For the last few days, I’ve been thinking about how I would write this post. By the way, by this post, I mean, how do I even begin writing about our backyard? Scott and I have been talking about this yard for as many years as we’ve lived here, and while a lot of our major renovations took place inside, we turned a blind eye outside. Having a yard in the city was – no, is! – a big deal for us, and it’s a large part of the reason why we felt we could bring sweet Chocolate Chunk into our lives. Although it’s not horribly pretty, Jack and CC love it, and it’s been a great little area for them to burn off that abundant Pittie energy when long walks just aren’t enough. It may be small at roughly 20′ x 20′, but pretty mighty, too.

This spring, we said to each other, this is the year, right? The year we take that beast by the horns? Here’s how the yard looked post-deck-demolition and pre-siding-and-stair-build:


We started by demolishing that old, rickety back deck, and then we had new siding installed, and then we finally decided to build a simple, wide staircase. It’s an 8′ wide staircase with a 4′ deep landing, there’s just enough space to stash a grill on one side and eventually, a little storage bench on the other. We kept the risers slightly open to keep them feeling light, and we’ll eventually paint the railing and stain the deck treads (similar to our front porch):


Before deciding on our staircase, we ran through so many ideas. Everything was discussed; nothing was off the table. We gathered quotes on a steel staircase, and we gathered quotes for a big walk-out deck. We Googled “Chicago backyards” and we took countless photos of outdoor patios at our favorite local restaurants. Most importantly, we weighed the pros and cons of a massive deck versus taking advantage of the actual yard. For us, that was the biggest mind shift. We thought, if we create a large walk-out deck, would we even use the little yard we have left? And so, we scrapped all the plans for a large deck and we said, let’s make this about the yard.

So far, the stairs have been our everything. They’ve been built for a few weeks now, and on July 4th, we held an impromptu barbecue with neighbors. The entire plan was to have people walk into our home, gravitate towards the kitchen (naturally) and want to walk out of those big sliding doors and into the yard! Because the staircase is 8′ wide, and because there’s currently a lack of chairs and table, the stairs served as stadium seating – one of our goals. (Couldn’t you just imagine those stairs loading up with pillows and a movie projected onto the back of our garage?) Our neighbors lounged on the steps, and the flow from kitchen-to-yard felt seamless. It made our hearts so, so happy to see people using our space and enjoying it, even though we’re only at the very start of this backyard’s transformation!


Now, on to the plans! With all the really massive work done, this is where Scott and I are going to start pulling up our sleeves and diving in. Soon enough, this grassy view as you walk down the stairs will be nixed for a brick paver patio (more on what’s going on with the leftover siding in a minute):


Why pavers? Simply put, for our family, we don’t love the grass. Our backyard receives full sunlight throughout most of the day, and between the dry patches from lack of rain water and dead patches from – what else? – dog pee, we wanted a low maintenance alternative that felt urban, effortless and classic for this Chicago house. At the same time, we wanted to take this opportunity to address the grade of our lawn, as it’s weirdly low in some spots and high in others. We began pinning paver patios, and the more we pinned, the more we liked. In fact, once our pins began taking shape, we realized a pretty prominent theme – red bricks and herringbone:


one | two

It’s funny, because between the two of us, we just assumed we’d pick up grey bricks. Grey = our default choice for everything. But the day we went paver shopping, we took a moment to really look at our favorite images. Truly, almost every paver patio focused on variations of red brick. Before we really – and I mean, really – hunkered down to figure out why these photos were appealing to us, we would have stocked up on grey and called it day. Shame on us! I mean, isn’t it so obvious now?

The team at Lowe’s offered to help us with our backyard plans, and they pointed us in the direction of this guide to calculate exactly how many bricks we’d need. We tallied not once, not twice, but three times to the tune of 2,000 bricks. This included a 10% surplus, plus a little more for the herringbone pattern, which can eat up even more. When it came time for Paver Buying Day, Lowe’s was having a 3/33¢ sale, reducing the price of each brick by 15¢! For our (slightly smaller than) 20′ x 20′ yard, the grand total for 2,000 bricks + 400 lbs of polymeric sand + delivery (just $59; sold!) came to almost exactly $1,000.

Because Scott and I get dizzy thinking about what it would mean to dig our paver base and properly grade our yard (and because we ultimately decided that our time would be better spent finishing the laundry room!), we hired a local contractor to knock it out in one day. We’ll still share as much of that process as we can, but once the base is ready for us, we’ll then take over to lay the pavers and move on to the rest of the design, which, speaking of…


