This One Landscaping Feature Enhances Your Entire Backyard

a house with retaining walls and hydrangeas
22 Retaining Wall Ideas for Your Outdoor SpaceEric Piasecki

Your backyard is filled with untapped potential, from the sunny spot that begs for a flower garden to the sloped hill that would be ideal for an outdoor dining table if it were only a bit more level. That's the thing about backyards—you can't take them at face value. While it's true you can't add acreage to your lot, there are plenty of ways to maximize the land you have, even if, at first glance, it seems challenging. One of the best solutions is to add one of these retaining wall ideas. They're the unsung heroes in every landscape designer's toolkit.

At their simplest, retaining walls hold soil, dirt, and organic materials in place. However, they function far beyond that, allowing pros to add more usable flat terrain to the landscape and serving as stunning focal points. These versatile structures can carve out smaller points of interest throughout your backyard, such as a terraced garden, intimate dining area, or sunny patio.

Here, we're rounding up 22 designer-approved retaining wall ideas that will open your eyes to all the ways they can transform your backyard. These retaining wall ideas include eye-catching pool surrounds and walls integrated into an outdoor kitchen, all designed to harmonize with the landscape.

More inspiration for the outdoors:

Pack on the Patina

Nothing in the backyard is immune to the elements, including your retaining wall. To embrace the natural patina of sun, water, and wind, choose a retaining wall idea that will age beautifully with time. At this Los Angeles home, designer Nick Olsen opted for a metal retaining wall that lends rugged character.

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los angeles bungalow by designer nick olsen
Pierre Galant

Top It With a Hedge

Retaining walls may reinforce the land, but making them tall enough to also give you extra privacy can get pricey. Instead, try topping your retaining wall with a tall hedge, as seen here in a project by designer Michelle Boudreau. Not only will it keep out nosey neighbors, but it'll add a backdrop of greenery that is truly transportive.

california outdoor living room by designer michelle boudreau
Lance Gerber

Combine It With a Pool

Retaining walls can be a great way to add a flat swath of land to your backyard, which can then be turned into everything from a bocce court to an alfresco dining room. The retaining wall idea in this Nantucket backyard by designer Michael Ellison frames a raised pool and sundeck and surrounds the edges with grasses and perennial shrubs.

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nantucket home designed by michael ellison poolside
Nicole Franzen

Carve Out a Fire Pit

Large backyards can feel as overwhelming as sprawling open floor plans. To make it feel more intimate, divide it up into “rooms” using greenery, fencing, and—of course—retaining walls. At this Lake Michigan home, landscape designer Sara Furlan of Mariani Landscape delineated lounging and fire pit areas with low retaining walls and pollinator-friendly plants to create a sense of privacy.

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lake michigan home designed by frank ponterio architect\, liederbach graham architects landscape\, architect mariani landscape firepit
Tony Soluri

Add Contrast to an Airy Exterior

Matching your retaining wall to your home's exterior may be the most popular choice, but it's not your only option. Instead, consider grounding an airy white exterior with a moodier retaining wall, like the charcoal gray version seen here.

a swimming pool in front of a house
House Beautiful

Keep Plants Petite

Retaining walls often double as planters, but your choice of greenery can easily determine just how much (or how little) of the wall is seen. For a tailored look in your retaining wall idea, choose shrubs that can be pruned to a precise and petite shape, like the boxwoods seen in the backyard of this Kansas City home designed by Annie Kern Interiors.

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kansas city\, missouri home designed by annie kern interiors veranda
Nate Sheets Photography LLC

Spotlight a Standout Feature

To call attention to an eye-catching element in your backyard—like a spa, garden bed, or decades-old tree—surround the feature with a retaining wall. In the backyard of designer Annie Anderson's colonial home in Kansas City, the interior designer and architect Nancy Ruzicka placed several retaining walls around the property, including one that encircles a sprawling tree at the center.

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designer annie anderson's colonial home in kansas city interior designer and stylist annie anderson design architect nancy ruzicka
Nate Sheets

Pair It With a Fireplace

Outdoor fireplaces can be stunning features, made even more eye-catching when combined with a retaining wall. In the California backyard of interior designer Jeffrey Alan Marks, a stone retaining wall borders the space, extending across the front of a backyard fireplace. This retaining wall idea also acts as a bench for party seating and a backdrop for nearby plants, all chosen by Montecito Landscape.

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interior designer jeffrey alan marks' american colonial revival home near butterfly beach in montecito, california terrace table and bench david sutherland chairs and floor lamp palecek umbrella santa barbara designs planters pennoyer newman landscaping montecito landscape

Segment Your Outdoor Kitchen

Large outdoor features like an alfresco kitchen look better when they're not just floating in the middle of your lawn. To give your cook space a worthy backdrop, tuck it alongside a retaining wall. Here, a tiered brick retaining wall frames a welcoming outdoor kitchen, lending plenty of charm.

a patio with a fire pit and a fire pit
Jake Lamons

Double the Height

Retaining walls can be a sturdy foundation for fencing, allowing you to add both stability and privacy at once. At this West Sussex beach house, brick and metal combine to keep the sandy shoreline at bay—and out of the home's backyard.

a house with a garden in front of it
Rachel Whiting

Create a "Sunken" Escape

Retaining walls can be used to build land up, but they can also be handy in holding it back. In the case of this pool area outside the 2022 House Beautiful Whole Home, a cement retaining wall is the barrier to the lawn beyond, lending a retro “sunken” vibe to the pool deck.

