Filed under: yard

3 days of magic: front yard reveal

It’s been a while since we had a good old-fashioned project reveal, don’t you think?  Our front yard has been in a sad state for several years now, so we made it a top priority for 2012. In April we took the first step and hired a landscape architect. Then when made a few tweaks to the design and got bids from three installers. After selecting JP Landscape Services (based out of Duvall, WA) we eagerly waited for the magic to happen. They originally thought the job would take 4-5 days to complete, but with a last-minute delayed start on another project they were able to double-up up their crew at chezerbey. Best of all, what would have taken us at least two months of nights and weekends (not counting all the frustrated sighs and dirt-kicking) took the professionals 3 days. THREE DAYS. But before we show you the money shots (and there’s a lot), let’s get a glimpse of how it all went down:

Day One:

Work started last Wednesday morning, but while waiting for the crew to arrive Kyle was able to snap these “before” shots for a little context.

Weedapalooza? Check.

Sidewalk to nowhere? Why not?

Day Two:

On the first day the crew scraped the site clean, regraded, took away extra dirt (can you believe we still had extra after all the foundation work from last summer?) and set the salvaged pavers. Here’s what it looked like on a rainy Thursday morning before I left for work:

Truthfully, even this prep work was very exciting. It was also reassuring to see that the installers seemed to know what they were doing and weren’t cutting any corners.

We mostly let the crew come up with the paver pattern for the south side and think they did a great job! They had to compensate for a slight slope from one end to the other, but walking across the final placement it was impossible to tell.

While we were at work, the crew spent the rest of Thursday bringing in new compost and amending it into the existing soil (for a total depth of 4″-6″). By the end of the day they had also sourced most of the plants and delivered them to the house. There were a few varieties that weren’t available at the time so we did some last-minute scrambling to find replacements.

I didn’t have a chance to take photos on Friday morning, but the changes were less drastic than the previous day. Or maybe I was just thinking ahead to the surprise that would await us that evening. 

Day Three:

Friday was spent installing all of the plants and the final 2″ of mulch. After work that day, I met Kyle at the hospital for a pre-birth tour that I scheduled weeks ago. While it was certainly worthwhile, we both made a beeline for the exit as soon as it was over. The yard awaited!

Oh. Well, hello there. 

[We didn’t have enough salvaged concrete for the front strip, so we picked up these 2’x2′ pavers for about $15/each.]

For those with a good eye, that is indeed a new (though yet-to-be trimmed out) window. Although it makes a world of difference in the basement, it does look a little goofy from the outside. But good news – it no longer matters because we now have a screen of nature in front! Oh, and gas meter – no one will even remember where you are this time next year. Grow plants, grow!

Have I mentioned that we decided to make Felix a part-time outdoor cat? No longer limited to running the diagonal length of the house, he seems happier, has more of an appetite and is not nearly as snarky as he used to be. A win-win for all.

Overall, we are THRILLED with the results. There are still a few missing plants (some groundcovers and herbs) that need to be added and of course everything will fill in as it matures, but the current density is plenty to be excited about. We were also pleasantly surprised with just how well the salvaged pavers turned out. [Score one for the planet and our checking account!] Although there are still a few loose ends to tie up, the guys did a great job with both the install and clean-up and we would definitely recommend them to anyone in the area.

While you’re at it, you should hire our landscape architect too (Mark Garff at The Watershed Company) – he was involved throughout the installation process and helped us make last-minute decisions when certain varieties were out of stock. Kyle and I debated how modern to go with the landscaping, but in the end we feel like Mark struck a good balance that shares our design approach with the outside of the house. Although we took more freedoms on the interior of the house (and will probably do the same for the backyard), we decided to be more subtle in the front. This was driven mostly by budget (no sense in changing the basic 1910 form of the house just for the hell of it), but it was also a personal design challenge. Now that the front is really, truly done (hallelujah!) we’re confident that it is entirely possible to make a 102 year-old home feel modern, efficient and clean while fitting in with the existing neighborhood and being responsive to our climate. Not to be all self-congratulatory, but for us, this is what good design is all about. 

But back to the yard. This evening was warm and sunny so Kyle and I sat out on the stoop with pints of ice cream taking it all in and marveling at what could be accomplished in just three short days:

I confess that I still don’t know the names of all the plants (Latin or English), but I’m determined to learn. After all, we’ll be spending a lot of time together this summer.

landscaping, it’s really going to happen!

It’s been over a month since we last wrote about our landscaping plans, but that ball has not stopped rolling.

