What we loved most about our new home when we bought it a little over four years ago was its enormous potential. We didn’t love the multiple layers of wallpaper or the mauve carpet throughout, nor did we care for the eighties era cabinetry in the kitchen. With the exception of one mature tree (a rare elm in Denver) and several bushes, the lot was a homogeneous wash of kentucky bluegrass. Too much to water and way too much to mow. Yes, it would take a lot of work, but this house had the potential to become something even more special than it already was. Here’s a picture from when we first looked at the house back in 2007.
Ain’t she cute? The house had been lovingly cared for over a century and we fell in love at first sight. We discovered my wife was pregnant while the house was under contract, making the move all the more necessary. We did a cosmetic remodel to the interior before moving in, but it wasn’t until the second year that we had time to tackle the outdoor living space we envisioned. This is the north side of the house after tearing out the sod.
Our vision was relatively simple: create an outdoor space where we could relax and/or play with the kids. We had already torn out the sod on the sunny south side of the house and planted a garden. For the shady north side of the house we wanted space to entertain, space to play, and we also wanted to create some separation from the unoccupied neighboring property.
Before I continue, I should clarify that I have a habit of saying “we” when “I” is really a lot more accurate. “We,” my wife and I, used to do these projects together but ever since she first got pregnant the “we”s have turned into “I”s. Take note expecting dads…
So at the start of the project there was this mature lilac bush that we wanted to keep, the problem was it was in the wrong spot. Now, keep in mind that I would not recommend doing this to anyone, but it is possible. I didn’t know if the bush would survive but thought it was worth trying so we, I mean I, dug the thing up and moved it about six feet so it was centered outside our bay window. Backbreaking work, but it was worth it as the lilac is now the center piece of the patio garden. This photo shows the lilac in its new location as well as the french drain installed along the drip edge of the house.
With no gutters on the house there is a considerable amount of water that falls along the edge of the concrete walkway, so we wanted the new patio to protect the foundation by shedding water away from the house, but we also wanted to keep that water in our yard to benefit our landscaping. A permeable sand-set patio with a french drain and an area drain seemed like it would work but we weren’t 100% sure.
Below is a picture with most of the patio set. To the right of my son’s foot is the area drain (connected to the french drain it discharges in the lawn out front) and to the right of that is the sand box. We reused brick found on our property to “warm up” the square concrete pavers from the box store.
The side door of our house functions as our backdoor so this area sees more traffic than the front porch. In a tray in front of the lilac bush are hundreds of clumps of moss that we (I) painstakingly saved from the sod tear out.
It doesn’t really show in these pictures, but the moss is now growing in the garden and in the joints of the pavers, which makes it feel like the patio has been there a lot longer than it has.
For some strange reason I thought it would be a good idea if we (I) added a 1,750 lb. boulder to the garden. I still think it was a good idea. I just wish I had hired a crane to drop it in there.
We added the pergola the following summer using salvaged wood (a 16″ x 20″ x 20′-0″ beam was quartered to make the posts) and fence components (metal cross pieces and cables). The posts are mounted to tapered concrete piers and appear to float in space, giving the somewhat massive structure a bit of levity.
With a big rain storm water collects at the low point of the patio where a wisteria vine climbs the pergola. The wisteria seems to like the additional water as it is now blooming for the forth time this season. We continue to encourage the wisteria to grow over the pergola, and morning glories have filled in the horizontal screen along the back of the patio. Yes, it’s been a ton of work and it’s taken a few years to get it done but we are so enjoying our outdoor living space right now.
It’s hard to describe how this patio has transformed our house, but it is truly dramatic. We sit in the sun, we sit in the shade, we eat meals and we saddle up for adventures, we play, we relax. It has become a much needed extension of our living space and the best part about it: it cost next to nothing. Ok, there were a few hard costs (the square pavers-$600, the boulder-$40, the fence components-$80) that totaled less than $1,000. Considering how much value we’ve added to the house, spending that money now seems like a no brainer, right?