In a section of my own front yard, for years I'd had in mind a vague concept for a re-design, but it did not come fully to fruition until I traveled to Japan in the fall of 2013.  The key inspiration came from a finely-swept gravel (sand) space at Shisendo Villa in Kyoto.  At this villa, unlike other gravel gardens we visited, one section of the swept-clean-gravel is a pass-through space, and is intended to be walked upon.  It is an imitation of a pond garden, but instead of the usual "look only", this section welcomed us to walk through.  This concept turned a key in my brain. The flat, finely-swept space...partly to be gazed upon from verandas, partly to be traveled as a path towards the woods...this dry garden/pathway became an element in our new front yard.  

(The Portland Japanese Garden was great help to me during the conceptual phase of this design. I frequently visited its gravel garden that emulates a lake, noting particularly the "edge of pond" treatment, and scale and placement of the rocks.)

A second influence to this section of our garden was the Arts & Crafts movement--specifically the garden construction of British architect Edward Lutyens, and his influence on Herman Brookman, architect of the Frank Estate in Portland Oregon.  Our curbstone steps came from my memories of summers spent on the Lewis & Clark College campus (my father was a professor there), which was designed by Brookman in the Lutyens style.  The college's gardens--the former Frank estate--was our playground on summer days, and I admired the large chiseled stone steps and gazebos, even then.  In our own garden now, looking down on the curbstone steps from the porch above, pleases me tremendously.