After carefully reviewing the design, talking with neighbors and reading your awesome comments, we decided to make a few tweaks. Some plant choices and locations were changed but the biggest decision was to nix the patio area on the south side of the front yard. We realized that the entry stoop is large enough for 2-6 people to gather on and that we didn’t really need a second space. Plus, as soon-to-be parents we were nervous about having a hang-out space so close to the 36″ (+/-) drop from the top of the retaining wall down to the sidewalk. Finally, eliminating the patio (and associated grading and stonework) would save us a worthwhile chunk of change.

So our landscape architect Mark came up with the revised plan below [click to enlarge]. In lieu of a patio, we now have a simple path that connects the stoop to the existing sidewalk on the south side of the house. For the pavers, we’ll be using some of the smaller concrete pieces that we reclaimed from last year’s demo project.

With a finalized design in hand, we had two choices for moving forward: 1. buy the material and do the install ourselves or 2. hire it out. Since it never hurts to get bids, we contacted three different landscaping companies (that came recommended from Mark or other friends). To reduce costs, we limited our scope to the colored area you see below [click to enlarge]:

The side yard gates made a good demarkation line between Phase 1 and Phase 2. We still have some construction projects slated for the backyard so it will be a little while before we tackle that area. (Although I’m guessing a mobile toddler might dictate that schedule.)

Two of the three bids were similar in price (the third was just crazy), but all were more than we had optimistically hoped for. We thought about scaling back the scope or delaying the project yet again, but I think deep down we really just want it to be done. Done by someone else. So that’s what we’re going to do!

As fervent DIYers it makes us a little uneasy to hire someone to do the work (since labor is usually 50% of the overall costs), but we’re also really, really excited to hand this off to the pros. What would undoubtedly take us a couple of months of nights and weekends will take a professional crew 5-6 days(!) to complete. (Ok, sometimes I fantasize about sitting in a lounge chair with an umbrella drink while the work is being done, but the reality is that we’ll probably be plenty busy in the nursery or basement.)

Even though we won’t be getting our own hands dirty, we’ll be sure to document the whole process to share with you as it happens. This is a big milestone in our nearly 6 years of remodeling chezerbey and we can’t wait!

landscape plan!

We did it. After nearly 6 years of rocking a minimalist (err, brutalist?) yard, we finally bit the bullet and hired a landscape architect. But before we show you what he came up with, let’s get everyone up to speed on the traumatic history of our yard. It all started in ’06, when we became the proud new owners of some diseased shrubs and dead grass:

Poor little sad house.

Even though our house has received a major facelift since then, our yard has not:

But those days are numbered because BAM! Look at what’s in store! [Click to enlarge]

True, we had every intention of landscaping at least the front yard last summer, but that whole foundation drainage project took a wee bit longer than expected and we simply ran out of time. Not this year though; we have a baby deadline (apparently it’s a million times harder to get stuff done after that happens) and we’re tired of the constant weedapalooza. So we hired our friend Mark, who is a landscape architect at The Watershed Company, to put together a planting plan that we could use as a template of sorts to make our landscaping dreams come true. Although we had a general design in our heads (you may remember this site plan that we shared with you last summer), we mostly needed help with the actual plant selection and layout. Fortunately, after an on-site consultation a few weeks ago (where we talked about our basic goals and ideas), Mark came up with something that really filled in all of the missing pieces while also making some great modifications and suggestions in the process.

Now I know what you’re probably thinking, “of all the projects you’ve tackled yourself, you decide to hire someone to help with plants??” Although we pride ourselves in our DIY approach, keep in mind that architectural design and construction are our territory. Plants are not. Although we could take the time to do the necessary research on species, proper spacing and location, we knew that just wasn’t going to happen. It’s too big of a project and we firmly believe in hiring talented folks to help out when in over your head (just like you it’s a good idea for people to hire an architect). 

This is a first pass, so we’ll definitely be making a few tweaks here and there before we bust out a shovel. (Remember all of those pavers that we salvaged from our demo project last summer?) We also realize that this project will be a lot of work (and $$), so the plan is to tackle the front yard and backyard planting boxes this year, while saving the remainder for later. Depending on costs, we may also scale back on the quantity of plants, allowing us to fill in over time.

Finally, If you’re like us and don’t have a mental image bank of all plant types, get ready for your mind to be blown with a cornucopia of vegetative goodness! Along with the draft planting plan, Mark also sent us a booklet of all the plants that he’s listed. For your viewing pleasure, I took the liberty of making the montage below. As you’ll see, it’s a combination of mostly drought-tolerant and Pacific Northwest-friendly trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, groundcover, and herbs. Don’t worry, we won’t be using every species listed, many of them were just presented as different choices for a single area. In fact, we showed the plan to our plant-savvy neighbor tonight and she gave us some great insight into the options she liked best.

Color! Life! Excitement!

So what do you guys think? We have complete trust in our landscape architect, but this is very much new territory for Kyle and I so we’d love to hear your constructive thoughts or suggestions. 

Yay plants!

2011 year in review

Well, another year has come and gone and like 2010, we wanted to recap the progress that was made. Compared to 2010, last year was not quite as epic in the remodel department. Even though we didn’t get as much done as we originally planned (c’mon, when does that ever happen?), we’re feeling pretty good about what we did accomplish. 2011 was also all about striking a balance between renovation projects and having a life outside our house. It’s not always an easy goal to reach, but after 5 years in our house it’s an important one. 


We spent the first couple months of 2011 finishing up projects from the year before. In January, Kyle took a welding class, bought some equipment, built this and then built this:

Not bad for his first real project, huh? Yes, my husband is some kind of amazing bad ass who is always surprising me with what he can do.


In February, we started focusing on the interior sliding doors. Originally the doors were going to be welded steel frames with a painted MDO core, but after mocking up the bathroom door we weren’t happy with how it looked or how much time it took to fabricate. So we opted for paint-grade door slabs instead. For colors, we picked out shades of blue, yellow and teal and ultimately landed on “lakeside cabin” and “thunderbird” for the doors.


This month we finished the basement stairs. We used VG fir for the treads and risers and Kyle designed and fabricated the handrail out of tube steel and fir.


In April we completed the sliding doors! Our bedroom had not had a door for 2.5 years and our bathroom had been doorless for over a year. Privacy can be a real luxury when remodeling.

Although we decided to stick with only two colors for the doors, we found an easy way to incorporate some mustard yellow at our big kitchen window. (We later went a little yellow-crazy with accessories and furniture!)


This month we finally got some art on the walls! This series of wood block photos was taken by our friend Todd and hung in simple IKEA aluminum frames.

We painted and installed carpet in the loft earlier in the year, but we finally turned it into a sleeping nook this month. The bed is an Aerobed that we already owned. The duvet is from West Elm and the night stand is a painted step stool from IKEA. The space certainly came in handy last summer when so many friends and family came to visit.


In March, we laid out our plans for the big outdoor project. The first step was to demolish the concrete driveway apron and sidewalk in our backyard to make way for a new deck.

Kyle used a concrete saw to cut up the old sidewalk that wrapped around the back of our house. We transferred the slabs to our front side yard (using this crazy boulder dolly!) and will eventually use them as pavers for the front yard.

The second half of June was all about deck building! The plan was to finish it before summer started (which is often considered to be July 5th around here).

Well, we got close. =)


In July, we played outside. With temperatures in the low 80’s it was just too hot for manual labor.


In early August, we had a party for Kyle’s 33rd birthday. The deck was technically finished and with killer party lights, no one noticed the mounds of dirt or missing planter boxes. 

It was a great party, but the next morning we were all feeling it.

During the second half of August Kyle fulfilled his dream of renting some heavy machinery for the house. Before we could think about landscaping (or finish out the basement) we needed to add foundation drains to the front half of the house. (Keyword: DIGGING.)

We also added a new member to our family this month! When a friend was trying to find a home for this stray kitten, we just couldn’t say no. So we adopted little Chloe. And then we found she was actually a he and quickly renamed him Felix. It was iffy at first, but Bailey and Felix soon became BFFs.


The drainage project dragged into September (and October), thanks to a few setbacks with machinery and hardpan soil. But we trudged through. Begrudgingly. 

We did manage to get away for a long weekend to Eastern Washington to celebrate my 31st birthday. Wine tasting, spa treatments and a little R&R was just what we needed.

With the rainy season looming, we also set aside an afternoon to put the Penofin finish on the new deck. So shiny, so pretty.


In October we finally buttoned up the drainage and crossed our fingers that our basement would stay dry all winter (so far, so good!). We ran out of time to install (or even think about) landscaping, so that’s on the agenda again for this year.

Kyle also built this ipe “bridge” to connect the stoop to our existing concrete steps.

During this month we also refinanced our mortgage, which meant prepping for another appraisal. To play it safe, we added an IKEA wardrobe and bed to the flex room to assure the appraiser that our home was now a 2-bedroom, 1-bath.

