Retaining Walls: An Expert Design Element

In a previous post, we detailed the practical benefits of having a retaining wall installed. These practical benefits—erosion control, creating more spacious yards, and flattening pesky hills—are enough to convince many homeowners that a retaining wall is worth the investment. However, retaining walls are more than just practical; they also create innovative aesthetic beauty by adding unique shapes and textures to otherwise flat and dull landscapes. As seen from the street, a landscape that includes varied shape and form is much more striking than a flat landscape. Retaining walls are a simple (but endlessly customizable) way to add interest.

Retaining wall designs are as diverse as the landscapes they inhabit. Some opt for tall and sleek designs that resemble borders, boxing a property in and offering privacy from busy streets or sidewalks. Others prefer subtler heights, opting instead for small plateaus that help carve out the angles of a landscape, blending seamlessly with other installations like pools and patios. Retaining walls can flatten out a curbed or sloping landscape, and are often used by designers who want to create more useable space in a yard for recreation or gardening. On flatter landscapes, retaining walls can be utilized to help diversify shapeless yards. They are often ornate—adorned with natural stone, lighting fixtures, flower pots, or even mosaics. The various different kinds of concrete, pavers, and natural materials used by designers to create retaining walls ensure that they can be customized to fit almost any style of home or business. Their simplicity and “blank canvas” feel is a boon for homeowners who want an installation that adds to their landscape without disrupting or redirecting it.

A retaining wall can be a vital transitional element in a complex design. Many landscapes have multiple features, with hardscapes and patio areas commingling alongside water features, gardens, lawns, and outdoor kitchens and fireplaces. Retaining walls create structure, defining borders and allowing smooth transitions between disparate landscape elements. For instance, a small retaining wall set up between a swimming pool and an outdoor dining and lounging area defines where one space ends and another begins. But, the subtlety and versatility of retaining walls also allows for more gradual transitions. The addition of a fountain coming off of the retaining wall into the pool creates a hybrid space that merges “water feature” with “hardscape,” allowing for a seamless transition between the two. Creatives should relish the possibilities retaining walls create for hybrid design spaces, in which elements can be both blended and separated with ease.

As retaining walls grow in popularity, the ways they can be customized also increases. For large installs, designers often chose to use a variety of different kinds of retaining walls to diversify texture, color, and form. Retaining walls can look rustic and natural, or they can be built to look sleek and smooth. They also come in a wide variety of colors. According to industry designers, younger customers tend to prefer a sleeker, darker look, while older customers gravitate still towards natural stone and brick walls. But that’s precisely why retaining walls are such an effective design element: they aren’t necessarily gaudy or minimalist, rustic or sleek, bold or subtle. They can fit just about anybody’s preferences, and designers truly have the power to make them and mold them all their own. The possibilities are endless.


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