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cabana at the far end of the pool, bright yellow umbrellas over four teak chaises welcome guests to stay awhile chic black and white outdoor fabric cushions dry in a snap after a day of of splashing and lounging
Rustic White Photography

Build In a Bench

This retaining wall idea doubles as seating. At this 1920s Spanish colonial designed by Regan Baker, landscape architect team Terremoto used the trick to create a bonus entertaining space, complete with a hot tub, fire pit, and bench cushions.

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1920s spanish colonial in san francisco designed by regan baker design and landscape architect terremoto roof deck all three firms, medium plenty, terremoto, and regan baker interiors, came together to mastermind this bonus entertaining space, complete with a hot tub, fire pit, and herb garden bench cushions jovinas upholstery, in peter dunham textiles fabric flooring custom marble, stone fleury
Laure Joliet

Pare Down the Palette

If you prefer a retaining wall idea that blends into the background, choose a material that coordinates with the rest of your backyard's finishes or the surrounding landscape. In this project by designer Heather Hilliard, the light gray concrete retaining wall almost exactly matches the nearby canopied daybed, patio walls, and furniture.

a table with chairs and a table with food on it
Dacian Groza

Add Subtle Texture

Retaining walls can be made from almost any outdoor-rated material, from wood and cement to brick and stone—there's a texture, aesthetic, and price point out there for everyone. To make a brick wall feel a bit more elevated, take inspiration from the 2022 House Beautiful Whole Home and install a retaining wall that features raised bricks in the design.

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exterior the facade was updated with architectural windows from pella and paint in mole rsquos breath and purbeck stone by farrow ball a new pivoting steel door with a schlage smart lock grants guests access from afar 5th annual whole home
Rustic White Photography

Add Tiers to Your Terrace

When you have a big drop between two levels of land, adding terraced retaining walls can be a great way to fill the visual landscape and make use of the available vertical space. At the Maine home of legendary architect Gil Schafer, a series of natural stone retaining walls frame a staircase that holds hydrangea bushes.

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a house with retaining walls and hydrangeas
Eric Piasecki

Fake a Front Lawn

Sloped properties can be tricky to make work, especially when it comes to creating curb appeal. Instead of trying to grow grass or plants on a hill (not easy!), level out your front lawn with this retaining wall idea. For this sprawling 60-acre property in California, architect Richard Beard and landscape company MIX Garden draw inspiration from nearby Napa Valley, which includes cement retaining walls and integrated lighting.

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a house with a large tree in the front
Matthew Millman

Up the Intimacy

Think of retaining walls like their interior counterparts made of drywall—they can immediately add intimacy to any spot when used to create a cozy enclosure. Here, a nearby rock retaining wall frames a dining area beneath a sprawling tree for a dreamy place to dine alfresco.

a table with a set of chairs and a tree with flowers
Luca Trovato

Sneak In Some Storage

Storage is tough to come by outdoors, especially if you don't have room for a shed or garage. Instead of stashing items in unsightly places—or worse, letting your backyard get overrun by outdoor accessories—try this retaining wall idea. Simply add a usable flat top to your retaining wall that can double a spot for storage. In this patio by Romanek Design Studio, flat river rock makes for the perfect place to stash potted plants, firewood, and more.

a couple of chairs in front of a fireplace with plants and a fire
Romanek Design Studio

Pair It With Playful Details

Even a simple white retaining wall can feel special when paired with thoughtful details and playful design elements. Case in point? The Los Angeles backyard of designer Madeline Stuart, who nodded to the home's Spanish revival roots by selecting quirky umbrellas, colorful pool tiles, and more.

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a house with a pool and a large front yard
Trevor Tondro

Team Up Two Materials

For an added dose of design, create your retaining walls out of not one but two different materials. In this city escape, brick and cement/stucco line the terraced edges of the retaining wall and planters for a moment of welcome visual relief against the all-brick patio.

a patio with chairs and tables and trees
Annie Schlechter

Let It Get Overgrown

While it's not the right look for every home, an overgrown retaining wall can be immediately transportive, adding a touch of cottagecore whimsy to any backyard space. To achieve a look similar to the one seen in this California patio, plant climbing vines like ivy on one side of your retaining wall.

a fire pit with chairs and a table with a fire in it
Victoria Pearson

Keep It Low

When a million-dollar view is at stake, you don't want any element in your yard to detract from the vista. At the Mexico property of furniture designer John Houshmand, that meant keeping the bordering retaining wall low to grant an unobstructed view of the mountains beyond.

a patio with a table and chairs and a lamp on it
William Abranowicz

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