We bit off a lot with this property makeover and at times I definitely was worried that someone was going to choke (hi! me!), but like most of life’s biggest moments (weddings, childbirth, switching careers, cliff jumping!), if you are lucky to be able to do it the joy of the outcome far surpasses the stress of the process. We feel so incredibly lucky, grateful, and thankful that this is our “backyard” and that we had so many talented experts and resources to help us get here. And while it’s not “done” and there are things we want to tweak, we love it so much and we were able to enjoy almost the whole summer without construction (or mud!!!). It has been a true dream – so fun, functional, beautiful, and enjoyable. Honestly, we rarely leave and I want to invite the whole world over. So in this post, I’ll walk you through the full layout now that we’ve deep dove into some of the more major elements (split rail fence, Soake pool, sports court, and the Alpasture :)) And a bit before/mud/after explosion. A huge thanks to our designer, Cali Pfaff from Studio Campo – she absolutely got our vibe, was a dream to work with, and while there are a few little things that we all want to tweak, now that everything is growing in, the overall look and feel summer one is just wonderful and we are so happy. We are just enjoying it being in such a great “stage one phase” and excited to see it grow in over the next few years.
Cali is doing a post tomorrow about the plant selection and curated color palette, so I won’t touch on that too much today (but I love almost all of it soooooooo much and couldn’t be happier). It was expertly executed by our landscape contractor, Dan’l and his team from Northwest Native Landscape in Portland. His team worked out there in the rain and mud for months and months on end (shout out to Scott who was the project manager and had to deal with us the most LOL).
Oh, but before we get too much further, you bet we made an awesome long-form YouTube video so you can really get a sense of the space and hear me talk about even more thoughts and feelings about the whole process. But for a little teaser of that video, let the next video play after the quick ad!
This property was a big overhaul because the needs were great and like renovating a house, you really have to invest in the infrastructure (what goes behind the walls) to ensure that what you are planting will even live (let alone thrive). So over the course of the year and a half, Northwest Native Landscapes did the following major changes:
1. All the invasives were removed and bad soil demo’d out.
2. The soil was prepped (they blew truckloads of new soil everywhere).
3. Irrigation was set everywhere (hooked up to our now re-commissioned well) – yes, even in Oregon. And with four months of heat this summer there is no way anything would have lived (as the plants get more and more established we’ll reduce our irrigation usage every summer but the initial investment was important and steep).
4. So much grading to make it all drain properly.
5. Larger trees installed (thanks, Big Trees Today!)
6. All the hardscape prepped and installed (variegated bluestone/flagstone).
7. The sports court was cut in half and repoured. (read this post).
8. The Soake pool was dug and installed (read this post).
9. Then and only then can you do all the fun stuff that could get ruined if you did it too early – like plants, flowers, and sod could get destroyed with construction.
It was a LOT. Y’all, I’m embarrassed to say that we were probably very challenging clients because we were still in the middle of the house renovation and frankly didn’t know what the real doable budget was for the exterior – we hadn’t really set enough aside to do what this property needed (we were massively over budget on the house). And then that year (2022) when it rained for like 19 months in a row we were really, really scared that we were going to move back to Arrowhead. So spending more and more on something we might never use/enjoy was nauseating. But then we faced the music and realized that regardless of whether we stayed here or sold the house we’d have to invest into making the property look beautiful. At this point, it was 100% mud so divesting from it wasn’t possible. It was a thick, hard pill to swallow but I’m so grateful that we were able to do it (we had savings from selling our house in Los Feliz). And right now we are soooooooo happy living in Portland that there is NO chance we are moving any time soon. THANK THE UNIVERSE. This yard will get used and abused by hopefully the whole neighborhood of kids (we have six kids over here right now after school playing on the sports court and feeding our new piglets – I’m watching them through the sunroom while writing this post and it makes my heart so happy).
THE BEFORE – 3 Years Ago
So here is the view from the second-floor bedroom when we bought the house. It was winter and rural, with the biggest rundown tennis court ever. When this photo was taken we thought we’d like just paint the sports court, maybe add some plants or remove some of the blackberry bushes, but that’s it, LOLOLOLOL.
