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Designing the Room Outside
A backyard is an extension of what's going on inside our home, maybe more colorful, casual, fun, and without a ceiling to put a lid on our needs and desires. In a yard, trees and vines can climb to their ultimate heights, light and weather can quickly change, and the possibilities—within the confines of our property lines—are up to the terrain, our design skills, and our do-it-yourself know-how.
If your DIY design and construction skills aren't up to tackling a major backyard remodeling project, you can hire a landscape designer or architect to help your outdoor space realize its potential. A skilled professional can guide you through the process of figuring out a style, deciding who will be using the yard, creating zones of activity, choosing materials and plants, and recommending builders and contractors for everything from swimming pools to outdoor structures to installing irrigation.
Explore 50 ideas showing how a backyard can be transformed into everyone's favorite space. In this first example, notice how the curved lines of the patio fit with the casual nature of the nearby wooded area.Continue to 2 of 50 below.
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How do you design a backyard for two toddler boys and their parents that is safe, engaging, and attractive? Here, Creo Landscape Architecture more than fulfilled the challenge in this San Francisco area home that includes dining and seating spaces along with a grass-covered berm and interactive sculptures for the children.
The fence and bench are made of redwood—the fence features a light stain while the bench is natural—and Podocarpus (plum pines) were planted to provide greenery and enhance privacy. No-mow fescue planted on the berm invites the boys to roll, tumble, and enjoy their backyard. Durable bluegrass is planted on the flat areas of the lawn, and recycled brick is used for a small patio. To make smart use of the space, the redwood benches have storage space to store outdoor toys when they're not in use.Continue to 3 of 50 below.
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An Eichler Remodel
Developer Joseph Eichler built thousands of California housing tract homes in the 1950s and 1960s, and his name is now associated with the style we now know as mid-century modern. While most of these developments were in the suburbs, the Diamond Heights Eichlers built in 1962 are in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood of San Francisco.
The Garden Route Co. remodeled this landscape of a two-story Diamond Heights Eichler with a steep hillside garden. The challenge: creating flat, usable outdoor living spaces by building terraces and stairs connecting the different levels. With an emphasis on texture, bold forms, and colors, this garden softens the angular landscape architecture and gives the backyard a more contemporary feeling.Continue to 4 of 50 below.
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The owners of this Boston area property wanted to stretch their living space to the outside while enjoying the beautiful woodland setting at easy reach from the back door. Landscape designers A Blade of Grass reconfigured the back porch to step down to an adjacent raised bluestone patio. The designer created a series of outdoor rooms that transition from a highly developed space to more naturalized native plantings, including an outdoor fireplace, a koi pond, a shade garden, and irregular bluestone paths.
Plants chosen for the landscape include Viburnum dentatum, pink flowering Astilbe ‘Vision in Pink’, Malus ‘Whitney’, Buxus ‘Green Mountain’, yellow grass Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’, Pennisetum ‘Hameln’, and the tree Betula ‘Whitespire’.Continue to 5 of 50 below.
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A large water basin is the centerpiece of this Islamic-style courtyard garden in Hertfordshire, England. The clients of landscape designer Fiona Green of Green Tree Garden Design previously lived in the Middle East and wanted their English garden to reflect the styles of their former home. Following the classic principles of Islamic garden design, Green designed a courtyard with a water feature in one corner with a new summerhouse in the opposite corner, which can be viewed from the courtyard seating area. Green completed the renovation by replacing the plants with specimens that offer year-round jewel-tone colors, as well as structure and scent.Continue to 6 of 50 below.
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A Midcentury Modern With 'Wow' Factor
Tasked with respecting the 1959 mid-century modern origins of this home, (fer) studio, LLP oversaw site improvements of a Sherman Oaks hilltop home owned by Davis Factor, photographer and founder of Smashbox. Preserving its post-and-beam construction and rhythm, (fer) studio added a carport, cabana, and a gym with a private patio serving the master suite. Along the way, Factor bought the property next door and his home was expanded to include a 2,700-square-foot guest house.
Along with landscape architect Victoria Pakshong of [place] landscape collaborative, (fer) studio designed a plan for the enlarged property's natural upslope. A railroad-tie path traverses the entire width of the estate, and the enlarged entryway/ driveway is made of concrete pavers and permeable Grasscrete. The pool and outdoor activity zones are built with an emphasis on the horizontal lines of the property, maintaining a low profile so that nothing obstructs that fabulous view.Continue to 7 of 50 below.
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CNC Building Professionals designed a long, floating bench that links the interior with the exterior of this home in Sydney, Australia. The homeowners' children enjoy climbing the stairs that lead from one slate-covered patio to another—the higher one acts as a stage for impromptu performances when not used as a courtyard patio.Continue to 8 of 50 below.
