Before and After: This “Wonky” Backyard Gets a Redo That’s All About Hardscaping

published Sep 14, 2023
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If you’re a landscaper or gardener, or if you’re an experienced yard owner, you might be familiar with the term hardscaping. For those without a green thumb or for those whose plants live in more of a concrete jungle, hardscaping is all about the hard, non-plant materials that go in a landscape design (think: rocks, gravel, pavers, patios, gazebos). In homeowner Jamie Shaw’s (@lmnlstudio) yard refresh, hardscaping is the hero. And it’s creative and colorful, too.

“Over the years, we mostly put our energy into the plants because that felt like something we could do by ourselves,” Jamie explains, as she and her partner, Michael, had been slowly upgrading the exterior of their home by painting it white and replacing the overgrown vegetation. “Little by little, as we had a little bit of money to spend, we would plant. We’d focus on one corner and then the next, but over the years we hadn’t made much of a change to the hardscaping.” 

In 2020 they decided to bring their yard to the finish line. They were traveling less than ever, so they wanted to make their backyard “feel like a vacation getaway.” “A lot of the stylistic decisions were influenced by that!” Jamie adds. Jamie and Michael worked with Yardzen, an online landscaping company, to come up with a design that fit their day-to-day needs and wants.

Credit: Jamie Shaw
Credit: Yardzen

Goodbye, old brick. Hello, elevated deck and fire pit plus pavers.

Jamie and Michael used to have a small fire pit behind the “wonky brick that wasn’t really laid out properly,” she says, but during their big hardscaping project, they decided to have pros build a deck where the hot tub plumbing once was and create a cozy firepit area. The new deck is elevated (both literally and figuratively) and helps to create distinct zones, Jamie says. “We use it all the time!” she adds.

Her advice when it comes to creating cozy seating setups — especially outside — is to use travel as inspiration. “I encourage people to look at magazines, go to a different country, or think about fantasy hotels … look up or go to cool hotels in your town and see how they treat botanical and hardscaping design,” she says. “They think about what kind of design will encourage people to gather, what will make something feel like a vacation.”

Jamie and Michael are thrilled with their built-in deck seating. “We don’t have a huge space, and furniture that you might choose to put around a firepit tends to be wide … we’re able to fit more people up there to gather around the fire pit than we would if we had just put a few chairs.”

Jamie and Michael had the deck and seating stained an almost-black brown. “We had the old brick demoed and then we put in a few cement pavers … Then we had the tile laid for a new patio,” she says.

Credit: Yardzen
Credit: Yardzen

The dining area’s tile is travel-inspired.

Choosing the tile for the patio was one of the most difficult parts of the redo. Jamie’s advice? “You really need to understand the climate, outdoor elements, and how you will be using the space when it comes to choosing something like tile,” she says.

Jamie says landing on the tile material was the biggest learning experience. “Michael was nervous that ceramic tile would be too slippery, as it rains a lot here, and he’s out gardening/watering a bunch with the hose,” she explains. “Luckily, our contractor recommended a fired ceramic tile that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.”

At first, when she was working with her designers and contractors, she envisioned more wood for the space. “I saw the initial designs and I realized that I didn’t want that much wood out there,” she says. But she also didn’t want to go back to brick. 

“And then I just had this realization. Of course, it had to be tiled! We’ve traveled to places like Morocco and Portugal, and I grew up in Mediterranean countries. So then I went on a mad tile hunt.”

The first options she considered were more classic (like checkered), but then she decided she wanted something more ornate. “The one we landed on fits so well — it’s fun and vibrant,” Jamie says. “The bright blue is very coastal and makes me feel like I’m somewhere other than my backyard.”

Credit: Yardzen
Credit: Yardzen

The furniture and decor are a mix of splurges and saves.

And blue furniture and decor complete the Mediterranean-inspired getaway. “The two striped chairs are very budget-friendly,” Jamie says. “There are expensive versions of that style, but I was able to find those online and they have held up great.” (Hers are under $200 from Wayfair.

Another way she and Michael saved money is by not buying mature trees to fill in the space right away. “The vegetation is lush and robust, but it didn’t start that way,” she says. “We started with junior plants, which are more affordable, but it’s been many years of planting to get that look.” 

The striped awning in the space is from Quayle Awnings in San Francisco, her steel planters are from West Elm, her cement planters are from a local garden supply store, her mint dining table and chairs are from Fermob, and her sconces are from an online vintage shop. (More hardscaping for the win!)

“Every person that comes into our yard says it feels like a Mediterranean oasis,” Jamie says. “They say it feels like Morocco! It feels like Greece! They always have a different place, but I love that it feels like a vacation.” A vacation every day for Jamie, Michael, and their dog, Dino? Now that’s a dream backyard. 

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