort in routing the drain to the sewer, which is why so many homeowners, balking at the expense, don’t include these fixtures.
    Truth be told, very few people are going to wash dishes in an outdoor sink. Indeed, simply rinsing hands is the likeliest use, so as an alternative, we commonly recess a hose bib in the side of the grill or counter structure that serves a dual purpose for quick rinses and for connection of a hose for post party clean ups.
  • Pizza Ovens: I love the thought of great pizza and understand why so many people request these ovens, but I’ve come to see them as impractical. They’re quite expensive, take up lots of space, are tough to clean and use lots of energy. And on a practical level, unless you know your way around a real pizza oven through experience in a real pizza cookery, they’re pretty difficult to use.
    For those who insist, we’re happy to oblige. But I’ll spend a good bit of time making certain they know the practicalities and haven’t simply been caught up in the romance of the idea. If they know what they’re doing and we move ahead, tremendous pizza can be the result.

Good Times

If you do everything properly in working with your clients to develop their custom outdoor kitchens, much more than good pizza is on the way: Above anything else, these amenities are about fun and enjoyment.

Sometimes the results will fit seamlessly within the property’s architectural themes, but other times our clients will see these kitchens more as extensions of themselves and their personalities than as reflections of their built surroundings. Whichever direction we take, we know that if we’ve listened well and have translated what we hear into outdoor kitchens they’ll actually use, these spaces will help these homeowners experience the good life in myriad new ways – and enable them to bring their friends along for the ride.

As a designer, I’ve always approached outdoor kitchens with confidence, knowing that unless something goes seriously awry, the clients are going to spend quality time using the wonderful spaces I’ve devised for them over and over again. And if my own experiences in attending parties hosted by former clients are any indication, outdoor kitchens truly are where the action is!

Surface Materials

There are numerous materials you can use to create counters for outdoor kitchens. Granite is extremely popular these days, largely for its durability and range of colors and patterning, as is tile, which is also quite durable and easily works in a range of styles.

Personally, however, I steer away from both of those options: Granite counters can be beautiful, but they require regular treatment to prevent moisture penetration and staining, and they have to be fabricated elsewhere and shipped to the site, which is expensive as well as risky. Certain tiles can be wonderful, too, but the grout is tough to clean and prone to discoloration.

In my projects, concrete is the material of choice – decorative concrete to be precise. This material can be made to look like anything imaginable, from wood or granite to marble or tile. It’s also durable and can easily be fashioned on site. And if you mess up, it’s easy to start over. Part of the fun is coming up with something unique, whether it’s with elaborate, sculpted details or with wonderfully creative inlays or colors.

As with most other things, there’s a learning curve with decorative concrete, but the time I’ve spent mastering its potential has paid off handsomely – both for me and my clients.

Math Matters

When it comes to planning outdoor kitchens, I’ve encountered a handful of basic measurements I always keep in mind:

  • Food-preparation counters should be 36 inches high – or 38 inches to accommodate an under-counter refrigerator or a tall cook. (In general, the counter should never be higher than the usual cook’s bent elbow!)
  • The standard height for tabletops is 30 inches.
  • Bar counters are generally 42 to 46 inches high, while most barstools are 28 inches high (but can vary). In some cases, if the clients are intent on a particular style or model of barstool, we’ll acquire them first and set the bar height accordingly.
  • Allow 24 inches of width for each seat at the bar.
  • Bar counters should be a minimum of 18 inches deep, thus leaving room for countertop dining with typical plates, which range from nine to 11 inches.

The Green Scene in Your Home and Lifestyle, August 2010

Welcome Your Guests with Open Arms by Carolyn Runyon

Backyard outdoor rooms are extremely popular everywhere in the United States. Outdoor kitchens, spas, video centers, fireplaces, swimming pools, and gazebos all help to establish a wonderfully usable, comfortable desirable living space in which to entertain family and friends. But many homeowners tend to forget about the front yard and entrance to their homes because, simply, they don’t spend much time there. “A homeowner returns home drives along the driveway to the garage and enters the home from that door, never even catching a glimpse of the house”, says Scott Cohen, a designer regularly featured on HGTV and landscape designer at the Green Scene, an award-winning residential landscape design and construction firm. Homeowners feel that, although the backyard is theirs, the front of the home belongs to the neighbors. They often neglect it because they practically forget that it’s even there.”