Oh, hey, fireplace! All along, we knew we’d want to shimmy a fire pit somewhere in the yard, but I also dreamed of a long table filled with friends, and the space for a proper pit kept encroaching into dining territory. When we found this pristine Mid-century fireplace in Madison, Wisconsin for a steal, we immediately scrapped the idea of a conventional pit, and Scott drove the 300+ miles round trip to pick it up. For a hot second, I was worried about plopping down a very obviously MCM centerpiece into the yard of our very not MCM home, but Scott reminded me that as lovers of quirk, what better place than the backyard to do something really out of the ordinary? (To be fair, we say that about every room, but I still needed to hear it.) Plus, this new-to-us fireplace would allow for a cute conversational area and serve as ambience for dining al fresco in the evening, not to mention, I have always loved Sarah’s backyard. We have plans to refinish her in a new color (the faux-sooty look isn’t working for us), and we’d like to convert her into a gas fireplace. We’ll definitely keep you updated on how that goes!

backyard-plans-19 backyard-plans-20

Back to the dining area, we used scrap siding to start playing with furniture dimensions. We sketched ideas onto paper, but being in the yard and using tangible items to get a sense of the space helps us so much. Below, Scott is adjusting our future 8′ x 3′ dining table. We’d love to anchor either end with beautiful chairs, and for the 3 chairs across the middle of each side, we’ll likely keep it simple (and stackable!). There is still plenty of room to Scott’s right (our left) for a pair of pretty club chairs by the fireplace, and do you see the siding that’s lining the perimeter of the yard? This will be where our brick pavers stop and where rows of above ground planters begin. Because we’re getting rid of the grass, we want to bring in color and greenery through plants. Lots of them!


Finally – last but certainly not least! – we’ll be providing a large area for our puppies to potty. While the entire backyard is currently theirs to use at their disposal (like, literally), that won’t be the case for much longer. Instead, the area beneath the stairs will be made into a sizable pee pit, similar to the one in our front yard. We’re not sure what gravel we’ll be using just yet, but no matter what, we want to make sure it looks good with the rest of the yard.


Assuming the weather plays in our favor, the yard will start getting dug up this week! In the meantime, we’re on the hunt for the perfect fireplace chairs, and I’m imagining beautiful wicker chairs to flank the ends of our (non-existent) dining table. (This chair is crazy beautiful, but this chair or this chair would also do!)

Has anyone recently picked up outdoor furniture that they love?

And just for fun, the large minty lumbar pillow from our bedroom makeover is on sale right now!

  • Magda - July 12, 2016 - 6:36 AM

    We went to look around a house that had a special dog toilet for their huskies – a concrete pad, sloping down to a gully with a gutter to a drain, they trained their dogs to use it for pees and poops then hosed it down afterwards!ReplyCancel

  • Natasha | The Simply Inspired Blog - July 12, 2016 - 6:40 AM

    Love this detailed recap of your plans. It sounds like it’s going to be beautiful & functional. We’re also currently prepping and researching to do a paver stone patio in our yard. Look forward to seeing how it all turns out!ReplyCancel

  • Stacy - July 12, 2016 - 7:28 AM

    Sometimes I feel like having a smaller back yard would be SO much easier than a big one – my back yard is about 8000 square feet and while I do really love it, it can be totally overwhelming at times. Where do I put the grill? A patio area? A vegetable garden? A fire pit? What do you even do with a side yard?? And the mowing! I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I see smaller yards like yours sometimes and just think, if only…

    All that to say, I think your little city back yard is fantastic, and I am really excited to see what you do with it :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 7:49 AM

      Your feeling of our yard is how we felt when we moved from our 657 sq ft condo to this house! SO MUCH SPACE, ha! But I hear you. A large space can be just as overwhelming as a smaller one, and the feeling that you need to maximize every square inch. It can really be tricky! It’s taken us 3 years to get to this point, so there’s no harm in simmering on your yard until ideas start flowing.ReplyCancel

  • Kaylin - July 12, 2016 - 8:47 AM

    What are you going to put in your above-ground planters? Are you worried about the shade from the garage interfering with them?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 9:12 AM

      We are 100% open to suggestions! We might need to do some part shade plants by the garage, but along the fence is so sunny for the majority of the day. We’re also putting a planter to the left of the stairs, and that gets bright sunlight all day, too!ReplyCancel

  • CC - July 12, 2016 - 9:19 AM

    I like the brick pavers but I get sad whenever city dwellers with a grass yard get rid of it. It’s so rare to have a yard in the city and even more rare to have grass. I’d be careful taking away your grass for brick if for no other reason than the potential for backyard flooding. Brick is more permeable than say concrete, but not as much as grass.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 10:45 AM

      Thanks, CC! We’ve discussed any flooding issues with the crew that will be grading our yard for us. It’s definitely something we wanted to be mindful of!ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - July 12, 2016 - 9:26 AM

    Clover is more drought-tolerant & dog-pee tolerant than grass. You could do a clover pit if you want to keep some soft greenery back there for the pups to pee or lay on.

