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:
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!
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?