How to design a retaining wall

Offering reliable landscaping services to homeowners in British Columbia since 2013

Picture of Natasha Maerz

Natasha Maerz

Owner/Office Manager

The most exciting part about having a retaining wall installed is what it is going to look like.

Retaining walls, big or small, make a huge impact on how your landscape looks, and is just as powerful for curb appeal as updating your homes siding or having a new driveway installed.

If we haven’t met before allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Back 40 Landscaping and our expertise is in retaining walls and hardscaping. We also like to bring education to those looking for retaining wall solutions.

So, how does a homeowner go about designing their retaining wall? 

The retaining wall design plan

There are three ways to go about designing a retaining wall, hire a designer, do it yourself, or allow your contractor to have free reign of the build.

If you are doing a whole new back yard transformation along with having a retaining wall installed it can be a great idea to hire a designer.

Landscape Designers are responsible for creating, presenting, and overseeing the development of landscapes for individuals and companies.

They can design a space for homeowners that can enhance their yard, and take into consideration things like what plants work well with your environment, what colors complement one another and how much maintenance is required to keep up the look of your space.

A landscape design is like the floor plan for your yard. It creates a visual representation of a site using scaled dimensions, and it can include natural elements such as grass, plants and flowers, and man-made elements such as retaining walls and fountains.

Landscape designs range from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars depending on how many revisions a company needs to do, and what exactly homeowners are looking to get out of the design.


For homeowners looking for a beautiful space that do not have time to research, hiring a landscape design company can be very beneficial to bringing your vision to life.


The second option is designing your wall yourself. There are thousands of different wall block options to choose from and dozens of colors of block.

Homeowners who have an artistic eye that like to browse pinterest will have a fun time designing their wall.

One thing to keep in mind is that the price of the retaining wall materials can go up significantly depending on what retaining wall block you choose, and not all block is readily available.

The third option is letting your contractor choose what the wall looks like. A contractor who has built lots of retaining walls in the past will be able to look at your yard and see what color and block will work best for your space and your budget, and whether the wall should be curved, straight, or have stairs.

The retaining wall materials

 Retaining walls can be made out of poured concrete, boulders, concrete block and wood.

Poured concrete

Poured concrete is straight forward and there are not many design options. The look is pretty bland, and is great for commercial use, or in areas where your wall will not be seen.



Natural boulders are nice for retaining walls that are in the forest or have a lot of trees and greenery around them, however, homeowners choosing natural boulders are very limited with what they get. Whatever the pit has is what is used to build the wall.


Concrete block

Concrete block like Allan Block or Valley stone come in thousands of different styles and lots of different colors.

Using one of these block options for your retaining wall will really take your wall design to the next level.



Some homeowners prefer the look of wood over concrete block, and understandably so. Wood gives a comforting country feel, and blends in well with a natural landscape.

Because wood does not last as long as concrete retaining wall block, homeowners may want to consider getting a concrete product that resembles wood.

Luckily there are more and more options out there that look like wood, but have the long lasting qualities of concrete.


The color of the retaining wall 

Choosing the color of a retaining wall can be a little more tricky than you would think.

Retaining walls that are built out of concrete (and done properly) last decades, so you want to make sure that the color you choose is something classic that will still look good years down the road.

Many homeowners have said that they regret choosing a color that was popular, rather than timeless after their wall has been built for a couple of years. 

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to the color of your retaining wall is what your surrounding landscape and home look like. If you have an older home, a simple block that is grey may compliment it nicely.

If you have any other hardscaping ( patio, sidewalk) that has a certain color in it, it might be nice to switch up the color of your wall so that your retaining wall compliments the other hardscape that you already have in the landscape.

If you are looking online and are unsure about what color you want it can be beneficial to go to a landscape supply store and see the product in person. Sometimes the color in person can look significantly different than online.

The size of your retaining wall 

The size of your retaining wall can be determined by what you need the wall to do ( do you need a tiered wall to gain more space or is this wall just for a garden?), and whether or not you are wanting to pull a permit and engineering ( walls that are higher than 4 ft. require engineering).

A large wall can really be a dramatic focal point in the right yard, but budget and purpose of your retaining wall are really what is going to determine how big your wall is.

The Style of your retaining wall

Retaining walls can be built with curves or straight across.

If you are going for a curved wall make sure that your contractor is qualified in building retaining walls, as they are little harder to build. Curves are possible when the landscape allows, and make a “boring” wall look more stylish.

Straight across walls are used for when the retaining walls main job is to retain a lot of soil. This doesn’t mean that straight walls need to look boring though. A great way to spruce up a straight wall is to add different color caps on it to give the wall some contrast.

retaining wall add-ons

Curves Or Tiers

If you want to take your focal point to the next level consider adding curves to your wall, or having a tier in your wall.

Avoiding a typical straight wall will give your retaining wall a unique look.

Flower Beds

Consider what type of plants and flowers are going to be in front of, on top of, and around your wall, and adding colourful  flowers can enhance your walls look, and keep it looking nice and fresh.


Nothing makes a retaining wall look better than adding some sort of light. In the summertime the lights will add ambiance as you bbq and hang out around a fire, and in the winter will give a cozy feel to your outdoor space.


Incorporating stairs into your retaining wall not only allows you to reach what is above your wall, but add a look of luxury.

When designing a retaining wall, the first thing a homeowner should figure out is whether they are going to design their wall themselves, or have someone else do it.

Once that choice is made homeowners can have fun looking at pictures of retaining walls for inspiration and get excited for their new wall build!