    I would worry about my dogs’ feet getting sore from the hot concrete/stone if there was nothing else for them to walk on.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 10:44 AM

      Thanks, Kelly! The pee pit will be shaded almost entirely by the stairs, and they use the pit in the front yard with no issues at all.ReplyCancel

    • Laura - July 12, 2016 - 2:43 PM

      Clover attracts bees!!!ReplyCancel

  • Susan @ Jubilee Furniture - July 12, 2016 - 10:11 AM

    Jubilee Furniture has an amazing relationship with many of the outdoor furniture showroom managers at the Merchandise Mart and have lots of “never been used” pieces from them. That said, sometimes it’s a single piece of a collection. We also just picked up (yesterday) a couple hundred outdoor cushions/pillows that we sell for $8 each! Again, it’s sorta hit or miss re: sizes and fabrics – but that might be a thought for your stairs (which are gorgeous!). Love your plans (as always!).ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 10:16 AM

      So good to know! We love Jubilee. :DReplyCancel

  • Heather - July 12, 2016 - 11:03 AM

    I love the plans! It’s going to be such a chic place to hangout! We’ve had really, really good success with herbs (especially basil of all types) in our planters. They love direct sun and are really easy to grow.ReplyCancel

  • Jaime Ballard - July 12, 2016 - 11:58 AM

    Ok…so this is an honest question, and not meant to be critical at all but, what does that window lead to that is right below your stairs just to the left of your dog in that picture?? I thought I recall you have a rental unit below your house (am I mistaken??) and am wondering if that is their kitchen or bedroom window that is now going to look out onto the dog toilet? I am just curious! I promise!
    PS the pee-pit idea is genius and i am thinking of how we can incorporate them into our front and backyards for our future dog(s). Our pug is 14 y.o. and at this point, we are just thankful she makes it outside to go ;)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 12:07 PM

      It’s a valid question! It is a window to their unit, but when the pee pit is done, it’s literally going to look like gravel. SO much nicer than what they have now and have had for the last 3 years. The pee drains, and we pick up #2 when they go.ReplyCancel

      • Jacqueline - July 12, 2016 - 2:11 PM

        I was wondering the same thing, Jaime! And wondering about the smell, if you plan on using the stairs as seating for the backyard? I’m a cat person, but my kids desperately want a dog. 😀ReplyCancel

        • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 2:18 PM

          As long as everything is picked up after a potty break, there’s no issue with smell! The great thing about the pee pit is that it can be hosed down every now and then, too. It was really important for us to make an area where the dogs could go for a quick nighttime potty break, and the front yard pee pit has been a champion! This one will just be larger.ReplyCancel

      • Melbournite - July 12, 2016 - 8:46 PM

        But, they still look out to a view of the dogs toileting multiple times a day, right? Unless that window’s view is obscured in a way we readers can’t see, it looks like you don’t value the comfort and amenity of your tenants (you can’t half tell I’m a tenant).ReplyCancel

        • Kim - July 13, 2016 - 8:38 AM

          We absolutely do. Everything has been thought out to ensure the comfort of our pets, our tenants, and lastly, us. We’ve even discussed our plans with them. (Besides, our dogs do much more than potty in the back yard!)ReplyCancel

  • Shelle - July 12, 2016 - 1:34 PM

    Please slow down the transitions on your photo montages. They flip too fast. They did on the last post as well. Or leave readers the option of still photos so we can see the transformation at our own speed. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Laura - July 12, 2016 - 2:52 PM

    The flow between inside and outside is so so great. I love all your plans! I have brick in my yard and it works so well with lots of rain and lots of doggie activity. Your chair selections are beautiful. Try before you buy or be able to return or exchange is my only recommendation. As it goes with inside furniture- one won’t use a space if it isn’t comfortable.
    I love your idea of making the fire pit gas. Wood fires seem like such a great idea until the winds shift and you can’t breath and your neighbors have to close their windows on a hot night for all the smoke.
    I’m excited to see the project completed!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 4:16 PM

      Thanks so much for the feedback! Happy to hear that brick works well with your yard + dogs. Such a good boost of info!ReplyCancel

  • Ben - July 12, 2016 - 3:14 PM

    Just came from Belize. Belizean chairs. Look them up. Mahogany gold slat chairs. It’ll play well with your MCM fireplace, which by the way I have one and it’s been in the garage. Never thought to just bring it outside like a chiminea.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 4:18 PM

      Those chairs are so pretty! We actually saw a vintage one at a street fest a few weekends ago, and Scott loved it. I sat in it, and the combo of the deep seat and angle didn’t allow for my short legs to sit comfortably. Womp.ReplyCancel

  • Robyn - July 12, 2016 - 4:26 PM

    Where/how did you get that fireplace? I NEED ONE. I have been searching craigslist to no avail :(ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 6:08 PM

      Craigslist! We did a really wide search, which is how we ended up in Madison (we’re in Chicago).ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - July 12, 2016 - 9:46 PM

    Love the idea of the aged brick in herringbone pattern — will look stunning. Can you tell us the dimensions of the top “step” of your outdoor staircase (i.e., the landing) and how you arrived at the width (is it wide enough for a chair and/or table, for example, or for planters)? Looking forward to seeing images when the yard is finished!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 13, 2016 - 8:36 AM

