30 inspiring outdoor makeovers

Gain curb appeal and transform your outdoor living space with fresh ideas for your porch, patio, and yard

Small Venice backyard: Before

Photo by Jennifer Cheung; written by Sharon Cohoon

Small Venice backyard: Before

With no privacy, no personality, and—the biggest drawback of all—no place to sit, this 550-square-foot side yard had little to recommend it.

Small Venice backyard: After

Photo by Jennifer Cheung; written by Sharon Cohoon

Small Venice backyard: After

Luckily for homeowners Amy Swift Crosby and Josh Crosby, a truckload of salvaged redwood came to the rescue. The designer used some of the boards to add height to the existing cement-block wall; others he turned into a sturdy dining table as well as the backs and bottoms of cushion-topped, built-in seating. What’s more, the aged redwood brought with it the character the yard had been missing. With space to dine, gather, and play, the area is now the family’s favorite hangout in the garden.

More: See the complete makeover

Garden shed makeover: Before

Garden shed makeover: Before

When garden designer Rebecca Sweet and her husband, Tom Urban, bought their property from her parents in 2000, their garden shed was run down . “It was nearly a man cave,” Sweet says. “I decided to take a stand against all that nonsense—ha!” Besides, she adds, she needed an office for her landscape-design business, Harmony in the Garden.

Garden shed makeover: After

Garden shed makeover: After

Together the couple converted the structure into the backyard retreat it is now. They pushed up the ceiling to create a peaked roof; installed skylights and recycled windows; hung window boxes on outside walls with planting beds beneath; and created an outdoor potting table and tool storage area behind the shed near the back fence. Through additional smart detailing, the former "man cave" has been transformed into a backyard "chick shack" where Sweet can be inspired and lounge with company.

More: See the full makeover

 

Lush, livable yard: Before

Photo by Steve A. Gunther

Lush, livable yard: Before

This West Hollywood front yard went from dull to dazzling with this makeover by designer Katherine Spitz (katherinespitzassociates.com). The problem before was a boring lawn, with no privacy (West Hollywood bans any kind of fence taller than 42 inches that fully encloses a front yard).

Lush, livable yard: After

Photo by Steve A. Gunther

Lush, livable yard: After

As a solution Spitz ditched the lawn and got creative with screening. She put up color panels, added vivid plants, and created multi-use areas to make the yard inviting and livable.

More: See the complete makeover

Before: 400 sq. ft. Portland alley

Before: 400 sq. ft. Portland alley

Long and skinny, this paved side yard looked like a bowling alley. That was, however, before someone took a jackhammer to it. Layered plantings, an irregular path, and giant pavers transform the small backyard into a soothing garden escape.

After: Portland soothing garden escape

After: Portland soothing garden escape

With the concrete gone, landscape designer Darcy Daniels used foliage to give the space a warm, lush feel.

Rich goldenrod walls now set the mood, and drifts of gold-tinted perennials—Japanese forest grass, autumn fern, and ‘Bowles Golden’ sedge—reinforce it. Blue Hosta ‘Halcyon’ adds contrasting color, and Japanese maple and variegated fatshedera give a sense of volume. Now the soothing garden is a pleasure to walk through.

Design by: Darcy Daniels, Bloomtown Gardens, Portland, bloomtown.net

DIY front yard makeover: Before

Photo by Thomas J. Story, styling by Emma Star Jensen

DIY front yard makeover: Before

The house had no proper entryway— just three wooden steps—and almost no plants at all.

DIY front yard makeover: After

Photo by Thomas J. Story, styling by Emma Star Jensen

DIY front yard makeover: After

Traversed by a concrete stairway—that sleekhandrail is ipe wood—the yard is now home to veggie beds, water-wise plants, and “endlessmulch”—all of it built, planted, or spread by homeowners Lisa Wong Jackson and Nick Jackson.

More: See the complete makeover

DIY backyard makeover: Before

Photo by Thomas J. Story, styling by Emma Star Jensen

DIY backyard makeover: Before

The yard was plagued with weeds, invasive bamboo, and a not-so-retaining wall that was rotting away.

DIY backyard makeover: After

Photo by Thomas J. Story, styling by Emma Star Jensen

DIY backyard makeover: After

The re-landscaped backyard now contains a patio for entertaining, a potting area, a raised bed for vegetables and herbs, a patch of Eco-Lawn, loads of native and low-water plants, and the house’s old mailbox (now a bird feeder).

More: See the complete makeover

Before: San Francisco 1,000 sq. ft. garden

Before: San Francisco 1,000 sq. ft. slope

Covered with decomposed granite and sloping awkwardly toward the rear of the property, this small backyard was no place for a party.