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Landscape designers are often consulted when a homeowner's lifestyles and needs change. For these clients of Jane Harries Garden Design, the children had "grown out of football and guinea pig ownership, and they wanted a restyle," says Harries, of Northamptonshire, England.
Starting with the removal of oversized trees, Harries reconfigured the lawn to create larger borders and an informal planting design with a romantic feel. The children's swing was replaced with a porch-style swing settee, and a water feature near the house provides a natural transition from indoors to the terrace.Continue to 9 of 50 below.
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Water-Wise, Multi-Use Yard
In this landscape, Beth Edelstein of the Los Angeles area firm BE Landscape Design removed the lawn and replaced it with raised stacked-stone planter boxes for growing vegetables and herbs. The drought-tolerant landscape design now includes benches, a fire pit, containers set on decomposed granite (DG) gravel, and concrete stepping stones.Continue to 10 of 50 below.
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Intimate English Garden
The owners of this home located in the Clapham neighborhood of London contacted Kate Eyre Garden Design for a redo that includes attractive wood fencing, a cozy seating area, and lots of gorgeous Viburnum bushes. The choice of fencing styles can do much to set the style of a landscape—the narrow horizontal rails used here make for a very contemporary look.Continue to 11 of 50 below.
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Relaxing and Informal
A winding path made of decomposed granite (DG) connects areas of this yard in Woodcote, London, England, created by Joanne Winn Garden Design. Woven rattan lounge chairs add a modern touch to this lush landscape. Flower beds soften the transition between the turf lawn and paver patio.Continue to 12 of 50 below.
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A woodland backyard near Chicago designed by Hursthouse Landscape Architects and Contractors features pathways made from pavers and shredded bark. The designers carefully respected the existing trees while creating additional privacy for the homeowners. Plants include Annabelle hydrangeas, Pachysandra 'Green Carpet' ground cover, and Mission Arborvitae evergreen shrubs.Continue to 13 of 50 below.
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The Backyard Vegetable Gardener
Love to cook with homegrown ingredients? Take a page from this gardener's book and use your empty backyard to create the ultimate vegetable garden. The geometry of a vegetable garden makes for an interesting design element while serving practical needs.
Blake uses his backyard to grow vegetables in raised boxes, including big, beautiful heirloom tomatoes in a variety of colors. You can follow his vegetable-growing adventures on his Instagram account, @backyardgardener84.Continue to 14 of 50 below.
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A woodland garden in upstate New York created by Earth Mama Landscape Design features a gravel sitting area with stacked-stone retaining wall and flagstone steps leading to the nearby woods.
The seamless transition from backyard to forest is appealing for homeowners who enjoy afternoon strolls and outdoor adventures. The extensive use of natural stone is a perfect fit for this rustic landscape.Continue to 15 of 50 below.
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Daisy's She Shed
Featured on Beautiful Homes of Instagram, Daisy Christof of Long Island, New York, posts lovely images of her home and her model dog, Theo, at @daisyhomedesign. Her she shed—which she calls Minnie—provides a welcome escape for Christof. She loves hydrangeas and has more than 80 shrubs in various species and colors.
Looking for a backyard escape of your own? A she or he shed might be the refuge you need.Continue to 16 of 50 below.
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Colorful California Landscape
Here, a cast-stone path in Northern California created by Michelle Derviss Landscape Design meanders past a colorful mix of succulents, ornamental grasses, and subtropicals such as blooming cannas. Pathways in a landscape help direct the eye as well as serving the practical function of guiding foot traffic.Continue to 17 of 50 below.
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Cast stone pavers crawl through the tall-growing lawn in this backyard located in London's Lewisham district. Designed by Simon Orchard Garden Designs, the urban space includes a separate vertical garden that maximizes space for growing fresh herbs and vegetables.Continue to 18 of 50 below.
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Coastal Landscape in Melbourne
A beautiful contemporary home in the seaside town of Blairgowrie in Victoria, Melbourne, Australia includes a swimming pool, spa, outdoor kitchen, patio, and softscape plants to add greenery to the yard. The landscape architecture was designed by Acre. Straight, square edges to the landscape features match the lines used in the contemporary home.Continue to 19 of 50 below.
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Andrea Lambert shows off home decor and garden ideas on her Instagram account, @andrea_lambert_home. Her own backyard features beautiful hydrangeas in a range of pinks, blues, and lavenders that glow with neon intensity in the bright sunlight around the pool.Continue to 20 of 50 below.