      The landing is 12′ wide x 4′ deep. The stairs are 8′ wide. We came to this to give us the most amount of yard possible, but a landing that was deep enough to accommodate a bench on one side and a grill on the other. We couldn’t go wider than 12′, due to the stairs that lead down to our tenant’s apartment, below!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Homrok - July 13, 2016 - 6:31 AM

    Just purchased a similar fireplace yesterday! I know you are early in your design plans, but, how do you think it will hold up in our Chicago winter? Will you store it inside? I plan on placing it in front of our wooden fence too, do you think the heat will damage the fence? Which type of paint will you use to refinish it? Thanks so much! I have enjoyed watching you rehab your home.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 13, 2016 - 8:35 AM

      We’ll be using a high heat spray paint, and we’ve seen this fireplace in SO many settings nestled close to a wall or fence. It’s intended to be used indoors, and an image search shows that they used to sit almost right up to drywall in a lot of homes! Ours will still sit several inches away from the fence, but we’ll definitely share the transformation once we get to that point.ReplyCancel

  • Haley Hepburn - July 13, 2016 - 7:24 AM

    DO you plan to get rid of all the grass? Or leave some? I noticed that your inspiration pictures had both brick and grass? I think the extra green is so nice. But it’s your yard of course and I’m sure it will look great no matter what! :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 13, 2016 - 8:43 AM

      We went back and forth on that for a WHILE. I wanted to keep a strip of grass, but for what? Our inspiration yards are also much, much larger! We decided to nix the grass completely, which is why the entire perimeter – with the exception of the fireplace – will be above ground planters. We’ll still get a lot of greenery in there!ReplyCancel

  • Shay - July 13, 2016 - 5:01 PM

    I love those CB2 chairs you linked! I also want one of those MCM fireplaces in the future but it wouldn’t fit here. We are currently going through a huge backyard make over – in some ways similar to yours. we started two years ago by splitting off part of the yard to make a dog run that’s full of rocks for the pup to do his business. We’ve also been working to remove the grass; we turned most of the space into veggie bins, we refuse to water it, and the dog is allergic anyway. We had a tiny broken patio that just got replaced with a 17′ square and we filled it up with furniture and added a sun sail. It’s smaller then you’re looking for but we got the Beer Garden set from World Market and really like it.

    The last two big projects minus landscaping and some paths is to finish a chicken coop and we’re having our tiny deck screened in. The deck goes to the kitchen and will give us a nice bug free zone on the cool side of the house in the summer and will be a nice place for our indoor kitty to get to watch more of the world.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 14, 2016 - 10:40 AM

      That sounds so nice! Wow. All that hard work is totally going to pay off. Love that you have chickens, too. :)ReplyCancel

  • av - July 14, 2016 - 10:16 AM

    looks like you guys will really be able to get the most out of the space back there–i’m excited to see it come together! and the deck already looks great! gotta say, though, i’m a bit sad for the pups…you said you liked having the yard for the dogs to run/get some energy out, and it appears all of that space will be completely taken away by the table, dining chairs, club chairs, plants, etc…ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 14, 2016 - 10:33 AM

      Don’t let them fool you… We live within walking distance of parks, a large urban walking trail and an ice cream place where they frequently get doggie cones.ReplyCancel

  • Julie - July 14, 2016 - 11:53 AM

    awesome to hear that you are listening to your instincts on the red brick pavers. they will provide a nice color balance with the grey and wood that you currently have at the house — plus the earthiness will help to make the greenery really stand out as well. have you thought about adding wheels to the bottom of the dining table (similar to the island) in case you decided to host the block party in the back yard?

    ugh! chrome hates me — originally posted on a totally different post from the 8th!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 14, 2016 - 11:57 AM

      Hmm, wheels are an interesting idea! We have plans we’re looking at for the table we want to build, but I’m not sure wheels will work for them. It’s something to consider though!ReplyCancel

  • Grondwerken - July 15, 2016 - 12:46 AM

    Amazing! Only question in my mind is your yard’s ground is neither full of grass nor has bricks? Exactly what are you planning for the same? A complete concreted ground or garden kind of yard?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 15, 2016 - 10:36 AM

      It’s almost all grass, but it will be brick pavers, and the perimeter will be lined with above ground planters soon enough!ReplyCancel

  • Casey - July 17, 2016 - 9:01 AM

    Those stairs look amazing! We’ve been slowly working on our backyard space this summer as well. It’s so satisfying to see it change into a place you want to invite friends over to :)ReplyCancel

  • Pat - July 19, 2016 - 12:04 AM

    We used pea gravel in our dog’s potty area. It worked out ok, our dogs still preferred the grass.