Owners Susan and Warren Byrne love to entertain, though, so landscape architect Jude Hellewell and landscape designer Laura White created a split-level living space complete with built-in seating and a peekaboo fence.

After: San Francisco split-level party

After: San Francisco split-level party

The gravel was replaced with two levels of colored concrete. The Byrnes use the upper terrace mostly for dining and hanging out; three steps down, a built-in bench invites guests to lounge around the firepit.

A gappy ipe fence gives a sense of spaciousness while preserving privacy. Low care plants, such as autumn moor grass, Mexican weeping bamboo, and yucca, soften the angular design. Now, Susan says, "People can’t get enough of our backyard. All our guests want to go out there."

Design by: Outer Space Landscape Architecture, San Francisco, outerspacela.com

Little patch of paradise makeover: Before

Photo by Brooke Dietrich

Little patch of paradise makeover: Before

This Costa Mesa yard was little more than 1,500 square feet of tired lawn and broken tiles in a challengingly arid climate.

Little patch of paradise makeover: After

Photo by Brooke Dietrich

Little patch of paradise makeover: After

Landscape designer Brooke Dietrich added a fence and then—inspired by the king palm —went for size and color in her plantings. Building this garden around an existing king palm called for vibrant flowers, cool foliage, and strong shapes. Dietrich chose to paint her fence a plant-framing black. To cut costs, she kept her hardscaping to a minimum, adding only a new front walk made of budget-friendly concrete. Then she planted shrubs and perennials, placing colorful blooms outside the fence and quieter green plants inside the fence. The effect is breath­taking, especially in winter and spring, when almost the whole yard is in full bloom.

More: See the complete makeover

Before: Phoenix 1,600 sq. ft. sun-drenched paved space

Before: Phoenix 1,600 sq. ft. sun-drenched paved space

Surrounded by bleak concrete blocks, the pool in Mary and Paul Schweikher’s backyard felt hemmed in.  Designer Christy Ten Eyck transformed the space with a new rock wall, raised planters, sculptural planters, and less-severe paving.

After: Phoenix cozy poolside lounge

After: Phoenix cozy poolside lounge

Now, backed by the enveloping curves of a stone-filled wire-mesh wall, this part of the yard feels cozy. The new rock wall was installed in front of the old wall. The space created between the two conceals pool equipment and a new outdoor shower.

Yellow and gray shade sails overhead provide much-needed respite from sun, and raised planting beds, made of steel, balance the heft and drama of the river-rock wall. A generous sprinkling of lush plants adds softness. Because of the intense sun, these plants were chosen for endurance as much as beauty: yellow-flowered Euphorbia rigida, verbena, and, along the wall, candelilla.

Design by: Christy Ten Eyck, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Phoenix, teneyckla.com  

Woodsy meets wild makeover: Before

Photo by Ginny Mellinger

Woodsy meets wild makeover: Before

The only way to get to the front door of Ginny Mellinger’s house in Redwood City was to cross the driveway or lawn. Even though—or because—the space was wide open to the street, it was useless.

 

Woodsy meets wild makeover: After

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

Woodsy meets wild makeover: After

A new fence, a path, and the understated plantings that replaced the lawn add huge curb appeal. The beauty of Ginny Mellinger’s new front garden is that the plants look good all year with minimal care. It now has two parts—a public one and a more private one—separated by fencing. In the woodsy “public” section, shapely Arbutus ‘Marina’ trees are underplanted with mounded deep green Carex tumulicola, which spills onto the entry path in a haze of fine, soft leaves. Closer to the house, scattered around the patio, an exuberant mix of plants adds some color—yellows, blues, and deep plum-chocolate.

More: See the complete makeover

Before: 1,200 sq. ft. Del Mar, CA steps of gloom

Before: 1,200 sq. ft. Del Mar, CA gloomy entry

Once upon a time, there was a house that was not exactly welcoming. Overgrown Monterey pines obscured the front door, making the approach gloomy. And for guests, getting from the driveway to the front door was a pain—after parking, you had to return to the sidewalk, skirting a jungle of juniper, and climb a steep staircase. (And if you thought you could maybe slip through the juniper, forget it: A wooden railing stood guard.)

See the after on how Kendra Berger and John Eisenhart created a brighter entry with sculptural steps and graphic plants.

After: Del Mar welcoming front yard

After: Del Mar welcoming front yard

Removing the pines and replacing the junipers with a garden of carex, 'Tiny Monster' geranium, and Scotch moss groundcover definitely brightened things up; a row of low-growing purple 'Tom Thumb' phormium and a single showy 'Red Star' cordyline punctuate the palette of lime and dark greens. And now, broad stairs lead hospitably from the driveway straight to the front door.

