It’s December, but I was determined to not let our back patio slip away before the end of this year! This ‘room’ in our home has seen a massive transformation over the course of the last 6-7 months, so much so, that we sometimes forget about the monstrous deck that used to (barely) hang on our home! As a quick recap, the old deck used to serve as a back exit to the first floor apartment, the second floor apartment and, at the time, it was the only way to gain access to the attic. Over the last three years, we’ve slowly converted the two apartments into a single-unit dwelling, and this past spring, we added an indoor access ladder to our attic from our second floor landing.
We think all of that is so important to the story of this back patio. When we first toured this house (along with several other couples – it was a group showing, making the stakes feel that much higher!), we kept thinking, Okay, this is a big project, but we got this. We can do this. And then we were shown the backyard, and all the eyes grew wide. That can’t be safe!, someone (we?) said. I can’t bring myself to share those photos in this big progress post, so be sure to take a look here. Oof.
It’s important because we were so sure it would be another several years before we could get even consider our backyard makeover. It was more than just a makeover. To us, this house felt like a division of two projects: renovate the inside of the house (one), renovate the backyard (two). But this past spring, we looked at each other and said, What if this is the year? What if we just do it?
As one renovation ends, we immediately begin saving for the next. To be honest, we rarely have a budget in mind. We write a list of the must-haves and like-to-haves, we gather quotes, and we consider the pros and cons of hiring versus DIY. (And sometimes, when we’re being kind, we cut ourselves a break.) In this case, we hired out a lot of the work that could bring us to a fair starting point – the demolition and rebuild of our deck, new siding and prepping for the pavers – but we also DIYed quite a bit, too. From laying the pavers to building a table, trellises and 37-feet of planter boxes, we had a busy, rewarding summer! It was fun hard work, and I mean that truly. (Every last project is linked at the end of this post!)
The fireplace makeover was one of our most anticipated projects for the yard, and we were thrilled with the results – that is, until one wacky weather day this past fall. Above, you can see that it’s getting a little rusty around the base, which we were hoping to avoid with a good paint job and keeping the fireplace protected over the winter. It’s not a huge deal, but still a deal nonetheless. Unfortunately, it gets worse.
One warm night, we tucked ourselves into bed, and the next morning, we woke up to an unexpected chill. In the course of one evening, the weather dropped a good forty degrees, but by noon, it had warmed back up to a perfect, 70s-and-sunny-day. That same afternoon, we noticed that the paint finish had cracked! We were (really) bummed, but since then, the weather has yo-yoed and the cracking has stayed at bay. We think that our method could absolutely work in less moody weather areas, but I’ve since updated the original post with our experience. That said, we’ve both agreed that our best bet would be to give it a professional powder coated finish over the winter. The DIY route was worth a shot, and if we weren’t being overly particular, we could probably let it be. Does anyone have a Chicagoland recommendation for good powder coating?
It was a bummer, but it didn’t mess with the functionality! The fireplace kept us warm well into late November; we even cozied up to it on Thanksgiving Day with hot cider and wool blankets!
Another area we love is our built-in bench between a long row of planters. It wasn’t in our initial plans, and on a whim, we decided to throw it in as a cost saving measure. By doing so, we had that much less soil, gravel and plants to purchase, but it ended up surprising us as the sweetest little touch to the back patio. Adding a box-edge cushion and installing this cobalt gooseneck above was the icing on the cake! It’s a great two-seater, but let’s be real, it’s mostly CC’s seat.
We were a little nervous planting our garden in the fall, despite hearing from so many that it’s actually a great time to do so! Luckily, the variety we chose seemed quite happy, and like most of the country, Chicago stayed relatively warm for weeks longer than is typical, receiving an extended summer and fall. Despite this, in the final hour, one of our rhododendrons took a drastic change for the worse, and we replaced it with a small azalea bush:
When we first began discussing deck plans, we figured we’d design a large walk-out with room for a dining table and our grill, but our plans slowly evolved to nix the original idea altogether! Instead, we landed on a wide open staircase, one that would allow for the most effortless indoor to outdoor flow. Rather than contain ourselves to a deck and save only a small sliver of yard, we think that this configuration says, Come outside! Come!
When I was rounding up ‘before’ photos, it was tough to decide what was the actual before. Is it when we still had a 3-story deck? Or is it post-demolition, pre-pavers and staircase and planters? I’m including a mix, below. The first photo shares the view from that old, scary deck, whereas the other views were taken after it had come down. Let’s go!
VIEW FROM KITCHEN | BEFORE AND AFTER
VIEW FROM GARAGE | BEFORE AND AFTER
VIEW FROM SIDEWALK | BEFORE AND AFTER
But! The patio isn’t finished just yet! In the spring, we have a list that we ran out of time to do this year. We’d like to swap those white chairs out completely for something more slim, and our wicker chairs will move to the heads of the table. Cozy seating will take their place at the fireplace, and landscape lighting is going to be a high priority. We have a few ideas to incorporate outdoor storage (for things such as citronella candles and outdoor pillows), and we’d like to add a sleek-but-not-too-modern awning above the kitchen sliding doors.
Since taking these photos, we’ve thrown covers over the table and chairs, and we’re saying goodbye-for-now to outdoor gatherings. It’s been real, patio!
Pavers: Lowe’s | DIY Table | White stacking chairs | DIY Trellises | Wicker chairs | Black and white striped cushions | Bench cushion | Cobalt gooseneck light | Black farmhouse light | DIY Planters | Ottoman | Outdoor speakers | Sliding kitchen door | Staircase paint and stain: Extra White railings, Flagstone opaque stain by Sherwin Williams
Click on any thumbnail below to take you to any of our patio projects: