Backyard Makeover

When we bought our house in Denver, we intentionally got one that didn’t really need any work done on the house itself. That didn’t entirely work out (yay emergency bathroom remodeling!), but most of our attentions have been focused on our yard, and particularly our back yard. We wanted a “livable” space, that we could spend a bunch of time in and really enjoy. It’s fun to look back at where we started, and where we are now.

Here’s roughly what it looked like when we moved in:

So we had some space to work with, but it was pretty rough. The “lawn” was a tangle of weeds on one side, and was actually entirely weeds, mixed with stones and rubble on the other. There was a mish-mash of paving back there (including one single piece of flagstone that weighed almost 900 lbs!), and it was generally just a real mess. We didn’t want to spend a boatload of money on it, so just getting someone in to take care of it wasn’t really an option. This was going to be DIY all the way.

I got to work and planned out something that we both agreed would be pretty amazing, but I don’t think either of us really appreciated what we were getting into at the beginning. I traced back all the “sub-projects”, and figured out what order to do everything in, so that we’d minimize “re-work”, avoid damaging things we’d already done, have some usable space along the way, etc. That resulted in a series of projects that have been underway for basically an entire year, to get us where we are now.

Since our dog was going to be at the neighbor’s dog’s throat with a fence like that, the first step was removing the old fence (down the side of the property), and putting in a new one. We wanted a horizontal cedar-picket fence, but to get it, we had to dig/cut/hack out a waist-high chainlink fence, which was completely grown through with pretty invasive trees. Holy smokes that was a project. It took a few full, long, days to get everything out, and cleaned up so that we could work on the new fence.

I had never built a fence before, but luckily a friend of ours has built a bunch, and he helped us both with removing the old fence (and trees/stumps!) and with putting in the new fence. Once I had learned how to do it, I was able to build the second half of the fence (up past the side of the house, not pictured) on my own.

The fence set the scene, and defined the boundaries for everything else we’d do. In our newly-enclosed and empty space, next up was the installation of a firepit/table, which was based on this Homemade Modern design and was in some ways the “centerpiece” of the yard plan. Yet again, this ended up being a bigger (and in this case, more expensive) project than we expected, but we’re pretty happy with how it turned out. The top is made out of scrap wood, and was added pretty recently so that we can use it as a casual table most of the time.

With the centerpiece in place, it was time to do a bunch of paving. I did this all myself (with heavy-lifting help from Peter, Edgar, and Erika!), and it’s turned out pretty well I think. There are some bits I’d probably have done differently, or would like to redo, but considering I taught myself how to pave from YouTube, I’m pretty happy with the results. The paving was actually done in 2 sections; the “upper level” back in October last year, and the “lower level” this March (yep, it dumped snow on me, right as I finished it off!). In between was a bunch of winter weather, and finishing the other section of fence, so the yard has been a bit of a mess for a while.

Part of this whole plan was to give us some good, usable space (which was pretty well-positioned to get a lot of sun), where we could put in a couple of vegetable garden beds. We used 2 layers of 8ft cedar 4x4s, with interlocking corners, rebarred into the ground. We also added some “hoops” so that we can put a protective cover over them during Colorado’s pretty epic hailstorms and potential random snow/frost/whatever:

One last thing, which isn’t technically part of the yard, but feels like it “ties it together”. I really wanted to make a nice, big outdoor table for our space. I managed to do just that, using wood that we recovered from the old fence we pulled down (from the side of the house). We ended up with an 11 ft table that seats about 12, for the total cost of maybe $50 worth of a couple new pieces (part of the frame) and a bunch of screws. It’s already been the focal point of a series of afternoon/evening hangouts, and I’m looking forward to it doing much more of the same.

It’s been a long process, with a lot of really hard work, and a bunch of money, but we’re really happy with the “final” result. We’ll probably tinker a bit here and there, put in some more planters, maybe something to provide some shade, but I think all the biggest work is done now. Wanna come over for a drink and grill out the back?

  1. Jeremy said:

    That’s impressive, kudos! Looks like that table can accomodate a whole team. Next team meetup at your place? 🙂

    • Beau said:

      Hah! Yep, it would seat most teams. The one thing that I really want to get done still is adding some sort of shade awning over that space though; when the sun is out and blazing, it is craaaazy hot back there!

    • Carolyn S. said:

      Yes, I agree; I’ve always wanted to go to Colorado! 😀

      Backyard looks stunning! I’m taking notes for that firepit/table…

  2. Robert Felty said:

    I’ve been watching this project from afar for a year, wondering how you have been finding time to do it. Awesome work!

    What did you use for the hoops?

    • Beau said:

      Most of the time has been “sprints” of a weekend here, an afternoon there. I’ve had to fit it in amongst the weather over winter, and that’s definitely dragged it out a bit (also gave our bank balance time to recover from each hit!).

      The hoops are just PVC piping, which is flexible enough to bend over and then insert into wider/shorter sections of piping that are sunk into the corners/edges. If I did it again, I might try drilling out holes in the edging to insert them into, or attaching the pipes to the outside, which would make for better water-shedding, although would also make them more likely to trip me up/stub my toes.

  3. Sheri said:

    considering I taught myself how to pave from YouTube

    ^ YouTube knows how to do everything…

    The lights in the back above the table are a nice accent. Way cute!

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