Cohen says the front of a home should actually be of paramount importance. It’s the primary area seen by those approaching and leaving the home and by all passersby. The front entryway is the first thing an invited guest sees, so it should be attractive and hospitable. I like an ‘open arms’ design for an entry”, explains Cohen. The base of the stairs should be wide, and as they lead to the front door, the width should be reduced somewhat. The perception is of welcoming open arms to anyone moving toward the entry.” Cohen also advises against “duck walks”, meaning an entry access that is so tight that people must walk single file to reach or leave the door. “The entry should be generous and comfortably allow for two-way traffic”, he notes.

Cohen discourages owners from creating too many approaches from the front yard to the house. “Some homeowners offer a multitude of walkways to visitors”, he explains. There’s a path from the front to the backyard, another path to a side yard or garage, as well as the steps leading to the front door. All these paths are confusing to guests; they don’t know which walkway to use.” Cohen believes the front door should be the main focus, and the walkway or stairs leading to that door should be prominent in the front yard design.

Landscaping and architectural details that coordinate with the original structure will look like they belong and have always been a part of the house, Cohens says. He advises using the same materials and shapes that are on the house in the landscaping design. “If a house has a low horizontal plane, so should the landscaping”, he says. A grander home can handle a grander scale of architecture and landscaping details.” Nevertheless, he warns, “Never overdo or overpower the home itself.”

In order for steps to be attractive and safe, certain design elements should be included. Wide landings are comfortable to walk on and impressive looking. Stairs should be well lit for safety reasons. Never light stairs from the top because that will cause a shadow. Light stairs from the side with eyebrow or pilaster lights or on the face of the step itself,” Cohen suggests. “I prefer side lighting myself. Lights on the face of a step tend to look more commercial.”

Landscaping plantings can be simple and monochromatic or ambitious and colorful. Dividing walls can be stone, stucco, or live hedge. But all the details should complement the original structure and coordinate with the original materials used in the construction of the house. Cohen adds, “A well-planned and appealing front entryway says, “come on in” to visitors and tells them that the owners are proud of their home and warmly welcome guests.”

When Preparing to Sell

Curb appeal is especially important for aa house that is on the market. The front of a house is the first thing a potential buyer experience. It can invite that person to look inside or turn him away. Scott Cohen offers a few suggestions to home sellers:

Fertizize and water your landscaping plants. Yellowed trees, grass, and plantings are not healthy and look uncared for. Neglected plants may influence someone’s impression of how you have maintained the rest of your home. Prune overgrown trees and plants. Pay particular attention to those that block the path to the front door. A clear entry is open, comfortable, and inviting.

Make sure you have good outside lighting. Many prospective buyers may want to drive by the house in the evening to see the outside before making an actual appointment to view the house. For the same reason, make sure address is easily visible from the street.

Add seasonal color in pots. These flowers or plants can be changed easily if necessary.

Finally, step outside and actually take a look at the front entryway. Are there spiderwebs? Are bulbs burned out? Is there an accumulation of leaves or debris? A little cleaning and maintenance will help project a warm, welcoming impression to prospective buyers at little or no cost.

The Green Scene in Concrete Construction, August 2010

Backyard Expanses

The concrete countertop is the focal point for outdoor kitchens

by Tom Bagsarian

Scott Cohen is riding a wave in California. But it’s not the type of wave surfers in the Golden State maneuver.

As owner of The Green Scene in Los Angeles, Cohen is preaching the merits of outdoor kitchen design and construction techniques to anyone with an ear. People are apparently listening. And there is more than just the kitchen. The trend includes defining different outdoor rooms in a single backyard. The kitchen is just one of these rooms.

“People may give up a lot of different things to save money these days, but the outdoor kitchen is holding strong”, says Cohen. During a recession people don’t travel as much, and they take staycations. They do more home entertaining than when there isn’t a recession.”

Also, an outdoor kitchen is a home improvement a husband and wife can agree on. “It’s a unique home environment because in many categories, the lady of the house wants to remodel the kitchen, the bathroom, or the closets, and the man says it’s not important to him,” says Cohen. This category is so strong because husbands and wives agree it’s a good place to spend money. Both people are on board with the concept.”

And they are spending money. A cast concrete counter can cost up to $20,000 and range from 8 to 28 feet long. “Like with any home improvement, there’s a certain amount of one-upping the Joneses”, he says. Clients tell Cohen their friends have a nice concrete counter that is 8 feet long, but they want something better, perhaps 10 feet long, with a refrigerator, ice maker, and beverage center, with better lighting and outdoor sound.

