Parking Areas with Pizzazz!

Parking areas don't have to detract from the curb appeal of your house. They actually can be made attractive or blended into the landscape so well that you do not know they are there. Easy access from a car to the front door is important to the overall functionality of your landscape. Also, accommodating enough cars without turning the front of your house into a parking lot is essential to a successful landscape design. I like to use just enough hard surface to make the it work, but not have any excess. In most cases, I like them to be surrounded by plantings, so they don't appear harsh.

Parking Area with Stone Wall, Steps and Driveway Edge

This beautiful house tucked into the woods with a lush green lawn to the street needed a parking area and entrance that fit with the natural setting and gave a prominent entrance to the front of the house. The addition of the dry laid stone wall, plantings,cobblestone driveway edge, bluestone walk and lighting did the job. Low voltage light fixtures are found in the step risers and accenting the trees. The sidewalk was moved from being parallel with the house and coming off the end of the parking area to a position that allows a guest to see a wonderful view of the house as they approach it.

When designing a parking area, first think about how many cars you need to accommodate on a regular basis. Allowing the right amount of space for the cars as well as turnaround space is important. A typical parking space is 8'6" wide and 18' long. This size space allows a car to easily open its doors and it assures that the back of the car will not extend beyond the parking space. Parking spaces can be located off of the driveway at the most logical place to allow access to the front door. You must also take into consideration how it impacts the appearance of the front of the house. The "curb appeal" of your house is going to be greatly affected by the parking, so it does need to be placed in the perfect location.

Parking around the Driveway and Off to the Side

This lovely home has ample parking and beautiful "curb appeal". The circle driveway is wide enough (18' minimum) all the way around to allow cars to park without blocking the flow of traffic. To the left is a two car parking area nestled among the shrubbery, gently screened from view. To the right, the driveway goes to a private parking area and the garage. The cobblestone edge, paver bands in the asphalt and center focal point make for a spectacular front entrance!

If the situation allows, I like to make a personal parking area by the back door or garage that is separate from the guest parking. As is illustrated in the photograph above, this is easily done with a circular driveway that accommodates guests, but also has a section of driveway that leaves the circle to go to the side garage. You need space by the garage to accommodate a car getting in and out of it. To make a clean turn when leaving the garage, I like to allow 40 feet when possible. This space can act as parking, but I have often designed extra parking spaces off the garage turn around area.

Parking areas work best when they are flat. There should be just enough slope to accommodate good drainage (1-2%). This small amount of slope does the job well and appears and functions as a flat surface. If the parking area is being built on a slope, cut into the slope to create a flat surface. The rough edge may need a retaining wall or if there is enough space the slope can be graded to a manageable incline. Parking areas that go down or up a slope look odd and are hard to use. In the first photo on the page, notice the split rail fence in the back ground. It is sloped and so is the ground around it. We leveled the parking area as is seen with the top of the retaining wall being level with the house. The landscape would not have looked as nice, if the retaining wall was built slanting downhill.

Parking can be made attractive when done in front of the house. Consideration must be given to the size of the paved area, so it doesn't overwhelm the front of the house.

Before Picture of Front Parking Area

This house needs a beautiful way to enter the front door. Take a look at the following photograph to see its dramatic change.

Parking Area in the Front

This parking area definitely has pizzazz! The low brick retaining wall creates a nice crisp edge as well as has recessed lights to brighten this dark area at night. Lights are also installed in the side wall of the steps and the beautiful post light that is painted the trim color ties the whole project together. The paver is a concrete paver that resembles a cobblestone, but is less expensive to install and easier to walk on. The size of the parking area does not overwhelm the front of the house, but adds a nice architectural detail that compliments it.

The surface of the parking area must be easy to walk on. Recently, I went to a new client's home who had a gorgeous cobblestone driveway and parking courtyard. I commented about the beautiful driveway. The homeowner's comment to me was, "it's beautiful, but so hard to walk on. I am so concerned for people's safety when they come to visit." There are so many types of paved surfaces. Preferably, use one that is attractive, cost effective and easy to maneuver with your car and on foot.

Brick Head Wall Around a Drainage Pipe

On the project in the photo immediately above, I had to design the parking area over a ditch in the front of the house. The best solution is to have the entire ditch piped and covered to allow a smooth, gently slope down to the road from the front of the house. Unfortunately, this can't always be done because of cost or engineering problems. A pipe under the parking is usually allowed, so you can backfill this area and create enough space for parking. The ends of the pipe have a wall built around them called a headwall. This makes a nice finished edge around the pipe, holds the building materials in place, and provides a raised edge that keeps drivers from going into the ditch. The raised portion of the headwall is the perfect place for a light to make visibility easy at night.

Providing adequate lighting makes the trip from the parking area to your front door so much nicer. It guides your guest through the landscape safely as well. Post lights are often used at the place where the walk and parking meet. Lights recessed in retaining walls and steps do a great job of accenting the masonry and supplying light where needed. Path lights that are on short posts cast light down onto the surface below. Nestle path lights in planting beds beside parking areas for subtle and effective lighting.

Parking in the front of the house works in the right situation. Again, it must be integrated into the landscape and the paving not overwhelm the front of the house. Often times, this location provides the best access to the front door especially in an urban setting. Off street parking in the city actually adds value to your home. If it is in proportion to the space and constructed with nice materials, it can be beautiful and charming as seen in the photograph below.

Off Street Parking in the City

On large properties, parking courtyards are a possibility. This type of parking adds a lot of paving directly in front of the house, so there must be enough space for greenery around it. It can be an exceptionally impressive driveway if done right. This courtyard was not designed by me, but by a local architect, Mark Sprangler. I am lucky enough to be working on this property now.

Parking Court yard of Brick and Cobblestone

Parking areas allow easy access to the front door and make maneuvering your landscape easy. Making room for cars can be done without ruining your landscape. It can be a way of adding some style and pizzazz!

Parking Problems? Ask the Expert! Submit a question and you will get a professional's answer as well as a web page on this site to share with your friends. Pictures are always helpful. I hope to be hearing from you.

Contact me for further information or to talk about my design services.

Nancy Dransfield
Landesign of VA, Inc.
P.O. Box 15582
Richmond, Virginia 23227

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Go to these related pages for more information: Circular Driveways, Driveway Edges, Driveways, Driveway Surfaces, and U-Shaped Driveways

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