    And an fyi, my cousin’s dog broke a leg when it slipped through the open stair as he was running full bore up the stairs. Ever since then I always advise people to put a riser on their stairs.ReplyCancel


When we last left off with the laundry room cabinets, we had just finished building them – fresh from their flat-packed boxes! – and we laid them in place until we were ready to install. Aside from the hanging rail system that we’ve used in the past for our fauxdenzas, we had yet to hang cabinets in the traditional sense, that is, until now! Turns out, it doesn’t need to be as complicated as some of the tutorials we read online. Truth be told, I began to feel intimidated about the process after falling down the proverbial tutorial rabbit hole. Together, we watched a few videos, read some step-by-steps, inspected our own kitchen cabinets, and when we were tired of reading and watching, we said, let’s not overthink this. We weren’t fast, but we did get them hung in a (long) afternoon! As a quick reminder, we’ve partnered with, and we chose their Aspen White Shaker ready-to-assemble cabinets. Here’s how we made it work for us!

After emptying the room of our cabinet piles, we marked all the studs with blue tape. We worked our way around the room, taping around the area where we thought the cabinets would hang. (This is our favorite stud finder, by the way!)

laundry-cabinet-install01 laundry-cabinet-install02

In our case, the cabinet above the washer and dryer was the most crucial piece for all the dominoes, so to speak, to fall into place. You can see in our laundry room plans that just to the left of this cabinet will be a side panel that rests on our countertop – so like I said, dominoes! A few quick measurements had us realizing that we would like 1.5″ fillers on each side of this cabinet, which is the exact depth of a standard pine 2″ x 4.” We attached two 2x4s plus a thin piece of plywood (to account for the inset lip on the side of each cabinet) directly into the studs…


… and we used 2.5″ wood screws to go through the side of our cabinet, into the 2x4s and into the studs. We attached another pair of 2x4s on the exposed side of this cabinet, which the side panel will eventually attach to and fillers will conceal. Below, you can see that the cabinet is currently resting on a stack of scrap 2x4s; this is to keep the weight of the cabinet evenly distributed until the side panel is place. At this point, we didn’t want all the weight being supported by screws on only one side of the cabinet.


With the trickiest cabinet complete, we could move on to the rest of the uppers. Taking into account the width of fillers + the distance from the far wall to the first stud, I made small marks on the back of the cabinet to show where the studs would be (behind the cabinet, once the cabinet is in place; make sense?). A small pilot hole through the cabinet would allow us to see where to attach the cabinet to the wall:


We used a leftover piece of 2×4 to act as a level ledger board, and while I propped up the cabinet, Scott used my pilot holes as a guide to, again, use 2.5″ wood screws to go through the cabinet and directly into the studs behind the drywall. This was done from the inside, at the top and bottom of the cabinet. If needed, this is the point where shims could be added behind the cabinet to keep it straight against uneven drywall.


The second cabinet was much easier since the top cabinet was good to go! While I held up the next cabinet, Scott clamped them together, triple-checked that all was level, and screwed through the back into the studs once again. While they were still clamped, three more (much shorter) wood screws were added along the front lip to keep this duo seamless.

laundry-cabinet-install07 laundry-cabinet-install09

We opted to leave a 4″ drop from the ceiling, which we felt looked the best while still allowing breathing room above the stacked washer and dryer. This drop will be completely concealed with simple crown molding soon enough!


Finally, we were able to get the base sink cabinet into place. Scott constructed a small box frame on legs (to account for the toe kick) that would push our base cabinet far enough out to become flush with the side of the washing machine. This will give us a 32″ deep working surface for our countertop. With the frame screwed into the wall, we pushed the base cabinet flush against it, added a few thin shims underneath the right side to keep it level, and we screwed the cabinet directly into the box frame:

laundry-cabinet-install11 laundry-cabinet-install12

We still need to add an access panel for the water shut off, and we’ll of course need to cut out a hole for the plumbing, but the cabinets are in place! In the meantime, we’ve laid out all of our filler pieces, and now we just need to cut them down and rip them to the exact widths. The fillers are in the same finish and color as our cabinets, and they’ll – get this – fill all the gaps for a seamless finish overall. I have a feeling this will be the most tedious part of the cabinet install, but just the thing to make all the difference!


The next time we share the cabinets, fingers crossed, they’ll be crossed off the list completely! In other (very, very exciting) news, a sweet vintage rug was delivered this week, we have these brass knobs in waiting and I’m working on a quick and simple laundry bag DIY. This room is chugging along! provided us with cabinets for the laundry room, and all opinions belong to these two. Thank you for supporting the brands that support us, and most importantly, we hope this gives you another budget-friendly option for all the flat-packed cabinetry out there!