Retail value for this category is excellent. People looking for homes, especially in California, go in the backyard and ask, where is the barbecue, Cohen says. “The perceived value is about twice as much as it cost to build,” he says. “If I build an outdoor kitchen for $10,000, someone will go in that backyard and think it cost $20,000.”

Concrete's Advantages

Cohen, who is a general contractor, landscape contractor, and pool contractor, employs 40 people. They do their own concrete and masonry work, which includes walls, steps, patio covers, balconies, flat work, and of course, concrete countertops.

“I love the versatility of the cast concrete counter, he explains. I can keep the materials and decisions in my camp. If someone wants granite, we have to go outside to a fabricator and deal with transportation. With concrete, I can custom design anything with 40 different integral colors for my client. I can stain it, embed it with crushed glass or stone, and there’s no waste. It’s created all onsite with inexpensive polystyrene foam molds.

Clients do not want grout lines, and the countertop is usually 6500 to 7000 psi strength concrete Cohen uses a penetrating sealer and a topical sealer over that. Then the homeowner applies the topical sealer every 6 months to keep the surface clean.

For the flooring, Cohen will do a stamped concrete patio and then do a different stamped pattern in another location to define it as its own outdoor room.

When using stamped concrete outdoors, the texture should not be too deep so that the furniture does not rock back and forth.

Also, a floor should be sealed if the homeowners entertain a lot with caterers and bartenders. This protects the surface from spills such as grease and red wine.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Countertops are close to a person’s face”, Cohen says. The precision and quality of the finish is going to be scrutinized much closer than a walkway leading to a garage. Countertops are tricky to cast in place and trowel in place. It takes a skilled finisher to get a smooth top. I suggest testing your colors and techniques on a couple of 12×12 stepping stones. Try different forms.”

Elegant Outdoor Showers at HGTV

Elegant, well-designed outdoor showers add to the overall aesthetic of an outdoor space. From sleek, modern models to Tuscan-inspired classics, these outdoor showers will spruce up your landscape.

By Karli Sanders

The Green Scene in Landscape Architect, July 2010

A Backyard Re-design That Really Works

By Scott Cohen

I know that no two designers will ever visualize a backyard redesign in exactly the same way, but I still couldn’t help myself from wondering “What on Earth were they thinking when they first laid out this plot plan?”

The original swimming pool and patio design totally blocked the gorgeous views on this panoramic lot, paved over much of the greenery, and had minimal space allocated for entertaining. The water fountains and material selection were reminiscent of something from Star Wars and screamed of the architectural style of the 1970’s, when it was originally constructed.

The homeowners had a big wish list, which was expressed through a comprehensive interview process that I go through with my clients with the aid of a 4-page questionnaire that I have developed over my career of 24 years. They wanted to create a yard that worked well for entertaining larger groups of guests, take advantage of the spectacular views, and still meet the everyday needs of their young family. Most of all they wanted a space that had a clean contemporary feel.

Some designers have their signature look. With a glance you can identify their work. This is not true for my work. I like to design in different styles, depending on the client’s needs and the architecture of their home. Just like truly talented actors can play a wide range of theatrical roles, I am of the opinion that a talented designer should be able to design in a variety of different genres, and contemporary styling is one of my favorite.

The first step in designing any backyard space is to divide it into several different outdoor rooms. People have a natural tendency to break up into smaller groups at gatherings. They rarely congregate in just one area. Think about the last party you attended. One group will be discussing Facebook, while another discusses the economy, another is talking about sports, and your Uncle Bill can’t stop talking about the tasting samples at Costco. Because of this inclination to break into smaller groups, oversize patios stuck at the back of the house are a thing of the past. Instead, I prefer to develop a variety of multiple outdoor rooms to maximize the use of available space for entertaining.

In this yard, I demolished the existing hardscape and patios and created separate spaces for cooking, dining, sunbathing, lounging, and entertaining. The old barbecue counter became a impressive outdoor kitchen with cast in place concrete countertops, beverage center, grill, sear zone, trash chute, and storage doors. A new sun deck patio opened up the back yard to the panoramic valley views. The weedy slope became the new outdoor living area, complete with custom fireplace and a clean stainless-steel sheer cascade water feature.

This pool remodel repeats materials rich in texture but neutral in color. The waterfall at the rear side of the pool combines a sheer cascade water feature and a stacked stone waterfall. With waterfall design, physical appearance is only one aspect of the feature considerations. Oftentimes, the sound a waterfall makes is even more important than how it looks. The right waterfall can soothe your soul, and the wrong one can unnerve you or even have you running to the bathroom! The stacked stone on this waterfall creates an extremely relaxing subtle splashing sound that reminds me of the soothing sound of rain sticks.

