Before and After: See How I Transformed Our Lifeless Concrete Backyard into a Dreamy Summer Oasis

published Jun 21, 2024
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Empty concrete area between garage and blue house with side lawn.
Credit: Courtesy of Tiffanie DeForest

Turn your outdoor space into a summer oasis with decorating hacks, no-fail lawn and garden tips, and more with Yard Therapy. This content is presented by The Home Depot; it was created independently by our editorial team.

When my husband and I bought our first home in 2019, we were in love with every inch of it — except for the yard. Because we’d visited close to 40 open houses by the time we saw our dream home, we decided it’d be easier to fix up the yard over time than to keep searching for another property that had all our must-have features and was move-in ready. So we closed on our cozy corner house and began working on an approach to slowly build the yard of our dreams.

Credit: Courtesy of Tiffanie DeForest
Credit: Charli Penn

First, we came up with a game plan.

Our backyard — if you could even call it that — was an absolute disaster. Instead of grass, the space was filled with old concrete that was cracked and jagged. There was an unsightly, hole-filled chain link fence the seller had spray-painted silver to look new again, and the little bit of grass we did have was mostly overrun by weeds. The yard also slopes downward, so we basically had a small stream running through our backyard whenever it rained. We had our work cut out for us!

We love to grill and host during the summer months, so our vision was to have a cozy deck or patio area we could enjoy every night in the summer and also use to entertain guests. We’re New Yorkers, so “rooftop lounge vibes” immediately came to mind when looking for inspiration. I spent a lot of time searching the internet for ideas and landed on a mood board we both felt good about. 

Because we’d just bought a home, our budget for the project was pretty tight to start. We decided to give ourselves some grace and take our time building it out, dividing the project into phases, taking on one at a time. 

Credit: Charli Penn
Credit: Charli Penn

Then we added a new fence and patio — the foundation for the transformation. 

First, in the summer of 2020, we borrowed a Sawzall to remove the old fence and the odd weedy hedge that had become intertwined with it. We wanted lots of privacy, so we had a 6-foot white vinyl privacy fence installed around the entire perimeter of our yard. We used the help of a contractor to install the fence for about $2,500 (not including materials) because the sloping of our yard made it a little tricky, but if you’re handier than us, you might be able to install the model we used yourself. 

Next, we moved on to the patio. Because our yard was one big concrete slab on a hill, we opted for a two-story floating patio concept. We hired a local carpenter to install it for us, which took just two days to complete and cost around $2,200. That’s when the foundation for our vision really started to come together. With our sights set on a classic black-and-white palette, I knew I didn’t want the patio to be a natural color or too dark and attract more heat, so we chose a gray that worked out perfectly. We used two gallons of Behr Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain in Stonehedge that cost about $50 a gallon. We waited for a hot day, hosed down the new wooden patio, let it dry, and then stained the deck in the evening. It was a fun and easy project to do together, and it was dry by the next morning.

We also turned over the soil and planted new grass seed and lots of compact trees and shrubs to line the patio and our home. We wanted a lush garden feel and we knew it would take time for our garden to grow and mature, so we focused on that first. Year one was all about adding the fence, the patio, and the landscaping. 

Credit: Charli Penn
Credit: Charli Penn

Lastly, we created an oasis with seating, decor, and planters.

In the spring of 2021, we decided to take on the really fun part: decor! We often have friends over, so we wanted to maximize the seating. We added a large dining table that seats eight on the top level, and on the bottom level we added conversational outdoor seating around a fire pit, a small bar table and chairs, and oversized poufs. When it came to the rugs, patio umbrellas, and throw pillows, we stuck to our black-and-white color palette but played with different geometric patterns to add a textured feel. We also peppered in hanging string lights and a lot of different-sized outdoor lanterns, which double as both daytime decor and nighttime ambiance. Because we had to cut down most of the trees around our yard due to a pest infestation, we had to work overtime to make it feel as cozy as possible. Our total budget for this phase, including the furniture, was about $5,000. 

For the finishing touch — and to make it feel even cozier — we brought some of the garden magic to the patio by adding an assortment of planters with evergreen shrubs. In the spring and summer we include tropical plants, like palms and hibiscus, although because we live in growing zone 7, we can only enjoy them during the warmer seasons. This was a one-time investment of about $400 on the evergreen plants and planters, and each summer we spend about $100 on seasonal plants.

It took two years to complete this backyard renovation, but honestly each year we still add one or two small decor pieces (or new plants) to the patio. What was once the biggest eyesore is now truly our happy place. We always count down the days until the outdoor season begins, and our friends enjoy hanging out with us in the backyard as much as we do. Excuse me while I go fire up the grill.

Inspired? Submit your own project here.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: See How I Transformed Our Lifeless Concrete Backyard into a Dreamy Summer Oasis