The Process – The Year Of The Mud
As I wrote about before, the renovation of the house actually ruined most of the original plants/grass. We had to shift to doing a much larger job than we had initially hoped/intended. You literally couldn’t believe how much mud there was – we sat inside this beautiful new house, staring out the windows, unable to leave without knee-high bogs. But it’s over!!!!!!
And here we are as of July this year. Scrolling back and forth between these photos makes me so incredibly happy, proud, thankful, relieved – all the positive feelings in the world. When we were in the thick of it we didn’t know if we’d ever be able to leave our house in a pair of normal shoes. We knew this was our doing (which at times made it worse) and that if we were patient enough, the mud someday would end. And it did. And we are just so happy.
Here’s a before/after GIF, three years apart.
That before and after just KILLS ME. And it’s only summer number one – meaning that so many of the plants are in their “hair plug” stage and by next summer it will have grown in more naturally. We also purposefully planted a lot of fast-growing grasses and wildflowers for year one growth that we are likely going to cut down or mix in (Cali has a plant that I don’t totally remember). But even with those little tweaks we might make, we LOVE how it looks.
As you can see we did the big stuff – shrunk the sports court, added the pool area + pool house + garden, added a flagstone pathway around the whole property, and put in a new healthy lawn in the front. I’m so excited for all the ground cover to take over and soften all the lines.
Michael shot drone footage for our YouTube video and we stole a screenshot from it – it’s SO FUN to see it from sky high. I think it’s pretty easy to see where we stopped the design/budget on phase one – all the brown below the pool area is just mulch and anything right of the sports court and the split rail fence remains just weeds. We are not even THINKING about what we might do with it – we are taking a huge break from construction and feel very content as is.
The Pool Area + Pool House
I did a full post about the Soake Pool, so this is more about the pea gravel area that contains the pool house and garden boxes. This is the most magical area (IMHO) – the Soake pool turned out so incredible and the pool house behind it was a happy little accident that I already love so much.
Wait, Is The Greenhouse Now A Poolhouse/Gym?
Yep. The reason we built this was two-fold:
1. We needed a structure to house and attach all the pool mechanics and…
2. The sunroom windows came in with an abnormality from Sierra Pacific and their customer service was so wonderful that they replaced them with perfect windows, and I was allowed to keep these to use in this structure. This is going to be kinda confusing but for those of you curious, the “shadow bar” was missing in these (a little piece of metal that makes the windows look as close to “true divided lights” as possible – go here for more info). So it is totally fine for this structure and they are perfectly good double-paned windows, but was really noticeable in the sunroom (and the shadow bar or lack thereof is specifically noticeable with 5/8ths grilles, so we ended up upping them to 7/8ths in the sunroom on the second round). I’ll explain more when we shoot it likely in late fall.
Of course, it can still be a greenhouse, folks – and we even put two incredible Velux skylights in there, but we figure that it’s unknown whether I’m going to be a professional gardener. But it’s not unknown that Brian and I both try to work out every day so for now it’s our gym.
We are NOT done with this at all but I wanted to show it to you as-is. We did this very fast/dirty/cheap (and kept it small enough that we didn’t have to permit it). It was up in a matter of weeks, with mostly leftover materials (framing, roofing, windows, and siding). It has basic electrical, no plumbing, and only a mini-split inside for heat and AC. Like I said, we’ve decided to turn it into the gym/yoga room. Yes that door should be as tall as the windows, LOL, but more on that later. We had two leftover exterior sconces that we threw on here and it really looks like an appropriate and elevated outbuilding (two more Carson sconces are on order for the other two sides).
The whole pea gravel area turned out simple and sweet. I love the vibe of the picnic table here and it’s where the kids eat when we have a lot of families over (dining chairs with legs can be difficult in pea gravel so I love these picnic tables with attached benches).
We separated the pea gravel area from the pool with a 4′ planting bed and some stepping stones (variegated bluestone – the most affordable bluestone). So far the pea gravel stays where it is (Northwest Native used steel edging to keep it in place around the perimeter). At one point we were going to do all the paths out of pea gravel but I’m glad we didn’t – I fear that the dogs would have made it a huge mess and we’d be cleaning it out of the grass daily. But here it’s great! Sometimes I think the grasses with the wildflowers look too messy (whenever I say I love ALMOST all of it, I’m talking about around here, not around the house where I couldn’t be happier). Cali came and edited it a bit but I want to continue to tweak it where it’s less wild (my literal brief was wild and messy haha). We did these to save on cost + get immediate impact.
The split rail fence keeps it zoned all nicely. I threw the four Adirondack chairs around a firepit (from Target, but I think we want a smokeless one). For all you PDX’ers out there, don’t worry we didn’t light it since it’s wood burning and there was a fire ban this summer (the wood is burnt because we stole it from our living room fireplace – literally carrying over half-burnt logs in our arms for this shoot).
The garden boxes to the left of the gym were planted so late, but I am getting a fall harvest of lettuces, brussel sprouts, broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes). Look at ME!!!!!! I feel like a regular Grit and Polish over here (if you don’t follow them you really should – an excellent personal/DIY farmhouse blogging family with the most beautiful garden space and thoughtful designs). I’d like to brag real quick that I put these garden boxes together on my own. I bought like 40 bags of organic soil and lined the sides – just with me and the kids. I even planted them myself (but our irrigation sub had always planned on putting in a drip so he came back to do that).
The trees are non-fruit-bearing cherry trees with ornamental grasses and wild strawberries as groundcover underneath. Cali has this awesome idea to plant white daffodil bulbs all throughout under the cherry trees that will pop up in spring.
This is where we sit almost ALL of the time. The big oak tree is so shady and this area always feels breezy. You can see the kids on the court or in the pool pretty easily. Until we figure out where we want to grill more permanently the BBQ just sits on the edge of the sports court with a prep table (Brian likes to play and grill at the same time making this hard to layout).
The table, benches, and black chairs are from Rejuvenation (and are all-weather so we don’t worry about them). 8-10 can easily sit here so when we have friends over usually the grownups sit here while the kids play. Also how cute is our bedroom’s black metal railing 🙂 I love that X detail over there. We used the copper Carson sconces throughout the exterior and just love them with the blue Sierra Pacific doors.
There is a peek into the side yard which I don’t really go too much into this post (more to come) but that sweet hammock from Golden Yarrow is so cute (we have the blue one back in the Alpasture).
The Flagstone Paths
As you can see we used variegated bluestone flagstone throughout. We wanted it to look as much as stepping stones as possible and in some places it does and in others, the edges are a bit more angular. But we hope that once the ground cover grows in (mostly creeping thyme) it will soften all those edges. I tried not to be that homeowner stopping the hard workers and telling them to “be more natural and organic” because they were doing the job they were hired to do. Again, I think the biggest challenge is trying to make something look organic and natural (especially when you are doing it off a plan that doesn’t show enough nuance or details).
I love the flagstone and how solid and well executed it was (turns out you can’t just put it down and all their hard work made it really easy and smooth to walk on, which is going to be extra great when the rains return).
This corner of the sunroom kills me – Cali just NAILED the plant and flower selection. They look so natural, farmy, beautiful, soft, and casual (and feel so me!!!). And she thought a lot about seasonal color (i.e. making sure that we have enough evergreen for winter) so I’m excited to see how it changes throughout the year. One thing she noted is that for whatever reason flowering lambs ear were planted instead of non-flowering (that means very little to most of us) so we aren’t sure if the nursery sent the wrong variety. In some places I don’t mind it, in other places it looks super freaky so I clip it (but if you see it in all these photos know that it wasn’t Cali’s intention).
I think it’s time for some good old-fashioned before and afters – a real serotonin hit for any makeover enthusiasts.
Another huge thanks to Cali Pfaff from Studio Campo for this beautiful design, and Dan’l and his team from Northwest Native Landscapes for executing it. While the plants/trees (and us) have a lot of growing to do and the property will morph and change over time, the year one “reveal” is so good that the tweaks won’t be intimidating. Living here and enjoying the space has been a dream. Learning how we use it will help us make any remaining decisions.
And don’t forget to go watch the YouTube video! I promise it’s really fun:)
Pool: Soake Pools
House Paint Color: SW 7005 Pure White by Sherwin-Williams
Door Paint Color: SW 9655 Mountain Pass by Sherwin-Williams
Windows and Doors: White oak, Aspen Casement by Sierra Pacific Windows
THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED HERE.