Project overview: Molly & Gideon wanted their LA backyard to look like the chic hotels in Palm Springs. They used a palette of tranquil desert colors. They first replaced the fence at the property’s back with a newer, stronger one. Then they “refaced” the old one by covering it with redwood boards and painting.
The back porch was doubled in size to 12 feet deep by 25 feet wide. This is a good chunk of space in their 2,000-square foot backyard. Molly hired Scott Miller, her stepdad to redesign the space. After hiring a crew of workers to level the lawn, Molly laid stabilized granite and rented a plate compactor for firming it up.
Molly says that you should keep a large barrel of it in order to fill in any holes. We don’t do that. It provided a great canvas for plantings. It is important to water it regularly to keep the dust down.
What are Molly’s favourite parts of the renovation? Miller designed the louvered pergola roof to shade the porch. A contractor constructed it using a 14-foot-long engineered beam and 44 Douglas-fir slats, held in place by 8 3/4-inch tubes made of stainless steel. The podocarpus and African sumac trees hide unsightly fencing and power lines.
Lessons learned: When Arlo, their toddler, crashed into one of their cacti, Molly said that they switched to “soft and flowy statement plants”, Pride of Madeira, and coleonema. She also said that she would have done it differently. “I wish we had splurged upon a gas firepit, as we were tearing down the yard anyway.” Now that we have a child, I wish we had left one grassy spot.
The result was a success, even though it took almost five months to complete. Molly said, “We love our backyard.” Every night, we eat dinner there in the summer. They can relax on the couch or watch music. Or they might throw logs on the firepit and show movies on the wall.
Part-ready seating plan
Sarah Gibson (blogger at Room for Tuesday) and Emmett, her husband are the handy homeowners
Project overview: Sarah designed a patio area measuring 14 by 22 feet and a new level of grass bordered with fresh white fencing to extend their living space. She says that she wanted an open space with lots of seating to talk and entertain. So she designed a pergola-topped space for gatherings, as well as a grill station and fire pit with four additional seats. These two experienced DIYers, both of whom grew up in construction families, began by leveling the yard with rakes, shovels, and then installed a sprinkler system to create a lush green lawn. The patio’s perimeter was laid with sod. Next, they filled it in with aggregate and sand. Finally, they laid the concrete pavers. They then installed a stained pine pergola measuring 12 by 12 feet that they had built using a kit from their home center.
Highlights: Sarah built an L-shaped concrete sofa that can seat eight to kick-start her furnishing plan. She measured the dimensions using outdoor cushions that she had purchased off the shelf measuring 46 by 26 inches. Next, she laid a gravel foundation and then tamped it down. The sofa was built by placing rows of concrete blocks on top of each other, then pounding stakes made of rebar down its middle. Finally, concrete was poured into the holes. It was finished with construction adhesive and cap blocks. For a smooth finish, Sarah stuccoed the surface with a fiberglass-reinforced bonding cement. The result? She calls it “Beautiful, functional,” she said. It has lasted well in all the elements.
Sarah explains that a couple of pergola pieces were bent, which is a common feature of these kits. It was a good assembly, but if we had built it from scratch, we would have been more careful. It was not perfectly square.
Sarah says the payoff was that they got the spring-through fall entertaining destination they wanted because of their hard work. The pergola’s overhang solar shades, fan blades for bug-shooting and string lights can make backyard cookouts last well into the evening.
A work-hard, play-hard patio
Project overview: Kim says, “At that time, we had 2 dogs who were always in our backyard killing grass.” Their solution? The solution? A 6-by-8-foot potty pit under a wider, exterior staircase. The pit is 8 inches deep and gets hosed down often to keep it clean. They renovated the whole backyard from 25 feet to 25, adding a patio of 15 by 18 feet and a gravel border. Kim says, “We loved the idea to hardscape the entire back and give it life and soft edges with plantsers lining the perimeter.” The couple installed brick pavers after a contractor had excavated the area and built a base of crushed stone, sand and sand. Scott says that Scott slopped them slightly to allow rainwater to run back into the potty pit for a natural rinse.
Highlights: Kim and Scott created 37 feet of raised planter boxes using 10-foot lengths 5/4×6 pressure treated pine. This gave the garden room the feel of a large, open space with greenery all around. To protect perennials from Chicago’s extreme cold, they covered them with rigid foam insulation. They built wide slatted trees from 2x4s that they had ripped down and attached them to the side. This gave the greenery more height. The patio is anchored by a vintage metal fireplace that they bought secondhand, and a $100 dining table they made (inspired from a Restoration Hardware piece).
Kim says that the insulated planters are a true miracle. Kim says that most of our plants have returned every year. Things they may change: Kim said that while the original planter boxes were chocolate brown, today’s plants might be tainted black to really make them pop. After living with their DIY dining room table for some time, Kim says that they think it would be more practical to have a round table outside for traffic flow.
The payoff: Kim and I are both self-employed so whenever the weather is nice, Scott and Kim set up their laptops on the table to work outside. “I have also been meeting up with other dads to socially distant hangs by the fire. YouTube is our favorite place to watch concert videos. The setup started with a laptop with speakers and now has a flat-screen 32 inches with streaming.” All the comforts of home, plus plenty of fresh air.