If anyone is well acquainted with the highs and lows of home renovation, it’s Lovecraft Country (HBO Max) actress Jamie Chung. Alongside her husband and fellow actor, Bryan Greenberg of One Tree Hill fame, the couple moved into their Fort Greene condo in Brooklyn only to discover they had an unexpected project on their hands. Now, two years later and just in time for summer, Jamie’s thrilled to finally unveil their newly completed backyard space.
We talked with Jamie about the entire process—from discovering structural issues to putting the finishing touches on the space. It’s been a true labor of love, she said.
'New Build' Does Not Mean 'No Problems'
“We purchased a new build and I think there needs to be more information out there about what to look for when you’re buying a new home,” said Jamie. “We had someone come to the house who was very reputable in terms of checking out the house for insurance and he missed so much stuff.”
After discovering their foundation needed major repairs, the couple took on a massive—and unexpected—refurbishment and renovation project. But now that their building is safe and structurally sound, they’re eagerly looking forward by focusing on the backyard of their ground-floor apartment.
A Perpetual Work-in-Progress
“At one point, we had construction above us, on both sides of us, and behind us,” said Jamie. “When the foundation for the project next door was complete, we were able to fix our paver stones, and so we’re just now starting to use our backyard, just in time for summer!”
With the end goal of creating a beautiful outdoor dining area perfect for entertaining, Jamie knew that she wanted to make the space as comfortable as possible—but it started out as “an absolute mess!”
As they juggled their interior renovation, "our backyard just turned into storage—the old furniture that we had didn’t really flow with the vibe we were going for, there was way too much seating and no place to eat. Nothing was central, it wasn’t designed! Everything was very temporary. So we donated all of that furniture and wanted to focus on a dining room setting.”
The Goal: A Place for Family & Friends
Because the couple loves entertaining, they wanted their outdoor space to feel like an escape for themselves as much as their friends and family. “Having a backyard space in New York is a luxury and we really wanted to take advantage of that.”
Describing her outdoor aesthetic as “cozy bohemian” as well as “rustic and homey,” Jamie was particularly eager to upcycle the leftover wood they kept from replacing the interior’s support beams to create their dining room table and benches. “Seating is really important. You want to make sure it’s comfortable!”
DIY Projects for the Whole Family
As a spokesperson for American Express Membership Rewards, Jamie turned to her points to help her stock up on supplies. “I used my Membership Rewards to get gift cards from Home Depot for all of the supplies we needed to make the table, sand the table, and then protect the table.”
Jamie laughed as she recalled how many people in their extended family came to help create their new backyard furniture. “Literally everyone who came to New York and stayed with us, we were like, ‘Hey we have this project, why don’t you help us out?’ And then my sister and my sister’s wife came and we made the benches together and she helped stain the table and then I did the second coat. It was a really fun family affair!”
Pops of Color & Function
Along with the materials for creating their new dining set, Jamie also used her credit card points to splash out on her outdoor accessories. “I used Membership Rewards to buy the mint-colored lounger chairs and a cute little bar. It added so much necessary color to our backyard.”
Jamie noted that the bar is a functional necessity, too. “Having a bar outdoors is really important so you don’t have to constantly go in and out for refreshments to hydrate––or to dehydrate––yourself!”
Use Lighting to Set the Mood
Once the furniture was complete, Jamie added hanging tea lights for ambiance. “Lighting is really important, especially if you want to do dinners,” said Jamie. “If there’s not one central lighting piece, I would highly recommend using tealights. And if not tealights, then candles for the table.”
Along with upcycling their leftover wood, Jamie was also passionate about supporting local businesses in her decor efforts—and Membership Rewards was able to help her with this, too. “[There’s a tab] called Shop Small Marketplace, and that’s how I found a lot of artisans from Brooklyn, like Rough Linen, Hudson Wilder, and Franca. All the flatware, pottery, linens were locally sourced, so that was really cool.”
While the pay-off has been huge, renovation “requires a lot of planning,” warns Jamie. After learning how important that was for the interiors, she was well aware that they had to be meticulous when planning their outdoor space.
“It always starts with a collage… it’s important to have visuals. Because a lot of the time you love this one rug or you love this one chair, but it doesn’t really go together. I’ve made that mistake [before], and it’s so wasteful and it’s a huge pain in the butt!”
Once you create your vision, Jamie advises marking out your zones within the space. “I used blue painter's tape on the floor to kind of configure where the items could go,” she said. Recalling the time she bought a beautiful dining set for their LA home only to realize there was no room to navigate the space around the table, Jamie said was not going to make the same mistakes again. “All learning pains and learning experiences!”
Making the Most of Lingering Construction
Currently, Jamie and Bryan are still struggling with scaffolding that’s covering their entire backyard from thirty feet above. “It’s such an eyesore, but we didn’t want that to rain on our parade for our summer. [We want] to be able to entertain outdoors. So I was like, hey, why don’t we just use what we have? It kind of looks like a curtain rod.”
Jamie bought a bunch of linen from Rough Linen and used it as drapery, and then pulled the same fabric onto her tables by using it as napkins. It might not have been part of the initial design plan, but “it fit this destination vibe,” Jamie said, citing the Parker Hotel in Palm Springs as inspiration. “They have all these beautiful tents and little cabanas, and we wanted to get that vibe.”
But with her expectations in check, Jamie’s not letting the remaining construction bring them down.
“It’s New York City, you’re always dealing with construction. It’s the city that never sleeps!” she said. “But [our place] is all done, and it’s safe. Now, we’re just focusing on our amazing backyard.”