Before & After: A “Wasteland” Backyard Transforms Into a Stunning Outdoor Living Space

published Mar 16, 2024
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Backyard before renovation.
Credit: Ashley Tapley

If you’ve ever been house hunting, you’ll know that with some properties, it’s super easy to envision a seamless indoor-outdoor living space. Maybe there’s a brick oven already in place in the backyard. Maybe you can envision the perfect spot for a fire pit. Maybe there are giant glass doors that make the living room feel extra-connected to a scenic setting.

The sliding glass doors on the rear of Ashley Tapley’s 1964 mid-century home begged for indoor-outdoor living, but the backyard itself wasn’t exactly inviting al fresco dinner parties or evenings spent lounging under the stars.

Ashley doesn’t mince words describing it: “Our yard was a wasteland. Only a place for the dog to poop.” The home still had the original patio, and she had faux painted Saltillo tiles in an attempt to make it look better, but, as she explains it, “it was a sad and sorry space.”

Credit: Ashley Tapley
Credit: Ashley Tapley

A covered pergola structure makes the outdoor space all-weather. 

But fixing it up wasn’t as easy as just replacing the patio. Ashley’s home is on the California Central Coast, known for foggy, chilly days, meaning a place for a fire feature was a must. And their stately redwood tree stains everything in sight. To create a functional outdoor living area, she knew a covered structure was necessary. “We wanted a space to gather with friends and family year round, rain or shine,” she explains.

As a professional home stager and interior designer, Ashley was up for the design challenge of making the space both welcoming and practical. And, thanks to her background, she and her husband used a budget-saving trick when it came to planning out the extensive backyard makeover. They put their creativity to work designing the initial plans, but then had a landscape architect give it a stamp of approval. “We were not sure how this structure would feel in the space. We marked it out with string and consulted with local landscape architect, SSA, to make sure we were not making any big mistakes,” Ashley explains. 

Within the interior of the structure, Ashley and her husband used a neighbor’s old fence boards for the walls. 

Dark paint pops against the off-white house.

“We sanded them down, and then stained them with a vinegar/steel wool solution. It ages wood in minutes,” Ashley says, noting that this project was a first for them. Detailing the project, she explains, “We found out how to age the boards on YouTube. My husband sanded down the old fence boards so they were smooth and looked new. We painted them with different strengths of the vinegar solution so they aged differently. We laid the boards out on the ground in the order they were to be installed. We love how it turned out!”

The couple then painted the outdoor structure, which they call “the Palapa,” in a dark navy (Behr’s Chimney). The dark paint choice helps it become part of the landscape and separates it from the house, which is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee, a creamy off-white.

A durable DIY dining table adds a pop of color.

The project was a combination professional and DIY effort, with the professionals called in to tackle the more intensive parts of the job, and Ashley, her husband, and father-in-law doing multiple projects, too. 

Ashley’s father-in-law made a dining table that anchors the outdoor space, and Ashley and her husband tiled the top in a durable blue and white tile. “The tile withstands the staining from the redwood tree, and it’s so pretty,” Ashley adds. 

Finishing touches make the backyard functional and cozy.

The entire project consisted of demo, concrete, building the structure, installing pavers, installing faux grass, furnishing, and painting. And, if there’s one thing she’d do differently, Ashley says she’d put gopher wire under the grass and opt for pet-friendly faux grass that doesn’t retain odors as much. “Bleach fixes this, but you can get a pet-friendly faux lawn, too,” Ashley says. 

For the finishing touches under the new pergola, Ashley and her husband bought an outdoor sofa from  The Home Depot, which they had an upholsterer make new cushions for, as well as an American Fyre fire table. They added Budget Blinds solar shades inside for the occasional warm day and a pendant for a true indoor-outdoor feel. Bistro lights strung throughout the backyard give the entire space a twinkly, magical look at night.

“It’s fun for hanging out and entertaining, and it’s no longer an embarrassment,” Ashley says of the revamped indoor-outdoor living experience. And she leaves would-be backyard DIYers with one piece of advice: “Make a plan. Mark it out. It will be more expensive than you expect. Do it right.”

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: Before and After: A Sad Backyard Becomes a Mid-Century Indoor-Outdoor Living Space