A few small changes made a big impact on how our Chicago backyard feels and functions! This post is in partnership with Article.
Chicagoans love their outdoor spaces. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy sharing a meal with friends outside, or front porch cocktails on a warm afternoon? But there is something about a Chicagoan that makes them appreciate even the smallest sliver of a patio, whether it’s a sidewalk cafe or a small landing to call their own. (You bet this has everything to do with surviving our cold winters!)
By city standards, our backyard is a typical size, coming in at 20′ x 20.’ Depending on where you live, that may seem really small, or it might seem just right! We’re of the less-is-more camp, and for the better part of a decade, we’ve put in a lot of sweat equity to make every foot count. Who remembers when the back looked like this?!
We’ve been documenting the growth of our Chicago backyard for years. This is the evolution of projects and updates:
planning the layout | building the planter boxes | insulating the planter boxes | what we planted + an update | DIY picnic table | DIY modern trellis | fireplace makeover + gas conversion
Most recently, we made a few small tweaks to better work with our current life and home styles!
The Fireplace Lounge
Our vintage Preway fireplace has been a design focal point from the beginning. As the years pass, you can see how much the powder-coated finish has started to patina, despite covering it during winter months. For now, we like the patina! But if we start to notice too much rust, we’ll need to bring it back in for a re-coat.
The biggest change we made in this area was removing the coffee table in favor of two smaller side tables. This is perfect for where we are in our life, with a 3-year-old who needs more space to spread out and less obstacles – but we still have a place to set down our drink and small bites.
I’ve long loved Article’s Solina terrazzo side tables, and after seeing them in our backyard, I picked up two more for our front porch! They have a nice weight (so we’re not worried about tipping), and every single friend that has popped over since we added them has brought them up – they’re beautiful!, they say. Thank you! (We agree.)
Dining Al Fresco
The picnic table we DIYed several years ago has served us so well. It seats 6 comfortably, although we’ve squeezed in as many as 8 – 10, maybe? It’s the hub of the yard, and this is where so many memories have been made.
In 2016, we painted the table a soft mint green, which felt good… then. We craved change! So we painted the base black (Sherwin-Williams Tricorn Black) and stained new boards for the top. For the stain, we used Sherwin-Williams Woodscapes in the color Banyan Brown, tinted at 75% strength. Three light coats gave us the dreamiest mid-tone brown, and we couldn’t love it more with the black base!
I know it can be nerve-wracking purchasing furniture online, but we continue to be impressed with the quality of Article. We rounded out the table with 6 Manna chairs in Thunder Black, which are Comfortable (yes, with a capital ‘C’), due to the webbed seats! My most recent 5-hour girls’ night around this table are a testament to their comfort, truly.
We topped it off – quite literally – with the Paras umbrella + base. We used to have an outdoor umbrella in the center of the table, but it felt like a visual distraction. This time, we chose an umbrella with adjustable height and angle, and we have it sitting off to the side. With the way the sun filters into our backyard, this makes so much more sense. It has been the most welcome change!
Tip: Both the umbrella and chairs come in different colors! The Manna chairs in Grove Green are stunning.
Ready for Movie Night!
On our backyard wishlist? A projector! This year, we got one! We’ve been really happy with this one, and we watch shows and movies through an Apple TV that we connect to it (a Roku would also work!). We also upgraded the screen to this matte white retractable one.
As a backdrop to our fireside hangouts, move nights and shared meals, you’ll notice our plants look a little different, too! Our insulated planter boxes have outperformed our expectations, but every year, we may lose a plant or two. The clematis that climbs our trellis started out great, but as the weather got drastically hotter this year (and we might’ve neglected them for a few weeks), they turned crispy.
On the other hand, our hydrangeas are still thriving, as are the arborvitae and our various shrubs. New this year: I’ve always wanted roses, so we added a couple!
The Catch-All Zone
On the opposite side of the yard (closest to the house), we nixed the pair of chairs we used to have in favor of a streamlined bench. THIS BENCH. It’s so, so good! The Farum bench is solid teak that will silver over time (unless we treat it, which we might do!), and it’s 86″ wide. That’s a whole lot of seating, which has already come in handy for backyard hangouts!
This is also the catch-all zone in the backyard. We keep it mostly open to accommodate folding tables for potlucks, additional chairs (for larger gatherings), or setting up Lucy’s small pool. With this bench nearby, it’s been so nice to sit and chat with her while she plays, and as a place to dry off and warm up when she gets out.
Below, this is the view from our kitchen! Beneath the stairs, Kitty has her pee pit, and one of these days, that row of hostas (on the far right, along the fence) will grow into a pretty, lush row. (We’ve only been working on it for 8 years!) It makes our hearts so full to see our friends and family gathering outside – near the fireplace, under the umbrella, in the kiddie pool.
Thank you to our longtime partner Article, and thank you for supporting those that support our small business.
hey guys, this looks so great – fun to see it evolve! super curious about the outdoor movie set up – did you permanently mount the projector outside, or do you bring it out when you use it? My main concern would be generating a bunch of noise for the neighbors – any tips for that?
We’ve been bringing it out when we need it! It mounts to my camera tripod and there’s an outlet underneath the back staircase. We don’t play it terribly loud past 9pm out of respect for the neighbors.☺️
It looks great and inviting, with so much function packed into a small space. I think the table makeover is my favorite part. Paint is powerful and the chairs contribute to a whole new vibe that I’m loving!
Agreed! I also love the approach of working with what you have. Its a good reminder for all of us!
Are some of your article chairs green? In certain shots they don’t look black. Love the patio!
They’re all black, but it’s more of a really deep gray.
This just made my summer – what a wonderful set up!
Love the revamped table and the natural wood tones you brought in with the bench and the table. It feels so classic.
How are you liking your CB2 chairs? I’m considering them for our front porch we’re in the process of building but some of the reviews about the cushions and the quality over time have me a little hesitant.
The crate and barrel chairs? We’re supper happy with them! The seat cushions have little dents in them but they’re still very comfortable. Everyone fights for those chairs! If we ever swap them out, it would be for loveseats just for more seating.
Love the backyard and wanted to get the projector but the link is down. Do you have the brand/style?