  • Kari - July 8, 2016 - 8:09 AM

    Two posts in three days? It’s Christmas over here! But really, your laundry room is coming together so nicely. I’m excited to see how you fill all of those gaps. I’m sure it’ll be so, so worth the tedious work. Bravo!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 8, 2016 - 9:29 AM

      Haha, I wish I could find the time between projects to write even more. Thanks, Kari!ReplyCancel

  • Kelly - July 8, 2016 - 9:07 AM

    looks great! what happens to the top cabinet if you need to pull the washer or the dryer out to fix something or for maintenance?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 8, 2016 - 9:30 AM

      That cabinet will be floating independently of the washer and dryer! Those 2x4s it’s being stacked on is just there for support until we can add the side panel.ReplyCancel

  • Carol - July 8, 2016 - 9:08 AM

    Looking goooood! Confession – at first I didn’t love that ostrich wallpaper (what? blasphemy!) and now that the room is coming together I love it!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 8, 2016 - 9:31 AM

      Ha, that’s okay! Wallpaper is such a personal choice. :)ReplyCancel

  • Colleen Sante - July 9, 2016 - 8:17 AM

    Will there be an under-cabinet light over the sink? I’m afraid the sink will be in shadow when you stand there to do hand washing.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 9, 2016 - 8:52 PM

      I don’t think so, but we could certainly add LED strips down the road. Along those lines, we installed 2 recessed cans closer to the cabinets for that reason in addition to the ceiling light. There will be 3 lights in a small room!ReplyCancel

  • kathy - July 9, 2016 - 10:37 AM

    Holy muscles! Did you do all that cabinet lifting without even a Jack or CC to help?! ;) This little room is looking awesome!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 9, 2016 - 8:53 PM

      Can you believe it?! They just sat and watched us, thinking, ‘suckers.’ We DID take the doors off when hanging to lighten the load though. That helps tremendously!ReplyCancel

  • Steph M. - July 11, 2016 - 10:58 AM

    So good! Is it weird I’m looking forward to see how you create Libby’s personal suite? I’m totally trying to figure out a way to conceal the boxes, but still make the boys happy in the new house. I’m thinking hanging curtains from the ceiling and creating their own little room in the basement…aka-spoiled, haha!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 11, 2016 - 11:12 AM

      Not weird at all! Our pets don’t know what spoiled is… HA!ReplyCancel

  • Dakwerken - July 12, 2016 - 2:36 AM

    Looking good. Even I’m trying to do something just like you. Your blog is inspiring me to start the work soon :)ReplyCancel



When we shared our new interior attic access, we also gave you a preview of the shape of our back yard. So sad! Our little attic hatch door was actually the tiniest piece of a huge puzzle for our backyard, one that included tearing down that beast of an exterior staircase. Since turning the first and second floor apartments into a single-family-slash-duplex-up, we no longer needed that (really rickety, really scary) fire escape – although we did pick up one of these safety ladders to stash under our bed.

This was back in May, and soon after we hit ‘publish’ on that post, we hired a contractor to begin the back-of-the-house repair! For years, we’d been counting down the days until we could say peace out! to that dilapidated staircase, and once we had saved the funds to make it happen and gave our contractor the green light, it was a pretty quick domino effect to get us from point A to point B. See what I mean?:


When we bought our house, there were two back doors, both leading from kitchens – one on the first floor, one on the second floor – one for each apartment. In the last 3 years, we added a double sliding door to our kitchen and most recently, we turned the second floor kitchen into our master bedroom. The next step was taking down the staircase and repairing or replacing the current vinyl siding, and while that sentence is so easy to type, it did take a lot of thought and consideration, of course!

Initially, we thought we might be able to repair the vinyl (just until we could re-side the whole house!), but once the staircase came down, it became obvious that 1) we’d risk rain and/or snow seeping under the repaired area, and 2) it just plain, ol’ wouldn’t look good. So! The main hurdle became deciding on what we wanted to use for siding. Although the back of the house would get all new siding right this minute, we wanted to choose a product that we’d love and would eventually use for the whole house. We considered concrete board siding (Hardie Board was our first contender), but tracking down enough information on the product was a challenge from our location in Chicago. Simply put, not that many homes in our area use this material. The other option that popped up a few times throughout our research was LP SmartSide, an engineered hardwood product with a 50 year limited warranty. There were a few things that had us keep coming back to LP:

  • It promises to protect against extreme climates, insects and decay.
  • Like concrete board, it can be painted any color we wish.
  • Unlike vinyl, it can be patched and repaired pretty easily (just like we’d repair any wood product!), and we were able to touch and feel samples at our local Menard’s hardware store.
  • The siding comes in 16′ lengths, resulting in less seams.
  • Plus, it’s just really, really beautiful!

Although LP SmartSide felt like a good-for-the-long-haul choice, we couldn’t get the idea of concrete board out of our minds, so I used a lifeline and phoned a friend. I told Scott, you know who’d know what to do? Daniel. (He just went through a very similar project himself, after all!) He talked me off the ledge, reaffirmed our suspicions about LP SmartSide, and he even helped us narrow in on a 5″ smooth lap.


Feeling more comfortable about our choice, we chose the pre-finished color Rustic Silver to closely match the rest of our home’s vinyl siding, but again, we’ll eventually take down the vinyl on the other three sides of our house and replace it with LP SmartSide. The soft grey is safe and easy on the eyes, but when we do replace the rest of the siding, we have dreams of painting it all a color that’s dark and bold; time will tell. Note: We had our contractor provide us with a quote on HardiePlank, LP SmartSide and vinyl. While vinyl was definitely the least expensive choice, we were in it for our home’s long term health and durability of the product. 

