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An outdoor oasis makes proof of potential


May 2017

 Strategically placed lighting and billowy white drapes set the stage for creating a cozy nighttime ambience in the backyard of this Milwaukee area home.

As co-owner of QRS Group, a Waukesha-based design-remodel firm, Jake Ruiz uses his own refreshed Milwaukee area home as a model to showcase his work, and most recently the designer added an outdoor oasis.

Jake, wife Lyneé, and aunt and landscape designer Melissa Netzer tackled the project more than a year ago, completing it in October.

“We knew we wanted to eventually do something with the backyard because it was pretty rough,” Jake says. “We cleared out all the overgrown brush and left three large trees.”

The project takes up less than half the yard, yet it packs a number of key attractive features.

 A koi pond, elevated bowl and waterfall are accompanied by a trellis ready to support climbing, flowering plants.

A pergola adorned with curtains warms the seating area, which is furnished in cushioned wicker. To keep the relaxation spot interesting, a boardwalk made of ipe extends and connects to the area from the home’s back door as well as to other features — a fire pit, waterfall feature and a koi pond.

Jake says each feature and the materials used had a role in forming a certain ambience.

“We liked the idea of enjoying a fire pit that you can dial up or down, and (have it) near a water feature placed where you can see and hear it from the outdoor seating area as well as hear from an open window,” he says. He notes the water feature includes a waterfall and an elevated bowl, for added visual interest.

 Cooking is done in style with a mini pergola and the extension of ipe to the cabinetry, which ties into the rest of the outdoor renovation.

An ipe wood deck, selected for its durability as well as its beauty, connects to all backyard elements, including the grilling area in the background, lounge teak chaises, flowering plum tree and waterfall/
pond feature in the foreground.


While fire and water elements use marble, stainless steel and glass construction materials, the design also features cedar, most notably for the fence with a trellis poised to support planted climbing hydrangeas. Grouted cast concrete pavers sit under the pergola. Nearby, the pavers are set slightly apart so that planted creeping thyme can cover their perimeters.

A grilling area, complete with a gas grill built into ipe cabinetry, is topped with a granite counter.

Much of the modern French style was guided by Lyneé, who says she is inspired by French culture.

“I had saved a bunch of pictures from different sources that I liked and thought would be good for this design,” she adds. She also influenced the variety of plantings, from vines to one of her favorite elements: an emerging moon garden featuring white flowers that open only at night.

Netzer, who provided the initial design, says she got on board with enhancements like the koi pond, playfully naming one of the fish Frank, a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Jake says it was important to balance personal taste and the opportunity to showcase design and build skills.

“Our main goal was not to build a traditional deck,” Jake says. “We wanted this to be a place where we could relax, but also a way to inspire other people who want to do something with their own backyard space. Unless someone sees how nice their home can be, they may have no idea of the potential.”

Resource center:
How to re-create the look

» The low-voltage lighting sprinkled throughout the landscape is available through Hein Electric Supply in West Allis,, and Reinders Inc. in Sussex,

» Plantings — a large contributor to creating a French modern vibe — included a flowering plum tree from Minor’s Garden Center in Milwaukee,

» The Weber grill is from Stein’s Garden & Home,

» The waterfall and fire pit features were custom built by QRS Group,


This story ran in the May 2017 issue of: