30 inspiring outdoor makeovers
These dramatic before and afters will inspire you to transform your outdoor living space and gain curb appeal in the process
With no privacy, no personality, and—the biggest drawback of all—no place to sit, this 550-square-foot side yard had little charm.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
The house had no proper entryway— just three wooden steps—and almost no plants at all.
Traversed by a concrete stairway—that sleek handrail is ipe wood—the yard is now home to veggie beds, water-wise plants, and “endless mulch”—all of it built, planted, or spread by homeowners Lisa Wong Jackson and Nick Jackson.
The yard was plagued with weeds, invasive bamboo, and a not-so-retaining wall that was rotting away.
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).
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.
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
This Costa Mesa yard was little more than 1,500 square feet of tired lawn and broken tiles in a challengingly arid climate.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
See the after on how Kendra Berger and John Eisenhart created a brighter entry with sculptural steps and graphic plants.
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...
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.
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.
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.
A scruffy lawn and an oddly configured walkway do nothing for this Phoenix house–the yard is wasted space.
They replaced the lawn with drought-tolerant grasses, then added young trees and a paved area beside the front door.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This small Spanish colonial style home in San Diego had a large Mission fig tree, twin patches of lawn, and little else of interest.
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.
Summers are hot in Grants Pass, Oregon, and a front yard that is mostly rocky mulch makes them feel more 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.
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.
This Phoenix home, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protégé Blaine Drake, had simple, classic lines, but its landscaping was uninspired.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before the remodel, the couple's front yard was a sea of gravel surrounding a single saguaro cactus. What's more, the space offered little in the way of privacy.
The homeowners carved out a spacious front yard courtyard and screened it behind a series of staggered walls. There's the craggy-textured cast-earth wall pictured 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.
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.
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.
New planting beds direct guests to an entry path framed by terra cotta planters and a trellis rising from low walls.
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.
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.
This crumbling garage seemed to hold little promise for stylish live/work space.
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.
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.
The makeover became an exercise in preservation and space planning. The interior of the shed has a clean, open layout, inspired by boat cabins.
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.
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.
Overgrown ivy and brick retaining walls cluttered the front of this home in Sherman Oaks, California.
For Guy and Jennifer Genis, renovating their midcentury modern home meant returning to its roots. Their goal: to unearth the original design features while endowing the space with ease and comfort. Outside, the stripped-down symmetry of the front entry is set off by a row of phormium flanking the sidewalk.