Good traffic flow through a garden space from one outdoor room to another is critical to prime design. I call this flow “wayfinding”. To wayfind guests from space to space, I used cast concrete stepping stones and pavers with grass in between them. The grass helped add more green to the hardscape and cool the overall look and feel of the garden. The walk-across-water fountain at the back of the pool was created by casting black colored concrete stepping pads in place at the same finish height as the pool coping. The cast pads help with yard flow because they connect one side of the yard with another in a fluid motion (pun intended).

Material selection plays a major role in the finished look of any project. The right tile or paint color can sometimes make the difference between an award-winning project and a project you choose to omit from your portfolio. On this project the home-owner was very involved in the material selection, and lucky for me, he has impeccable taste. We mounted stainless steel tiles on the barbecue counter backsplash, fused stacked stone on the pilasters, installed custom stainless-steel weirs as spillways from the spa, and tinted the fireplace with bold red paint.

As with any creation, this project was a combination of efforts from my design and office staff, a talented construction team, and a home-owner that shared in the responsibility in creating an outdoor environment in which we could all take pride.


Creative Garden Designs

During the initial consultation, Scott Cohen meets with all homeowners of the property to discuss budget and size and scope of the project. Based on that meeting, he prepares a Work Order for Design Services.

Scott Cohen then takes the time upfront to explore your needs with our exclusive Design Questionnaire. Next, with our design staff, he begins to form a custom hardscape and landscape design around your lifestyle and budget.

Sketches, Computer Design, and Professional Perspectives

For local clients, we measure your property to create the “base map”, and then our Green Scene design team begins conceptual drawings. These are quick ideas drawn out in pencil for your review. We often provide several ideas from which you can choose.

For out of area clients, Scott will create a design based on the measurements and photos you send us.

(At right, the Brals display the landscape design Scott Cohen created for them on an episode of HGTV’s Landscaper’s Challenge)

Next, based on your feedback on the concept drawing, using landscape design software, Scott will present detailed printouts to show you the proposed layout of landscaping, hardscaping, and water features. Our garden illustrator creates hand drawn colorful landscape perspectives to show you what the completed project will look like. Your new yard plan will be easy to understand and visualize. Below are some of Scott Cohen’s amazing back yard swimming pool designs.

Spaces Magazine, March/April 2010

Color and light help transform a yard into a picture-perfect landscape

by Sandra Barrera

Scott Cohen awoke on a recent morning, amazed at the sight of a giant rainbow bending over the San Fernando Valley. Cohen’s appreciation of the ribbons of color is no surprise, given his professional interest in harnessing light. The award-winning landscape designer, licensed contractor and president of The Green Scene incorporates a variety of materials to evoke that sense of magic in each project.

Cohen has been creating what he calls lightscapes since expanding his garden design business into high end residential landscaping and construction 15 years ago. An accomplished ceramicist and sculptor, he’s regularly featured on the HTV series Get Out, Way Out! And this month he’ll be shooting a new A&E series with the working title Lawn and Order, in which he’ll be given a week to rejuvenate the kind of over-run yard that vexes neighbors everywhere.

Although his landscape design and construction business is headquartered in Northridge, Cohen’s television appearances have drawn clients from around the country. As a result, he is doing more design work using a peer-to-peer computer program that allows him and his clients to collaborate from any distance.

Here he shares some of his insights:

How do you decide what colors to use in a landscaping project?

I go through a four page landscape design questionnaire with clients on the initial design consultation, and one of the questions I ask is: What are your favorite colors? Some clients want a really colorful garden and come clients don’t.

No color at all?

I recently built a moon garden for customers in Calabasas. A moon garden is all dark greens, with some variegated foliage for color and all white flowers. During a full moon, these colors really glow. Certainly white is a color, and white and green are two of the favorite colors we have in gardens. But it’s not a real busy colorful garden. It’s really clean and classy.

What are some of your favorite drought tolerant plants?

Lantana is a low growing shrub that creates a lot of nice color. My favorite variety is called “confetti” which is a blend of yellow, orange, and red all on the same flower. English lavender is drought tolerant, fragrant, and has vibrant purple flowers. Another favorite – because purple is one of my favorite colors- is static or sea lavender. We see that used pretty commonly in the San Fernando Valley because it’s drought tolerant, dog tolerant, and smog tolerant. It’s a hard plant to kill.

