Before and After: A DIY Stucco Bench Completes This 1970s-Inspired Desert Patio

published Jun 27, 2023
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About this before & after
Brown flooring painted on outdoor patio before renovation.

The concept of indoor-outdoor living has been big over the past few years. The trend began as a way to introduce softer textures more frequently found inside (canvas, linen) and more structural furniture found inside (sofas, big coffee tables, armoires), to the outside. Now, the term can be interpreted as a method of blending both spaces so they feel like one. Think: large glass doors that can be opened to make a living room and patio feel seamless, a jute rug that could work inside or outside, or an accent chair on wheels that you can slide between spaces, depending on the weather. 

The key to mastering indoor-outdoor, or outdoor-indoor, however you choose to look at it, is to make your decor styles consistent in both. Sara and Rich Combs’ home in Joshua Tree (@thejoshuatreehouse)  is a master class in doing just this. On the inside, their desert home has a boho ’70s vibe, as do the properties they rent out on Airbnb, so they wanted to bring that retro vibe to the outside.

The patio redo started with a retro-inspired outdoor coffee table from Article, Sara says, and the rest fell into place from there. Sara and Rich bought two of the tile-covered coffee tables, and they knew they wanted those to be the centerpieces of “a gathering place” — “the perfect space to enjoy a drink and some stargazing,” as Sara puts it. (It won’t surprise you to know that the Combses are big fans of sunken living rooms from the ’70s, too.) Sara and Rich started by having flagstones installed to cover the ground, and then they decided to build a DIY stucco bench to facilitate the conversational vibe they were after.

“Doing our own stucco was a first for us,” Sara says. “We had watched the process a few times previously, so we were able to use what we had observed and experiment with it ourselves. It’s physically intensive and took us a while to find a flow with the right consistency.”

Sara and Rich built an L-shaped framework out of 2x4s and plywood, then they covered their all-wooden bench with weatherproofing building paper for water resistance, then they wrapped the whole thing in steel lath (a mesh covering) so the stucco would have something to adhere to, and once the stucco dried, they painted (with Behr’s Mannequin Cream).

Sara and Rich’s stucco-ing advice? Wear gloves for protection from the steel lath, use a trowel for smoothing, and opt for a textured stucco if it’s your first time as well. “It’ll give you a lot more forgiveness,” Sara says. Finally, take things one step at a time. “This is such a satisfying DIY, but go into it knowing it is a time-consuming one,” she says. “The nice thing is, it doesn’t all need to be built at once.”

The hardest part of the redo, Sara says, was just finding the perfect furniture to kick off the project — “pieces that feel like a reference to the ‘70s time period without being too dated,” she explains.

Sara’s best advice for incorporating a 1970s vibe in your space in 2023 is as follows: First, create conversation areas.  “The ‘70s was about comfort and relaxed spaces,” she says. “Conversational zones are an important element for people to gather and create a laid-back feel.” 

Second, look for furniture with curvy shapes or sculptural elements: “It’s a nod to the ‘70s without going overboard,” Sara explains. And third, incorporate textures, natural material, and warm pops of color. “These elements create a … loungey vibe that feels very ‘70s,” she says, and you can keep things from becoming too kitschy with a modern piece or two to provide fresh contrast.

Sara incorporated pottery found from flea markets, travel souvenirs from trips to Mexico, vintage pillows, and custom terry cloth cushions. She says if there’s one thing she and Rich would change about the project, it’s that they would build the bench a few inches lower because the cushions added about 4 inches of height to the seats, but mostly she’s in love with the outdoor hangout they’ve constructed and curated. 

“The outdoor furniture that we ordered was assembled on site with the delivery, which made finishing off the space super-easy especially after all of the literal sweat that went into the built-in bench!” Sara says. “This has been such a fun space to spend time with friends and family — having a comfortable space to spend time in our garden, and around the fire and under the stars has made being at home feel like a vacation.” 

Inspired? Submit your own project here.