Design landscape by: Kendra Berger, Revive Landscape Design, San Diego, revivelandscapedesign.com; stairs: John Eisenhart, Union Architecture, San Diego, unionarch.com

facade makeover (before)

Photo by Michael Schneider

Modern façade makeover (before)

A dated façade and a bleak concrete front yard—that’s what the owners of this ’50s rancher got when they bought their house in Encino, California. Instead of remodeling the home, though, the couple used a simpler, less costly strategy to solve both problems...

home facade

Photo by Michael Schneider

Modern façade makeover (after)

This may look like a whole new house, but the sleek façade is really a wall masking a brand new open-air living room. Click below for how they did it, plus a peek at the outdoor room within.

More: Front yard façade

Desert landscape makeover

Photo by Sharon Cohoon

Exotic front yard makeover: Before

The owners of this house in San Diego, CA, wanted a front yard that was water efficient and self-sustaining but also something more stylish than their old turf grass.

And they wanted something more compatible with their Spanish-style architecture and that also better reflected their interest in travel to exotic places like Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa.

Desert landscape makeover

Photo by Sharon Cohoon

Exotic front yard makeover: After

A tapestry of succulents replaces the old turf. Designer Kendra Berger used 5 kinds of aloes, two types of aeonium, Bulbine frutescens, Agave attenuata, and lots of blue Senecio mandraliscae to play off the Moroccan blue of the pots.

She added a new set of pilasters along the stairs—perfect perches for more pots—and faced the risers with blue and white Spanish tiles.

She also suggested painting the arch around the bay window a slightly darker color than the base color, changing the trim color, and replacing the awnings.

Read more in Fresh Dirt, our garden blog

desert yard before

Desert front yard facelift (before)

A scruffy lawn and an oddly configured walkway do nothing for this Phoenix house–the yard is wasted space.

Desert landscape makeover

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Desert front yard facelift (after)

They replaced the lawn with drought-tolerant grasses, then added young trees and a paved area beside the front door.

More:  Fresh front yard facelift

barren front yard of a small home with grass and a sidewalk

Cheery new entry (before)

The front yard of this Bremerton, Washington home used to be all lawn―and not very happy lawn at that.

There was another problem. Because the street sloped sharply downhill, there was a dangerous drop-off between the front walk and the deeply recessed driveway.

Next, the front-yard makeover created colorful curb appeal.

purple flowers line the front of a white fence with yellow flowers lining the front of the house

Photo by Connie Coleman

Cheery new entry (after)

Enclosing the yard solved the drop-off problem – the fence runs along the driveway as well as along the sidewalk.

Thanks to its interesting stepped back sectional design and lively color the lattice fence adds plenty of decorative appeal as well. The row of Spanish lavender in front of it accentuates the fence's cheery color.

Read more about this front yard makeover

Water efficient lawn before

Photo by Jim McCausland

Lose the lawn (before)

Lawns require an inch of water a week to maintain during the growing season.

And except for a big clump of overgrown wisteria, this large Seattle front yard was all grass―a real water hog.

Landscape designer Stacie Crooks knew it had to go.

Replacing your lawn

Photo by Jim McCausland

Lose the lawn (after)

Now Crooks' front yard stops traffic. Instead of lawn she has a large mixed border. It includes evergreen shrubs like Ceanothus and Viburnum, grassy foliage plants like Carex and Phormium, and tons of perennials, including asters, penstemon, and euphorbia.

Best of all, this extravaganza of plants requires less than one-half the water the lawn needed.

More:  Beautiful alternatives to lawn

Low-water yard

Photo by Lori Brookes

Drought-tolerant yard (before)

This small Spanish colonial style home in San Diego had a large Mission fig tree, twin patches of lawn, and little else of interest.

Low water yard.

Photo by Lori Brookes

Drought-tolerant yard (after)

A low retaining wall of stacked flagstone has the effect of setting the house and garden on a pedestal. The wider pathway, also of flagstone, adds more importance, too.

Dymondia margaretae, a gray-leafed South African ground cover, has replaced the lawn. And a range of drought-tolerant plants, including New Zealand flax (Phormium), kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos), Leucadendron, and Lomandra add further interest.

More on this front yard makeover in the blogs

Front yard with pavers and plants

Photo by Norm Plate

Low-water curb appeal (before)

Summers are hot in Grants Pass, Oregon, and a front yard that is mostly rocky mulch makes them feel more so.