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Brooklyn Outdoor Living
The yard of a brownstone in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood received a makeover from Flo's Gardens that included a flagstone patio, a built-in ipe wood seating and dining area, and shade-tolerant plants, including ferns and Japanese maple. Small urban landscapes are often best served by patio surfaces and potted plants rather than turf lawns and flower beds.Continue to 21 of 50 below.
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The landscape architects Dear Garden Associates in bucks County, Pennsylvania were tasked with retrofitting existing farm buildings on a property with a new house and lots of land. Steep slopes backing up to the farmhouse were modified to accommodate terraces, gardens, and paths that link different areas of the property. The hardscaping was softened by plants chosen for their flowers and foliage. Among the selections: purple smokebush, Mellow Yellow spiraea, Russian sage, and smooth viburnum. Terraces are a perfect solution for steep slopes where planting is difficult.Continue to 22 of 50 below.
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Shades of Green
A monochrome planting scheme makes for an ultra-restful landscape. In this landscape designed by the Collins Group of South Carolina, an all-green color pallet features autumn fern, mondo grass, and impatiens providing small spots of color grow under a canopy of Atlas cedar trees. The pavers are actually locally sourced recycled granite curbing with mazus ground cover growing in the joints.Continue to 23 of 50 below.
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A midcentury home and yard located in the Harbor Highlands neighborhood of the Dover Shores area of Newport Beach, California was redesigned by Falling Waters Landscape. The emphasis: simple, clean, updated—and consistent with its midcentury roots. The square geometry and wide-open layout blending cooking area and seating area is a classic mid-century modern aesthetic.Continue to 24 of 50 below.
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The Wild Paysages firm of Saint-Ouen, France (home to Paris' flea market) created this privacy garden by using vines along the garden wall, tall bamboo, Japanese privet, and fragrant Burkwood Osmanthus. The children's sandbox was cleverly designed with a tight-fitting cover that stores the sand and toys when not in use, creating usable deck space.Continue to 25 of 50 below.
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A dull English garden was transformed here into a vibrant yard with circular spaces that lead to a lower-level patio. Created by Green Tree Garden Design, the garden features a cobbled path and interlinking grass circles, with pruned "ball" boxwoods that emphasize the circular theme.Continue to 26 of 50 below.
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Woods' Edge Patio
A large Chicago area backyard was redesigned by James Martin and Associates to include a traditional patio with pavers, broad lawn, and stepping stones that lead to an arbor and pergola with another outdoor seating area. Plants include white Viburnum 'Snowball' and large pots with tropicals.Continue to 27 of 50 below.
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Our Little Fox House
Karrie lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, Dan, and their four children under the age of 8. She shares images of her beautifully appointed home—mostly decorated in white—along with her big backyard on her popular Instagram account, @ourlittlefoxhouse. A circular patio with curved garden wall and seating area perfect vantage for enjoying an expansive yard that transitions into woods.Continue to 28 of 50 below.
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A small urban yard in London makes the most of its space by using walls to hold vertical gardens. Designed by Living Colour Gardens, the outdoor room features a zigzag bench of ipe hardwood with hidden illumination for fun outdoor parties at night. The patio is paved with travertine, and raised planting beds mirror the shape of the bench. Plants used here include African lilies, Japanese maples, and large alliums.Continue to 29 of 50 below.
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A neglected backyard once full of weeds, overgrown shrubs, and trees was transformed by Green Tree Garden Design. Circular stairs link the stone patio to the lawn and garden level, defined by brick retaining walls. The terraced beds are planted with colorful perennials, small evergreen shrubs, and vines. Carefully defined outdoor "rooms" make a landscape more functional and visually interesting.Continue to 30 of 50 below.
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Pergola-Covered Outdoor Recreation
Outdoor projects are a passion of North Carolina craftsman company Outdoor Artisan. Their Instagram account, @outdoorartisan, shares images of their projects, including this outdoor living room with a pergola. Complete with cooking appliances, a big-screen TV and eating counters, this outdoor space is just as full-featured as any indoor open-concept kitchen/entertainment space.Continue to 31 of 50 below.
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Even inside the city limits of Lafayette, Louisiana, the Designs by Robin team managed to maximize lawn space by creating a narrow custom pool. Although small, the pool includes a tanning ledge with partial submersion, a fountain, and decking that separates it from the lawn, while allowing easy entry and exit for swimmers.Continue to 32 of 50 below.
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A Burst of Color
For homeowners who once lived in Lebanon, A. J. Miller Landscape Architecture of Syracuse, New York, opened up the backyard and chose colorful plants with a Mediterranean look. Within a limited amount of outdoor space, the firm designed areas for frequent outdoor entertaining and dining.Continue to 33 of 50 below.
