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Before and After: A Bare Yard Gets a Smart Redo with Separate Zones for Everything

published May 10, 2023
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Bare backyard before renovation.
Credit: Jill Schultz

As the weather gets warmer, it’s easy to start fantasizing about a dreamy back (or front!) yard — somewhere you can hang out, play games, sip a cool drink, and, in an ideal world, swim, all while gazing at beautiful flora.

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Credit: Jill Schultz

Lucky for Jill Schultz, she now has the outdoor space dreams are made of, but it took a lot of work and planning to get there. Before, Jill’s Arizona backyard “was completely bare with only a layer of gravel, a nice Mesquite shade tree, and a few random cacti,” Jill describes. “With a bare backyard in the desert, there was just so much dust on everything we laid outside. There was also an RV gate with old slats exposing our backyard to a busy street.” The yard certainly didn’t match Jill’s cool, recently renovated-but-still-retro MCM home.

Credit: Jill Schultz

“We even had a little breezeway connecting the house to the laundry room and detached office; however, we did not use it because there wasn’t a yard to enjoy it with,” Jill adds. She and her husband, Tim, knew they wanted to create a space that would be an inviting extension of the house for both themselves and the visitors they host by renting their place out when they’re away for Jill’s travel nursing job. 

“Especially in Arizona, where it’s so beautiful outside so much of the year, we wanted to create a space that promoted being outside — and conversely, when it’s an oven in the summer, a solution to cooling down,” Jill says. She and Tim “daydreamed about all the cool things we could do with this spacious backyard for about a year,” Jill explains, but it was almost too much space to know what to do with. They consulted an online landscaping service, Yardzen, and hired pros to help.

Credit: Mostess Host

The layout they landed on? An outdoor dining space with a large, shady umbrella on one side of the house, large square pavers and lounge chairs by the big Mesquite tree, and, of course, a pool in the middle, perfect for weathering the blazing Southwestern summers. “It brought a wonderful focal point to the yard, both visually and practically,” Jill says of the pool.

Jill says another big difference-maker in the space was gravel, and specifically the color and placement of it. “I really didn’t realize gravel was so important (well, to me anyway),” she says. She didn’t realize how many sizes, shapes, and colors there were to choose from — or how tricky it could be to buy online.

Credit: Mostess Host

“We visualized a lighter gravel and thought that’s what we had picked out from a two-inch-by-two-inch picture we were looking at online,” she says. “It was so much darker in real life than we thought, and it changed that entire half of the yard from what we imagined it would be.”

Jill said in the end, they had to shake it off. “It’s just gravel, and that’s much easier to replace than something like travertine around the pool,” she says. “I suppose if I were going to be picky about everything I was picky about in the beginning, I picked the right things to be picky about. The gravel, though. Next time I would take more time and get samples of that.”

Credit: Mostess Host

The gravel, artificial turf (an environmentally conscious no-water alternative to the real thing), and pavers are smart ground-cover decisions for an arid climate like Arizona. They were also budget-wise choices, as Jill says the concrete pavers were much cheaper than the tile she initially wanted. The breezeway furniture, lounge chairs, and large umbrellas help break up the large backyard space so it doesn’t feel so empty. As far as plant selection goes, here’s what Jill recommends: “We just got smaller, cheaper plants along the house knowing they will grow in one day,” she says. “No need to have spent more on the bigger, more mature plants for instant gratification.”

Credit: Mostess Host

Jill and Tim’s yard redo in general is a lesson in patience and planning (just like many of the other outdoor space redos AT has featured over the years). Take the time to plan and plant now, and you’ll reap the benefits of outdoor DIYs for many seasons to come.