Before and After: A Scrappy Backyard Becomes a Dreamy Multi-“Room” Oasis

published Aug 3, 2023
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About this before & after
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Backyard before renovation.

“Love at first sight” might be an unrealistic romantic movie cliché, but it certainly exists when it comes to buying a home. If you’re lucky, you might one day walk into a space and immediately think, “yes, this is the one.”

That’s how it was for designer McKenzy Golding (@goldenbirddesign) felt when she and her husband, Teddy, first toured the 1950s bungalow they now call home. “This is a special home for us, as it’s the first home that Teddy and I purchased together,” McKenzy says. “You know how sometimes you can just walk into a space and see your future there? That was us with this home. It clearly needed A LOT of work, but there was potential.”

While McKenzy redesigned the interior of the 1,200-square-foot house herself, she was stuck when it came to the backyard. “There was plenty of space, and that’s one of the reasons we were drawn to the property,” she says. “It just wasn’t well utilized or well cared for.” Much of it was taken up by cracked, uneven concrete, none of the fences matched, and a massive yellow shed — under which a family of skunks had made a home — lined the entire side yard.

McKenzy had ideas about what she wanted, but wasn’t sure what to do with all of them. She tapped pros at Yardzen to turn those ideas into a fleshed-out plan for a total redesign. The major goals: Give McKenzy and Teddy (and their dog Mr. Revy) a place to dine, a place to relax, and a place to garden, too. 

The couple also accounted for some non-visible changes that made their backyard more functional, such as new French drains. “French drains weren’t a fun thing to spend money on, but we sure were glad we did when our new backyard didn’t turn into a lake this past winter,” McKenzy says.

The more prominent changes, though, were a lot more fun. Outside of the kitchen, McKenzy and Teddy replaced the old cracked concrete with a locally sourced bluestone patio, inspired by European cobblestone streets. McKenzy also asked her contractor to build large raised garden beds nearby. “They sit about 22 inches high, which is perfect for doing gardening work without hurting your back,” she says. “The beds are located right off of our kitchen, and I love going out there in the evenings to pick some fresh herbs for dinner.”

On the other side, McKenzy opted for a large patio area — made with the same bluestone — that provides dining space for 10. “It’s literally a bigger dining area than our indoors option!” McKenzy says, so it gets plenty of use when the couple has company. The table is from Terra.

The total amount of grass in the yard was greatly reduced, but McKenzy and Teddy did leave some for Mr. Rivy to enjoy. “Having that little bit of real grass is so cool (literally, cool) to lay on during a hot summer day,” McKenzy says. Aside from the dining area, there’s now also a hangout spot with a firepit surrounded by a large built-in bench (plus a couple wicker lounge chairs).

Rather than replacing all the mismatched fences — which would have been more money than McKenzy and Teddy wanted to spend — they invested in perimeter plantings of bay leaf and star jasmine that will grow in to cover the old fences. “I was honestly surprised how quickly it’s working — the planting is starting to fill in and you already can’t even see one side of our fencing anymore,” McKenzy says.

One extra special addition? An outdoor shower created in a budget-friendly way by connecting a custom copper shower system into existing water lines using exposed pipes. “We didn’t have the budget for major plumbing work, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that, which is why I love this solution so much,” McKenzy says. “The exposed copper piping runs 3 feet along the white stucco of the house to tap into the water lines in our garage. It actually looks really cool and it saved us a lot of money.”

The final product is a backyard space divided into “rooms” that are all 100 percent as practical as they are beautiful. “Our backyard truly functions as a part of our home now. It’s our own little oasis, and it brings us joy every time we look out the window,” McKenzy says. If I had to pick, I’m probably most proud of the custom built-in bench around the firepit. It’s really designed to feel low and lounge-y, where you can kick back and watch the sun go down.”

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