Static is a great cutting flower, too

You can cut the flower and spray it with a little hair spray to set the petals in place and it will stay as a dried flower for a year before having to be tossed.

Do you have any other favorites?

A floss silk tree has a green trunk for color, with thorns to give it some architectural interest. It also has a cool hibiscus like flower that is real vibrant. It works well in either a xeriscape or drought-tolerant garden or a tropical garden. And it’s not particularly root invasive, so it is a good choice all around.

How do you bring color to the rest of the outdoors?

Color comes from the finishes we use in the interior of the swimming pools, what we’re reflecting in the water, and the tiles that we choose. I’ll use Colorquartz™ chips that actually color a swimming pool shell. We’ll use different Pebble Tec® to create different effects of color in the swimming pool. Color is a big deal when it comes to swimming pools. And, in fact, we use a lot of color changing lights. This used to be done with moving parts and they didn’t work well. But now there are LED lights that have no moving parts and we can create deep cobalt blues, purples, greens, and colors like that. We’ll also use colors and materials to create some impact.

Could you give us an example?

We used a really vibrant reddish-orange on a fireplace. that color creates a bold statement in that back yard where we used a lot of neutral greys and charcoal tile materials. We got some pop by using that color.

You also use colored glass in some of your projects.

We cast our outdoor kitchen countertops out of concrete and recycled glass, so we’re able to introduce color there. On a recent project, we placed fiber optic lights under larger chunks of glass so at night it glows green and blue and red. Then as you move your cocktail glass across the countertop, the glass itself changes color. It’s a really cool effect.

Your Web site features a countertop embedded with bottle shapes glass tiles. How did you create those?

My garage is set up as a ceramics studio. I melted wine and scotch bottles flat in my kilns to create the tiles that we used in this countertop. So, it’s all been cast in place out of concrete and then we ground, honed, and polished it with granite finishing tools so it’s smooth on top. Then when the fiber optic lights shine through, they light up the bottles and the chunks of glass. We recycled almost 300 wine bottles to create the blocks that we used to create the barbecue counter.

Scott Cohen's Poolscapes

Scott Cohen’s Poolscapes Book Offers Refreshing Ideas for
Resort-Style Swimming Pools and Spas

What if your favorite vacation hotspot was just outside the door? What if you could enjoy it every day without ever leaving home? Award-winning author and garden designer Scott Cohen shows you how to make this dream a reality in Scott Cohen’s Poolscapes: Refreshing Ideas for the Ultimate Backyard Resort.

Whether you’re looking for an intimate hydrotherapy spa, a splash-happy place for family fun, an invigorating exercise pool or an exquisite setting for outdoor entertaining, you’ll discover the secrets behind Cohen’s breathtaking, high-performance swimming pools and spas.

Each chapter highlights a project from Cohen’s own portfolio, featuring yards of every size that Cohen and his team have transformed into extraordinary poolscapes. Glistening infinity pools, Tuscan-style fountains, outdoor waterfalls, romantic tropical coves—they’re all here. The book includes many award-winning landscapes that have been featured on Home and Garden Television (HGTV) and in numerous books and magazines.

With gorgeous color photography and hundreds of backyard design ideas, Cohen illustrates the tips and techniques that go into a perfect pool landscape…tips you or your designer can use in your own landscaping plan. In addition to swimming pool designs and hot tub ideas, the book covers fountains and other water features; patios and outdoor rooms and landscaping materials including tiles, pavers, and stone.

Cohen also demonstrates dazzling nighttime effects using innovative landscape lighting techniques and mesmerizing fire and water features. Homeowners and landscape designers will both find inspiration for stunning backyard pools and spas in Scott Cohen’s Poolscapes.

About the Author:

Scott Cohen is an acclaimed garden designer and author whose award-winning work has been showcased frequently on national TV and in numerous books and magazines, including Better Homes and Gardens, Fine Living, Women’s Day, USA Today and The Los Angeles Times. Cohen and his company, The Green Scene, regularly demonstrate their innovative pool and spa techniques on HGTV’s Get Out, Way Out, the Big Splash, and other outdoor design programs. Cohen’s award-winning Outdoor Kitchen Design Workbook offers more design secrets for resort-style backyards.

