How an ordinary backyard became dreamy in just two weekends
Patio facelift
Thomas J. Story
Creating a colorful outdoor living room from an unruly yard can seem intimidating. But by breaking down the process into a series of manageable tasks, busy parents Trina and Mark Whiteley were able to refresh their small Palo Alto, CA deck.

Creating a colorful outdoor living room from an unruly yard can seem intimidating. But by breaking down the process into a series of manageable tasks, busy parents Trina and Mark Whiteley were able to remodel the backyard of their small Palo Alto, California, rancher.

In two weekends ― and with the help of friends and family – they revamped a worn-out deck and tamed an overgrown lawn. Now their garden is party-ready.

Weekend 1: Tackle the big jobs

Freshen the deck. To restore their Alaska cedar deck to its original yellow-orange color, the Whiteleys applied a biodegradable wood cleaner, allowed it to soak into the wood, then cleaned the deck using a power washer from a tool-rental store. The following day, they used a roller and a brush to give the deck two coats of stain.  See how to clean a deck

Frame the lawn. Mowing and edging near the deck was difficult, so the couple added an 18-inch-wide gravel strip between the deck and the lawn. They used string to define where the strip would go, removed 3 inches of sod and soil inside the marked area, then edged it with 2-by-4 composite decking and lined it with landscape fabric to prevent weed growth. Crushed-granite gravel fills the strip. See how to build a transitional deck like this

Add steppingstones. Circular concrete pavers supply visual punch and act as an extension of the patio. The Whiteleys bought various sizes (20, 24, and 36 inches in diameter) from a building supplier and sealed the pavers with water-based concrete stain. Then they removed rounds of sod and placed the steppingstones flush with the lawn for easy mowing.

Weekend 2: Add finishing touches

The next task was the fun part – bringing out all the comforts of a cushy patio, including portable lighting and colorful furnishings. The Whiteleys chose a palette to complement their house and deck as well as nearby plants.

Plant containers. Pots in earth tones and shades of ocean and sky blue are clustered to bring the look of a garden onto the deck. They’re filled with easy-care plants, including golden sweet flag (Acorus), blue fescue, rosy-bronze New Zealand flax, and silvery echeverias.

Put out colorful chairs. The Whiteleys gave two faded wicker chairs a coat of deep red spray paint to accent the deck’s golden tones and the soft green and deep plum French doors.

Hang up lights. The string of lanterns makes the deck a festive place for evening barbecues and parties, says Mark. The lanterns’ string is supported by a ⅛-inch steel cable suspended between an eave of the house and an 8-foot-long 4-by-4 post at one end of the deck. More outdoor lighting ideas

Place outdoor art. Rounded stones, an antique watering can, and a decorative star of rusted metal nestles among potted plants on the deck. Another star hangs nearby.

Instant decorating. Look over your patio or deck, and decide which elements best freshen the look.

Fill pots with plants. For instant effect, slip potted nursery plants directly into decorative containers. Plant when time allows.

Set out lanterns. Fit with light-diffusing frosted glass for a soft glow and place at step corners.

Embellish the lawn with pavers. Position concrete pavers, then trace around them with a serrated knife. Remove pavers, dig up the circles of sod, and set in pavers so they’re flush with surrounding sod.

Add pillows. Place throw pillows on chairs and benches. Garden steps and low walls can double as seating too with a scattering of cushions.

Resources: Serenity recycled-teak bench from the Wooden Duck ($425; 510/848-3575). Deck treated with Bio-Wash Woodwash and Natural Deck Oil ( or 800/663-9274). Patio umbrella in Canvas Fern Sunbrella fabric on an aluminum pole by Treasure Garden from the Teak Patio ($470; 650/494-9020). Similar chairs (Saucer Chair in Autumn Leaf; $89) and string of lights from Pier 1 Imports. Desert Gold ⅜-inch-diameter crushed-granite gravel from Lyngso Garden Materials (650/364-1730). Composite decking (used as edging) from Trex.

More photos and inspiration:  Great ideas for decks