With the hardest decision behind us, our contractor got to work. The old vinyl came down, and we were surprised to see that our house used to be green! For a moment, we considered salvaging the original clapboard, but upon further investigation, it was missing in large parts and rotted in others. After repairing our roofline, they removed any existing rot, repaired soft spots, added insulation, patched in our attic door and finally, installed the LP SmartSide!


There were only a few surprises along the way, some of which caused delays when new product had to be ordered (there seemed to be a lot of confusion on our contrasting white corner trim), but a big glass of wine always helps. And although I wished with all my heart that the doors, windows and staircase could be centered on the house, the only solution would have been to, well, build a new house. There’s a main support wall that runs down the entire length of our home, dividing our kitchen, living and dining rooms from the bedrooms and main staircase. This is typical for our style and age of home in Chicago, and so, I deal with it. Besides, look at her! What a babe, right?


By no means do we want want to downplay what a difference this made, but this is really only our starting point for the entire Back of the House Project. You can see we added a new, wide and shallow staircase – a plan that was modified no less than a dozen times, as these stairs tie into our backyard plans. We’ve already ordered brick pavers, and we’ll be sharing those details soon!

PS! A bunch of little elves (aka, this girl) have been working hard behind the scenes to make The Print Shop a more affordable place to dress your empty walls. ALL prints have been reduced (permanently) by at LEAST $10 each, and the quality is still exactly the same – top notch. We hope you’ll take a peek around

  • Julie - July 6, 2016 - 6:43 AM

    I hope you didn’t tell Daniel you were throwing away the original clapboard. He would have lost sleep over that pile of old, rotten wood not being salvaged! :pReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 9:10 AM

      The original is still under the new siding! It was just patchy and missing in parts, so those had to be filled in before we could do anything to give the new siding an even surface. The sad part is that we know the original clapboard isn’t necessarily on every side of our home, from what we can tell. It has been re-sided SO many times over the years, so there will be a lot of peeling back layers… one day!ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ Go Haus Go - July 6, 2016 - 6:55 AM

    It’s all coming together! I would love to hear your tips and tricks on dealing with contractors/hired guns when it comes to home repair. It’s always been a big stumbling block for me, but you seem to have such a good handle on it. Love your attitude and of course… love the back of your house!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 9:11 AM

      Thanks, Emily, but boy do we have you fooled! Haha. We have our fair share of heartache when working with contractors, but I’ve had a post like that on my list for a while. Honestly, I’m just not even sure where to start typing… but it’s on our radar for sure!ReplyCancel

  • Trish - July 6, 2016 - 7:23 AM

    It looks absolutely wonderful! And don’t worry about lack of symmetry – you can fix that pretty easily with a beautiful tall arborvitae or juniper tree to the left of the stairs, which will also hide the gas meters (so NOT pretty, right?!). But….have you thought about expanding to a bigger deck that goes across the whole backside of your house? We are fellow Chicagoans and recently took the plunge to do just that. Our house had a very small balcony type deck off the back and we built one that is all the way across the back of the house and goes ten feet back. We gained another whole room in our house! So many people have rooftop decks that are rarely used because it’s such a pain to take everything upstairs. As a plus, the gas line was right there to run to a fire table and a built in grill. You have such a huge yard, so this would still give a pooch room to run too. (key!) P.S. Daniel is the best, no?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 9:14 AM

      Hi, Trish! We did consider a wider deck. We even considered a larger/deeper deck at one point, but then ultimately nixed it – it all ties into the backyard plans. :) The biggest reason why we can NOT do a wider deck, however, is because you’ll notice in the bottom left part of our house, there are stairs that lead down to the back door of our garden apartment. If the deck is wider, it wouldn’t allow for head clearance to walk up or down the steps! The reason it DID work on the horrible thing we had before was because there used to be deck stairs that led up to the second floor landing, creating the headspace needed. Does that make sense?

      More on why we chose a shallow deck in the coming weeks! We still have a lot to talk about when it comes to the yard!ReplyCancel

  • AnnMarie - July 6, 2016 - 7:51 AM

    Wow, what a transformation! I can’t wait to see what else you do in your back yard! Just one question (not a criticism) – did you consider putting in a small window in the space left by the old attic door? I think it would have balanced the back of the house a little bit…and also I’m a sucker for a cute little window.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 9:17 AM

      We did! We also considered adding a piece of horizontal trim for interest as well, but in the end, we decided to keep the back of the house REALLY simple. We do have a cute attic window on the front of the house though! :D

      • AnnMarie - July 6, 2016 - 2:06 PM

        Oh my goodness, it’s an OCTAGONAL cute little attic window! Be still my heart! I dream of the day I can have one of those. ^_^ReplyCancel

  • Michele - July 6, 2016 - 8:07 AM

    I second Trish, a wider deck would help balance. It looks awesome and it’s so great to see a project complete, on to the next! Cute window is also a good idear.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - July 6, 2016 - 8:37 AM