Add Sizzle to Your Backyard with Fire and Water

When Garden Artisan Scott Cohen wants to work real magic into his water features, he plays with fire. Best of all, he finds extraordinary ways to combine the two. That’s because Cohen understands the captivating power of these two elements. Used alone, fire and water each have their own attractions, but bring them together and the appeal is nearly irresistible.

“Fire and water have always been a winning combination,” says Cohen, owner of The Green Scene, an award-winning California based outdoor design and construction firm. “Like Yin and Yang they’re opposing forces that complement each other beautifully. The reflective qualities of water enhance the mystical qualities of fire. They offer a certain mesmerizing effect that I can only describe as primal.

Picture flames dancing across the reflective stillness of a swimming pool, an inviting walkway that leads you across water to a beckoning fireplace beyond, or a wall of water that glistens as it descends and then disappears behind a fiery trough. These are just a few of the possibilities that can result when you combine these two most basic gifts of nature. While water has been an indispensable component in the landscape for a number of years, fire features have only recently become a backyard must-have. “The addition of the fire element is one of the hottest trends we’re seeing in outdoor design,” says Cohen. “Fire takes you away from wherever you are. It relaxes and soothes. When you’re gazing into a fire, you simply can’t be in a hurry.”

On a practical level, fire does much more. Because it provides warmth and light, the addition of fire in the landscape extends the use of the yard into the night and into the cooler seasons of the year. Fire features allow homeowners to get much more use out of the outdoor spaces they love.

In recent years, fire features have been evolving in exciting new ways. “It used to be that people only did simple fire pits,” says Cohen. “These were small features that mimicked a pile of rocks with a little flame in the middle. Now the trend not only includes much larger fire pits but also formal outdoor fireplaces crafted from fine materials like stone, cast limestone and travertine.”

A custom full size fireplace can cost significantly more than a fire pit, but homeowners find that the extra cost gives them a substantial addition to their outdoor living space. “When it comes to creating an outdoor living room, there is simply no better element than a fireplace.” says Cohen. “It serves as an anchor that creates and defines the space.”

Fire is a stunning decorative element on its own. “It’s no longer simply something to gather around,” says Cohen, “but also something that can provide visual candy in the yard.” To create this visual candy, The Green Scene uses majestic bowls and troughs of fire to add striking highlights throughout the yard. The effect is both elegant and primitive at the same time.

For the romantic at heart, it goes without saying that nothing heats up a relationship like a little fire. Whether it’s an intimate fireside chat for two or a late night dip in the swimming pool by firelight, that rosy glow makes everyone feel like getting closer. Ironically, Cohen points out that fire features often spark trouble between men and women during the planning stages of garden design. “When women think about fire in the landscape, they often think ‘fireplace’ and see themselves sitting in the cozy flickering light with a nice glass of wine, holding hands with their loved one or reading a good book. Men on the other hand think ‘fire pit’ and see themselves gathered around with their buddies drinking beer or scotch while the kids roast marshmallows.”

While Cohen frequently gets caught in the middle of that debate, he and the Green Scene team have a full bag of tricks for building fires that satisfy both needs. With careful design, homeowners can enjoy a fire feature that kindles romance one night and ignites spirited camaraderie the next. For all the magic that fire provides on its own, its magnetic appeal is dramatically enhanced when it’s coupled with water. Cohen uses the two to create fascinating, almost surreal effects.

In one landscape, huge bowls of fire on each side of the spa send flickering reflections dancing across the surface. In another, an eight-foot long fire trough behind the swimming pool provides a magnificent focal point that greets guests as they walk through the front door of the home. In another, fire is placed at a strategic level with the rim of the spa so that flames appear to be rising directly out of the water.

Many of these special effects are very affordable, according to Cohen. “With just a little extra money you can create a terrific night show in your landscape.” He has several practical tips for getting the most from these features:

  • Fire is a great way to enjoy the view. If you have a lot with a view, locate fire features at the edge of the property in a place where people will have a chance to enjoy the fire while taking in the surroundings.
  • Consider the view from indoors too. Place features where they can be easily seen from your interior living and entertainment space so people can enjoy the show indoors and out.
  • If you’re going to have fire, do it right. Install a generous number of gas rings to create the effect you want. That way, you’ll be able to adjust the flame from mild to wild to suit the mood of the evening.
  • Locate your fire where warmth will be most welcome. Placing fire near the spa, for example, provides a way for people to continue to enjoy the area in comfort in or out of the water.

Plan for safety. Always locate fire features away from traffic areas and take prevailing winds into consideration. Above all use common sense when operating fire features to keep your evenings safe and beautiful.