Front and back makeover

How to maximize outdoor living spaces around your home

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  • Front and back makeover

    A decaying wood deck provided the only outdoor living space.

Gardening under oaks

The backyard borders a creek shaded by oaks and other native trees, so Bliss kept the design simple and naturalistic. To provide a seamless connection between indoors and out, he built the rear patio at the same level as the interior floor, using square-cut flagstone pavers to create a geometric design that plays off the home's clean architectural style.

Beyond the patio, the garden transitions from square steppingstones through a sea of gravel to oak woodland. Since several oaks border the formal garden, Bliss integrated the trees into the overall design, surrounding them with a giant chain fern as well as unthirsty natives such as manzanita and ceanothus.

Both the front-yard dining area and the large back patio are now well-used extensions of the house. "Adding outdoor rooms is equivalent to increasing the square footage of your home," says Bliss.

What makes it work

To complete the garden and make it truly livable, Michael Bliss added special finishing touches.

Outdoor kitchen: A stainless steel barbecue surrounded by granite countertops, a cafe table, and a heat lamp for chilly nights increases the outdoor dining room's livability. A new door connects the interior kitchen to the exterior dining area.

Herb garden: Chives, marjoram, oregano, and thyme grow in a sunny spot right outside the kitchen and adjacent to the dining patio.

Lighting: Bliss used accent lights to add drama to the garden. He placed uplighting beneath the oaks and a Japanese maple, and downlighting above the New Zealand flax.

Wall caps: Stonelike wall caps from Napa Valley Cast Stone give the front walls a refined look.

Design: Michael Bliss, Pacific Grove, CA (


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