    What a wonderful change! It looks awesome. I love how you already have a bottle opener on your new stairs; first things first!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 9:12 AM

      Absolutely! That little opener got a LOT of use this July 4th. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Courtney @ Foxwood Forest - July 6, 2016 - 8:49 AM

    Wow! I cannot believe how different it looks! You guys must be so excited about it. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer - July 6, 2016 - 10:23 AM

    I’m a new-ish reader, but just wanted to pop in and say you guys are doing a great job! I look to this blog for inspiration on not completely losing it during a renovation (about to start one ourselves) and for encouragement that slow and steady wins the race. Your place is gorgeous, keep up the great work!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 10:33 AM

      Aw man, thanks, Jennifer! Best of luck on your own renovation. If it wasn’t for our ‘slow and steady’ mantra, we’d be beating ourselves up. Slow and steady always wins the race… right?ReplyCancel

  • Julia [Chris Loves Julia] - July 6, 2016 - 10:26 AM

    What a difference!!! I’m so happy for you. She’s a looker, alright!ReplyCancel

  • Lori - July 6, 2016 - 11:27 AM

    Looking good! I can’t wait to see what your backyard plans are, now that the back of the house is done. I’d never heard of LP SmartSide til now– in Austin, everyone seems to use Hardie. I have old board and batten siding that is going to need to be completely replaced at some point (and I want to replace all my crappy old windows and add a few doors), so it’s nice to know that there are other options out there besides the Hardie.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 1:03 PM

      It’s definitely worth looking into!ReplyCancel

  • Marti | Project Palermo - July 6, 2016 - 12:43 PM

    That looks SO nice. I love the wide staircase – plenty of space for friends to sit, without eating up your yard like a deeper deck would have done. And as a former garden unit tenant, I’m sure your renter appreciates the changes you’ve made to make their apartment feel more open in the front and back!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 1:04 PM

      Yup, one of the big reasons we nixed a deeper deck – more yard! We had some friends over on the 4th, and even though our yard is far from complete, we all chilled on the stadium style stairs, which was our whole goal.ReplyCancel

  • jannike - July 6, 2016 - 1:50 PM

    Wow, looks amazing. It must feel great hanging out in your “new” backyard. I spied the bottle opener on the back deck. We are in the process of building our front deck at the cottage and we are using brown pressure-treated lumber. It’s a new-to-us product that is sprayed cedar-color instead of greenish and looks so nice. It will fade to grey in a few years if we don’t stain, but for now I’m in love. Can’t wait to see the rest of the backyard.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 1:55 PM

      Oh, cool! I haven’t seen that product, but what a great solution to get by until you’re ready to stain. The waiting is the worst part with PT wood!ReplyCancel

  • Heather - July 6, 2016 - 4:37 PM

    This is such an amazing change! I absolutely love it! Admittedly, I’m also excited about your house going super dark and sleek. I can’t wait to see what else you have planned!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 6, 2016 - 4:47 PM

      Heather! Don’t get us too excited about a sleek house just yet… that could take YEARS!ReplyCancel

  • Tori - July 7, 2016 - 2:15 PM

    This looks amazing, what a transformation! Your neighbors must be LOVING you!ReplyCancel

  • Dakwerken - July 8, 2016 - 8:37 AM

    Wonderful change over. Awaiting to see the rest of your backyard. Good going Kim; Good luck! :)ReplyCancel

  • Amanda @ Our Humble Abode - July 10, 2016 - 9:34 PM

    What a dramatic and fantastic makeover! I’m sure your rooms are now flooded with light. The exterior is so simple now. So glad you chose LP SmartSide. We have had it on our home for two years now and it’s held up to a monster hail storm. Not a single dent. It’s a great, long lasting product and will definitely enhances your home.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 11, 2016 - 9:28 AM

      Good to know! We don’t know anyone who has used LP, but we’re happy with the product and the warranty they have. We have been known to have crazy hail storms, too!ReplyCancel

  • misie - July 12, 2016 - 10:18 AM

    love it. all of it. I have been slacking on my blog reading these days – trying to catch up – everything is looking freaking fantastic! The future yard plans/pinspirations – I have all the faith you guys will make it perfection.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2016 - 10:56 AM

      Aw, thanks so much, Misie!ReplyCancel

  • Ben - July 12, 2016 - 5:10 PM

    BELIZEAN CHAIRS. Just came from Belize. Look them up. Mahogany slat wood. I’m buying them after my back porch/deck is done.
    Also, I have the same MCM fireplace in my garage and I never thought to put it outside like a Chiminea. Lovely.ReplyCancel

  • julie - July 14, 2016 - 11:50 AM

    awesome to hear that you are listening to your instincts on the red brick pavers. they will provide a nice color balance with the grey and wood that you currently have at the house — plus the earthiness will help to make the greenery really stand out as well. have you thought about adding wheels to the bottom of the dining table (similar to the island) in case you decided to host the block party in the back yard?ReplyCancel