Like so many other home buyers in the city, when we were shopping for our house we were on the hunt for the coveted “outdoor space”. You know…a spot to put our grill and a place to sit and “have my morning coffee” a la every episode of House Hunters International. So the first time we walked through our house as buyers and we saw the little patio out back, we were sold. It was small (it’s about 250 sq ft) but it was private and quiet. Here’s what it looked like about 2 years after we moved in:
Notice the two huge air conditioning condensers (we have a basement apartment hence the two condensers). Besides being huge and unsightly, they were super loud. Also notice that the back of our house is purple. It was not good. We use the outdoor space so much that it seemed crazy to spend time and money on the inside of our house only to leave our little outdoor “room” looking so neglected and sad.
Our objective was to maximize the space that we had so we focused on these areas:
(1) That fence had to go, obviously, but our objective was not just to replace the fence but to really maximize the surface area of the patio. We wanted to gain space by eliminating a 10″ gap that we had between our fence and the neighbor’s.
(2) We also had to relocate those big, loud air conditioning condensers. Those went on the roof, which was surprisingly easy and not as expensive as I thought it would be. We used Polar Bear HVAC and they had it done within a day or so and it cost about $600. Polar Bear was great if you’re in the DC area and need HVAC dudes.
(3) There was this weird transition on the side of the patio from brick pavers to concrete with a step that was a couple of inches high making that side of the patio unusable. So we needed to level the floor in order to use all the space. While we were at it, we also wanted to have the floor properly graded away from the house.
(4) Finally, we needed storage for items like our snow shovel, ice melt, gardening tools, etc. There is zero space for this in the house. We looked for outdoor furniture with storage, but given the size of the patio, the furniture options were not awesome. They were either not the right size, they were expensive (as is most outdoor furniture), or just not our style. So we thought that built-in storage benches would be the way to go.
Here is how it looks today:
Because we lack basic carpentry skills and don’t know much about pavers or grading we worked with a landscape designer – Damian at GreenLOFT Design – to design and execute. Okay, so let’s break it down.
As far as the overall design is concerned, we decided to go the modern route and chose horizontal cedar fencing and Westmoreland slate for the floor. While our house is old, when it was flipped several years ago (I talk more about that here), most of the original detail was stripped (VERY sad). So when it came to the patio, we had a blank slate and decided to go the modern route. While I would have loved to create more of an English garden feel with brick walls and boxwoods, the horizontal fence worked nicely with all the built-in seating and I plan to add more greenery next year to soften all the wood and bring more life to the space. Also, a brick wall was NOT in the budget. The cedar fence was about $55 per linear foot and the slate was $25 per square foot (both including installation).
The built-in seating lifts for storage. We also installed planters with enough surface area to double as end tables to put your mimosa, er..coffee. All of the built-in furniture cost $1950. Again, sounds like a lot but outdoor furniture is expensive and this wasn’t that much more if we were to buy two benches with storage plus end tables. The cushions were custom made. I’m not sure who makes them but if you want to know leave a comment and I can find out. The covers are Sunbrella fabric in “charcoal” and they unzip easily for cleaning. And I cheated on these pillows – these are actually my living room pillows because I’m still searching for outdoor pillows that I love. The large white ones are from Caitlin Wilson Textiles (I don’t think that pattern is available any more but she has many other beautiful options) and the solid navy and striped navy pillows are from CB2.
For shade, Damian suggested installing a shade sail in the seating corner, which is a great alternative to an umbrella. Umbrellas take up floor space and are not the chicest when folded up in the winter months. You can get a standard size shade sail, but it really needs to fit the space so that it’s taut. So if you have the flexibility on where / how to install it, you can go with a standard size and it’s a lot less than the custom shade sail. Of course, we didn’t have a lot of flexibility for placement or size so we went with a custom option (we got ours from Tenshon). Because it was custom, it cost about $900.
I didn’t show it in the photos because I don’t LOVE it but we do have a dining table. It folds flat for storage and stores upright along the fence. This one is similar to ours and it functions okay but the height isn’t quite right and it’s wood. With the fence and the built-in seating, we already have A LOT of wood so I prefer something that’s a different finish but this was the only one I could find that folds. So I’m on the hunt…We want to be able to use the patio as a place for Bea to play so the folding feature on a dining table a must-have for us.
Okay, let’s talk about the grill. We put the grill on the wall opposite the seating where that weird transition step used to be. Now it’s a reasonable distance from the seating area, so that when we’re grilling our guests are not sweating to death from the flames.
This “fancy” grill was not in our initial plans. We definitely could have kept our little Weber grill out here, but it was very small and we also wanted some counter space to spread out while cooking and a place to put plates, drinks, etc. The countertop is honed bluestone and you can find the built-in Lion grill here. Installed, the counter top was $1800 and the grill was about $1500. The rock wall was about $2000. I realize that this was a total splurge (especially now that I am writing all of this down – OMG), but we’re happy we did it and we use it ALL the time.
Let’s briefly talk about the back of the house. You can see in the before pictures, that the back of the house was purple and it was not a chic, Bohemian purple. It was bad. I think it actually looked worse in person; it doesn’t look so terrible in the photos. So we painted the back of the house the same color (or close to it) as the front (which you guys have not seen yet but I will share soon!).
We still have more work to do out here but I wanted to share all of the major structural stuff that we’ve done so far. I’m thinking of vertical planters on the fence to soften all the wood so it doesn’t look so much like a sauna. I’m also contemplating an outdoor rug, new chairs, and a window box for a small herb garden. So stay tuned, folks.
I realize that a project of this scale might not be for everyone, but I tried to break down each component of what we did here so if you want to pick and choose smaller projects like this for your space you can get some ideas and also have an idea of what you’ll spend if you have someone do the work for you. Could you do it yourself and spend less? Absolutely. And much of this is totally doable. Did we have the time, skills, and space for all the required tools and materials? Nope. So we did pay a premium for some of this stuff and we went into the project knowing that. But we feel like we put an addition on our house; it’s like we have a whole new room. So for us, it made sense.
Are you still with me? Thank you (even if you just skipped to the end)!! So what do you think? If you have any ideas for posts or want to know more information about anything I shared, please post a comment.
Enjoy the short week, everyone!
All “after” photos by Jamal Harris.