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Using a color palette based on the tones of a tree in the center of the garden, O Plus L blended the interior with the exterior of this California Modernist home in a neighborhood of Pacific Palisades known as the Ravoli Estate. This was achieved by using the same surface and flooring materials inside and out the home and by echoing the home's horizontal architectural lines in the hardscape features.Continue to 34 of 50 below.
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Potrero Hill Yard with a View
The owners of this home in Potrero Hill near San Francisco asked Seed Studio to redesign the backyard so that it felt intimate yet could accommodate large gatherings. An outdoor living room featuring a seat-high deck surrounding a Corten steel wood-burning fire pit offers views of nearby Bernal Hill. Plants that work well with the rocky soil include succulents and bamboo.Continue to 35 of 50 below.
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Kansas City Contemporary
A path that begins in the front yard of this Kansas City, Missouri, home leads to the backyard and deck. The entire property was transformed by landscape designer Aaron Bradley of Aesthetic Outdoor Design.Continue to 36 of 50 below.
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Pergola and Privacy
Here, a self-contained stone patio designed by Rolling Landscapes is situated near the house to provide the owners with an outdoor kitchen, living room, and vine-covered pergola that creates shelter and privacy.Continue to 37 of 50 below.
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A geometric backyard designed by James Martin and Associates of Vernon Hills, Illinois, features bluestone steps, a retaining wall, and embedded pavers. Deciduous shrubs and small trees were selected to maximize the seasonal color that is so common in Midwest landscapes.Continue to 38 of 50 below.
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Tiny Tucson Yard
A townhouse in Tucson, Arizona was expertly remodeled by Prideaux Design. It makes good use of the colors found the surrounding desert and incorporates a spa, outdoor kitchen, seating and dining areas, and a place to lounge. In climates where the weather is favorable year-round, the landscaping is critical to complete enjoyment of a home.Continue to 39 of 50 below.
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Empty Nesters' Fire Pit
When the offspring flew the coop, the owners of this home in Menlo Park, California enlisted the expertise of Sycamore Design to create a more adult-oriented backyard. Sycamore designed a backyard with an emphasis on entertaining, dining, and relaxing by the fire pit. No-fuss features include gravel paving and low-maintenance native plants.Continue to 40 of 50 below.
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Long Garden in Strawberry Hill
By day, this long, narrow London backyard redesigned by Echinops Garden Design is a series of modern terraces with ipe hardwood seating and Western red cedar fencing. At night, the garden lights up as each level offers a different vibe, with built-in seating and plants illuminated in different colors.Continue to 41 of 50 below.
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Pool Area Paradise
Once a boring courtyard, this renovation in Naples, Florida became an outdoor space that reflects the flair of its location. Designed by Malibu West Interiors, the patio is surfaced in a non-skid textured porcelain tile. The pool coping was custom-cast in concrete to mimic the shape of the swimming pool. A colorful wall piece made of teak includes pops of glass tile.Continue to 42 of 50 below.
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Modern Dining Terrace
By losing the lawn, installing drought-tolerant plants, adding a water feature, and raising a dining terrace, Genus Loci Ecological Landscapes updated this yard in Toronto, Canada. The dining area wall also provides another layer of privacy and sound isolation.Continue to 43 of 50 below.
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A backyard designed by Bliss Garden Design of Seattle takes advantage of the frequent rainfall by incorporating plants that are appropriate to the climate. The effect is that of a northern coastal rainforest, a lush, private backyard that offers its owners a true escape.Continue to 44 of 50 below.
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Pool and Patio for Entertaining
A home in the Chicago suburbs designed by James Martin and Associates focuses on outdoor entertaining, including a swimming pool, patio, view, and several seating areas. Good landscape design will always take advantage of whatever local scenery is available—in this case, the vast expanse of Lake Michigan in the distance.Continue to 45 of 50 below.
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Portland Yard TransformationContinue to 47 of 50 below.
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Chicago MakeoverContinue to 48 of 50 below.
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A synthetic lawn gives the look of a lush English backyard without the maintenance, as seen in this design by Tom Howard Garden Design and Landscaping. Square pavers are embedded in the faux lawn near a narrow planting bed that features Spanish olive trees and leads to a corner built-in seating area.Continue to 49 of 50 below.
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Kentish Town City Garden
A petite plot in the northwest London burg of Kentish Town was designed by Fork Garden Design to include a synthetic storage bench topped synthetic decking and a synthetic lawn. Small landscapes call for features that serve multiple functions.Continue to 50 of 50 below.
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An outdoor dining space designed by Eckersley Garden Architecture of Victoria, Australia, features a vine-covered pergola that provides shade and ambiance. In good landscape design, the vertical and overhead elements are always managed to good effect. Otherwise, the landscape is nothing more than a backyard.