So when homeowners Ken and Beverly Behymer bought their house they asked landscape architect Jim Love to make the space feel cooler but without causing their water bill to spike significantly.

Front yard low water makeover

Photo by Norm Plate

Low-water curb appeal (after)

A variety of plants with low water requirements replace the former sterile expanse of rocks. They are all heat-tolerant and were chosen to provide year-round interest.

Oriental fountain grass (Pennisetum orientale), in full plume here, is one of the garden's stars.

Behind the low wall, flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens') is just beginning its transition to brilliant orange fall color. Between the pavers, adding a touch of coolness, is 'Red Carpet' sedum.

Read more about this front yard makeover

mid-century modern home before

Spruce up a front yard (before)

This Phoenix home, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Blaine Drake, had simple, classic lines, but its landscaping was uninspired.

Mid-century home entrance makeover

Photo by Norman Plate

Spruce up a front yard (after)

Homeowner Troy Bankord redesigned the front yard to accentuate the existing diagonal sidewalk. (The emphasis on the diagonal also made the shallow setback seem deeper.)

He added a diagonally placed wall between the driveway and the garden and planted islands of plants near the sidewalk.

Repainting the house pale terra cotta and the bricks two shades of gray also helped update its look without compromising its style.

Read about this transformation in the garden blog

Mid-century Modern front yard remodel

Modern remodel (before)

The front wall of this mid-century modern house was designed to be minimal – its blank façade broken only by high clerestory windows. But a previous owner had added a conventional window at head height, spoiling the simple design.

The brick patio didn't work either. The pattern was too complicated for the style of the house and its surface was broken and uneven.

Eichler makeover

Photo by Lisa Romerein

Modern remodel (after)

The offending window is gone. And simple concrete pads replace the broken, buckling bricks--a much better fit for the clean, simple lines of the house.

Read about this mid-century modern restoration

outdoor home entrance makeover

Front yard family room (before)

The front yard of this Leucadia, California house had a pretty view of the Pacific coastline, but the patio was so small it discouraged settling down and enjoying it.

The shape of the lot was awkward, too – sharply sloping and angled.

Front yard outdoor room

Photo by Gary Conaughton

Front yard family room (after)

A new larger patio of stained, scored concrete is sheltered behind a curved wall topped with an arbor. An outdoor fireplace, covered with slate tiles, anchors the other end of the space.

The old front door was removed and replaced by two sets of sliding doors, one off the living room, another off the family room, making the whole area, in effect, an open-air foyer.

Read more about this front-yard family room

before photo of a tan bungalow home

Photo by Jack Coyler

Craftsman makeover (before)

A 700-square-foot home is a tight squeeze, even for two people. But Michelle and Jeremy Walker knew they could turn their modest Ventura home into a mini-bungalow and find space for a little jewel of a garden besides.

The Walkers added a new gable that spanned the width of the house, and underneath they installed two stone pillars topped with vertical wood posts and an overhead beam. They also poured a wider concrete porch and added a wall. But they weren't finished.

bungalow home with a large bush in front and a low wall around the front of the yard

Photo by Jack Coyler

Craftsman makeover (after)

The next step―despite having only 18 feet between porch and wall to work with― was creating a convincing garden.

Michelle managed to squeeze in a maple tree, wisteria vine, weeping bamboo, ornamental grasses, a fountain, and a dry river bed to create good feng shui―all without the space feeling crowded.

Read about this small craftsman makeover

Private outdoor living space (before)

Photo by Norm Plate

Private front yard (before)

The original front yard of this Santa Cruz residence was dominated by an asphalt driveway, gravel parking area, and two large trees. Except for car parking, it was an unused space.

A makeover provides privacy for an outdoor living space

Photo by Norm Plate

Private front yard (after)

The pair of 6-foot-tall concrete walls that now enclose the front yard shelter an outdoor dining area. The dining alcove was placed here because this spot is west-facing, and warm and sunny is a good thing in the home's chilly, coastal climate.

The staggered walls provide room for generous planting pockets for green and burgundy foliage plants.

Read more about this landscaping makeover

outdoor makeover

Photo by Norm Plate

Southwest courtyard oasis (before)

This Phoenix front yard was generously sized but nothing interesting was happening in the space. The sparse landscaping looked randomly placed. Mostly the yard was a sea of gravel. 

Southwest courtyard oasis

Norm Plate

Southwest courtyard oasis (after)

The homeowners carved out a spacious front yard courtyard for themselves and screened it behind a series of staggered walls.

