This lakeside building site drops 100 feet from the road to the waterfront. To optimize the lot, the author created three level tiers with a series of retaining walls and connected the tiers to each other with stone steps and pathways. Jason Varney/Dock & Deck

One of the most interesting deck building challenges I’ve had to face had nothing to do with my clients or my business. I’m talking about what happened when it was time to design a backyard space for my own family. After decades in the outdoor living industry, I can design and build a dream project for a client in my sleep—but designing my own project turned out to be a different story.

The project started when I broke ground on my family’s current home in Knoxville a few summers ago. The house itself came together beautifully—however, our local terrain is full of hills, and this property was no exception. We were faced with a steep hillside, with an elevation change of about 100 feet between the driveway of the house and the waterfront level in the backyard. This presented a significant logistical problem since there were homes on either side of ours, and we would need to transport all of our materials and building equipment in and out by barge.

While we were short on horizontal square footage, we weren’t short on design inspiration. A few years earlier, our family vacationed to a resort in Cabo San Lucas, and we’ve been reminiscing about it ever since. I knew I wanted to go all out and bring that “resort” feeling into our own space. We love to host family and friends for gatherings and holidays, too, so it needed to be suitable for that. Most of all, I wanted to replicate the amazing infinity pool we swam in.

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