Our Back Patio Makeover!

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 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!







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:

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  • kara12.9.16 - 9:06 AM

    this looks so great, and is so inspiring to the rest of us postage-stamp-yard-urban dwellers:) also, your deck – and the little space to either side of the door – called out to me for a clothesline! Growing up in vancouver (or maybe it was just the 80s?), everyone had one off their back deck, connected to the garage or to a pole in your yard. i never see any like that in chicago, which is kind of weird!ReplyCancel

    • kara12.9.16 - 9:15 AM

      a quick pinterest search reveals that clotheslines are not at all cool! all the photos were from kinda trashy looking yards, or part of the before photos…so weird, when it’s so environmentally friendly and frugal and just really fun and satisfying to do. the kind i was picturing was the pulley kind so you stand in one place (your deck) while you hang up your laundry. like so:

      ok, stepping off the clothesline soapbox. yard looks great :)ReplyCancel

      • Kim12.9.16 - 9:17 AM

        Thank you, Kara! My grandma had a clothesline in the backyard when I was really young, but I don’t remember it as I was growing up… now that you mention it, I wonder what happened to it?! I love the idea, but it doesn’t make much sense for us since our laundry is on the second floor! I always think of outdoor clothesline in cute European cities, running between the gangways of the apartment buildings. That thought makes me happy.ReplyCancel

  • Staci Jackson12.9.16 - 10:28 AM

    What a transformation! I was skeptical of your decision to get rid of your grass since you have two dogs, but I know you take them out all the time and you have grass in the front. This big paver patio has totally added a whole new room to your home! Great job :) See you in the spring, patio!ReplyCancel

    • Kim12.9.16 - 1:07 PM

      Thanks, Staci! The entire section underneath the stairs is for the pups to use as a pee pit, and now we don’t have to worry about killing grass anymore! It works out so much better for our little family.ReplyCancel

  • Daria12.9.16 - 11:53 AM

    I love this so much! It just looks so happy and bright and welcoming.

    Still obsessed with those blue sconces.ReplyCancel

  • Rachael Holzhausen12.9.16 - 12:11 PM

    I still can’t believe you guys put the red brick pavers in yourselves. They look so fantastic, and fit the space so much better than the patch of grass! I’m very thankful we inherited a back patio with the pavers already in!ReplyCancel

    • Kim12.9.16 - 1:05 PM

      And your pavers are the real deal. We LOVE your old school Chicago bricks, never change that!ReplyCancel

  • Pat12.9.16 - 12:48 PM

    Very, very nice. Just the right amount of hardscape. I know about seeking slimmer chairs. We had outdoor chairs on our patio with legs that splayed outward. As large as the patio was, we tripped over the chair legs all the time. One broken wine glass put us on the hunt for new chairs (we had to thoroughly shop vac the patio and a section of lawn). I REALLY like the photo with the furry sunbathers and their droopy jowls!ReplyCancel

    • Kim12.9.16 - 1:05 PM

      A broken wine glass?! That would do it for us, too! :DReplyCancel

  • Steph M.12.9.16 - 3:04 PM

    This is probably one of my favorite makeovers this year. We look at it constantly as we plan towards our own outdoor makeover next year!ReplyCancel

  • Jackie Deorsam12.9.16 - 5:48 PM

    As a lover of the outdoor life when owning a lovely home, I have found you HAVE to make it a priority and actually make it a place for relaxation and lounging. Your outdoor furniture is KEY to this idea! Bravo! The inclusion of your furbabies…just wonderful..Looking forward to more of your tasteful blogs.ReplyCancel

  • Mandolin12.10.16 - 1:29 AM

    I can see a cleaned lined gabled roof over your kitchen door that extends to cover the entire small porch at the top of the stairs. One that mimics your roof line, but instead of being closed on the end it would have white beams supporting it. I hope that makes sense. I’m sure whatever you’re planning is going to look awesome, that’s just what immediately came to mind when you said you’ll be putting something there in the spring. This area looks great!ReplyCancel

    • Kim12.10.16 - 10:57 AM

      We’ve talked about something like that! We think that could look SO pretty, but so could something even more streamlined – we’ve been taking notes of awnings around the ‘hood. There’s a lot to think about, but we love where you’re going with that.ReplyCancel

  • Mandolin12.10.16 - 1:30 AM

    Clean* lined. Dang auto correct.ReplyCancel

  • Pat12.10.16 - 4:21 AM

    I’ve used Fox Valley Sandblasting and Powder Coating in Yorkville with good results, although not on anything that will go through a heat/freeze cycle like your fireplace. But they are used to specialty coatings. If you look in their gallery, there is even a fireplace similar to yours. Reasonable prices too.

  • Sara12.11.16 - 8:40 PM

    If you’re ever in Ann Arbor, MI (about a four hour drive from Chicago), Bean’s Best does amazing powder coating work. They sandblasted and powder coated some outdoor chairs for us and they came out beautifully! Highly recommended.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah E Velasquez12.17.16 - 11:18 AM

    Do you allow your tenants to use the backyard?ReplyCancel

    • Kim12.17.16 - 11:26 AM

      Our tenants keep very much to themselves, but they’ve been invited to join us when we have friends/parties in the backyard. :)ReplyCancel

  • Adaptitgroup11.14.18 - 11:22 PM

    This is really helpful blogReplyCancel


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