At the end of the month Kyle squeezed in one more project – a steel planter box for the north side of the deck. We still need to fabricate two additional boxes that will go on the south side, but that’s a project for next year. Which is now this year. AHH!


As the gray permacloud rolled in, we turned our attention this month to something more uplifting – furniture!

We scored six vintage Eames fiberglass shells and added reproduction dowel bases that we found right here in Seattle! Shell chairs had been on our wish list for years and we were excited to finally pull the trigger.

The new chairs inspired a bit of furniture rearranging and we soon discovered that our BoConcept coffee table actually works a lot better in the Flex/TV room. To fill the void, we designed this table that can transform from end table to coffee table in about 10 seconds flat.

In a moment of furniture weakness, we also decided to finally ordered that LCW that we’d been pining over since our days in architecture school. (Thank goodness Herman Miller has a generous architect discount!)

At the end of the month we celebrated Bailey’s 6th birthday!


December turned out to be a very busy month. First we spent about 4 days down in Phoenix at the Hanley Wood Reinvention conference where we saw lots of modern homes (with so much glazing!), Taliesin West and the Will Bruder library. We also spent a lot of time in the Biltmore Hotel (where the conference was held), listening to various speakers and talking with other residential architects from all over the country.

When we got back from Phoenix, the holiday season was in full swing and we were jumping from one event to the next, while trying to cram in some shopping and baking in between.

For Christmas, we flew back to Oklahoma to spend some time with our families. We had a great time, but I’ve decided that six plane rides in one month is too much! (Also, could someone please hook a girl up with a direct flight from Seattle to Tulsa?)

So that was 2011! And what’s in store for 2012? Lots! (By the way, I love it when relatives and friends ask if we’re happy to be done with the house. Done? Ha! Never…) We’ll do another post about our project list for this year, but let’s just say that the basement o’ shame is first in line.

steel planter box

What’s a good activity for a crisp fall weekend? Welding, naturally.

In our deck reveal post last month, we showed you the raw steel panels that we bought off Craigslist and had cut by a local sheet metal shop. Since then, they’ve been hanging out in the backyard, working on their patina. We had no real timeline for getting them built, but last Sunday (in a passing moment of boredom), Kyle got the itch to weld. 

The boxes were designed to maximize the 4×8 sheets of material and limit waste. Since the north box needed to be about 10′ long, Kyle built one 8′ box and one 2′ box, the smaller of the two going in first. 

The root barrier and pea gravel run underneath the planter locations. Since it would have been impractical to build the larger box in the shop, Kyle just welded the four pieces in place. But first, he used the laser level to place small concrete pavers at the four corners, each at the appropriate elevation to ensure a flat base to build upon.

The great thing about these DIY planter boxes is that the welds are on the inside and since they’ll be covered with dirt, they don’t have to be pretty.

To keep the larger piece of steel from bowing, Kyle welded pieces of rebar (leftover from another project) at staggered locations to provide more rigidity without compromising future plant placement. 

Finally, he attached the boxes to the deck framing with stainless steel lag screws. The boxes are heavy and would take a considerable effort to move, but we thought this step would help prevent them from settling into the dirt over time.

The smaller box was built in the shop, hence the steel plates at the base for extra rigidity. We’re thinking maybe a small ornamental tree here? 

It’s always exciting when a project finally comes together. Ipe, meet steel. You are one sexy couple. Heck, even the pea gravel looks good. (Although, damn you needles. You’re not even from our tree!) 

…and on the opposite end. Hello lovely. 

In less than six hours, the whole thing was done.  The steel has already rusted a nice amount since we brought it home and should continue to weather and change colors. (FYI – the steel is thick enough that it will take many, many, many years to rust through.) The slightly mottled look is due to uneven drying from some rain earlier in the day.

Oh. Excuse me – Bailey would like to interject and show you his new Halloween bandana.

Ok, moving on. The remaining steel is for the boxes on the other side of the deck, though we’re thinking we might need to build the awning first to make sure a certain rain chain detail is properly composed…

We also probably won’t fill them with dirt or plant anything until Spring, which should give us plenty of time to contemplate our options. Tall grasses? Edibles? Something that is resistant to death-by-zerbey?

At any rate, planter box #1 is done. Including the cost of the steel and cutting, the two north boxes set us back about $250. It’s not pocket change, but if you’ve ever priced custom steel boxes or even the small ones that some companies sell, $250 is a bargain. A bargain that should require zero maintenance. We like.