There's the craggy-textured cast-earth wall you see here plus two flanking walls of smooth stucco, which provide contrast. A lower wall of gabions (stone-filled wire cages) adds more texture. And now that it has agaves and desert perennials for company the agave looks more at home.

Courtyard makeover

Photo by Norm Plate

Southwest courtyard, inside (after)

Hidden from the street behind the sheltering walls is a comfortable space for relaxing and entertaining alfresco.

It's ample enough for two separate seating areas plus a dining space. Plant-filled raised beds add texture, while furnishings and accessories provide pops of color.

More:  Southwest courtyard oasis

Mediterranean-style, stucco, white-washed house

Tuscan-inspired entry (before)

An asphalt driveway butted directly against the stark white walls of this unadorned Mediterranean-style home. There were no attractive plantings to soften the appearance and draw the eye.

lush, planting beds, bushes and container plants line the front of the Mediterranean style home

Tuscan-inspired entry (after)

New planting beds direct guests to an entry path framed by terracotta planters and a trellis rising from low walls.

See more of this front-yard makeover

backyard with an empty pavement slab, and bushes bordering the edge

Dream yard (before)

Before the makeover, this family’s only outdoor space was a lifeless rectangular parking pad of concrete, gravel, and asphalt next to their busy street. There was no fence for privacy and no plants to soften the landscape.

bright and colorful backyard with a striped tablecloth over an outdoor table with a wooden garden shed, in the background

Dream yard (after)

Now it’s a courtyard for summer dining and entertaining. Fencing across the back of the driveway creates a private 33- by 25-foot outdoor room paved with Pennsylvania bluestone.

Greenery and a garden shed creates a sheltering screen.

See more of this front-yard before & after

 

old, freestanding garage with a set of white doors

Aging garage (before)

This crumbling garage seemed to hold little promise for stylish live/work space.

white, stylish garage remodeled into guest quarters

Aging garage (after)

The remodel enlarged the building to include a bathroom, loft, and a small roof deck, so it can double as guest quarters.

It can also still function as a garage thanks to a set of glass-paneled Dutch doors opening on the plywood-paneled office side.

See more of this front-yard transformation

 

exterior of a rundown shed

Shed revival (before)

Evan Sagerman and Marci Riseman found space for this guest suite and entertaining area in an unlikely place: a tiny, ramshackle shed in the backyard of their San Francisco Victorian home.

shed turned into a guest suite with a tan exterior and blue painted French double doors opened into a patio

Shed revival (after)

The makeover became an exercise in preservation and space planning. The interior of the shed has a clean, open layout, inspired by boat cabins.

See more of this shed makeover

 

run-down cabin with a sloped roof on top of the deck

Amazing cabin makeover (before)

Abandoned for six years, this Alaska cabin was a dump. Its previous owners had left behind moldy bags of clothes and thrown out their furniture in the yard. The porch had collapsed, the basement walls had rotted, and a hemlock tree was growing through the roof. Apart from the basement, the house measured only 740 square feet ― and the only access was by boat or by hiking down a half-mile trail.

Alaska cabin makeover

Amazing Cabin Makeover (after)

After a monumental cleanup, the young homeowners ripped off the hazardous porch and re-plumbed the house. They took out walls and stripped the kitchen and bath down to the studs.

Western red cedar shingles replaced the rotting siding, and the front door was painted crimson. Now the revamped cabin makes the most of its small scale.

See more of this cabin makeover

Classic comeback for a midcentury abode

Lisa Romerein

Before: Midcentury comeback 

Overgrown ivy and brick retaining walls cluttered the front of this home in Sherman Oaks, California. 

Classic comeback for a midcentury abode

Lisa Romerein

After: Midcentury comeback

Sometimes you have to go backward before you can clearly see how to move forward. For Guy and Jennifer Genis, renovating a midcentury modern home meant returning to its roots. Their goal: to unearth the original design features while endowing the space with ease and comfort.

More:  Learn more about this classic makeover 

Movie-lover's yard: Before

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

Movie-lover's yard: Before

With its scraggly lawn and rickety fence, this  yard looked neglected. With the help of landscape designer Mark Tessier, Rika Houston and her architect husband Brian Ten overhauled their yard to create a gathering spot for the family, which includes 9-year-old daughter Maya and teenage sons Cole and Taro. With a simple set-up, they transformed it into an outdoor movie-screening space. As movie night took off, the neighbors started to join in.

Movie-lover's yard: After

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

Movie-lover's yard: After

Sinking into the cushy sofa with lanterns lit overhead, guests watch The Birds or The Sound of Music on a screen nearly as big as the garage wall. “In the summer, every Friday is movie night,” says Houston.

More: See the complete makeover

 

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