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Before & After: A boring backyard is transformed with outdoor 'rooms' for entertaining and play

When landscape designer Becky Bourdeau first visited Miriam Yoo and Ryan Cooper’s Mid-City backyard, it was like an empty void.

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With its swath of dead lawn and concrete pads, the barren yard was at odds with the warmth and charm of the 1928 Spanish bungalow.

“You walked out there and there was no sense of definition, or flow,” Bourdeau says. “You didn’t know where to spend time or set up furniture.”

After living in condominiums, Yoo, 36, and Cooper, 37, were excited to own their first home and have an opportunity to entertain outdoors.

The backyard before it was redone...
The backyard before it was redone... (Becky Bourdeau)
...and after. The couple moved the door on the detached garage and added a pergola, pendant and furniture to create a functional outdoor living room.
...and after. The couple moved the door on the detached garage and added a pergola, pendant and furniture to create a functional outdoor living room. (Bethany Nauert)

California’s long-running drought, however, prompted them to stop watering the lawns, hire Bourdeau, Potted’s in-house landscape designer, and rethink the yard as a low-water multiuse space.

“Our main objective was to create a place to congregate,” says Yoo, who recently left her job as an entertainment attorney to open the wine and lifestyle store Flask & Field at Row DTLA. “When we entertain, it’s either a group of four to six or it’s 30 people. ”

“We are homebodies,” adds Cooper, who is head of production at Fullscreen. “We wanted a place where we can host our friends. “

The backyard before ...
The backyard before ... (Becky Bourdeau)
... and after.
... and after. (Bethany Nauert)

Bourdeau attacked the backyard by dividing the lot into “logical segments.”

A new pergola and concrete patio attached to the garage create a cozy outdoor living room complete with couches, chairs and a coffee table.

Behind the garage, a small strip of lawn serves as a dog run for the couple’s two pooches.

Inexpensive concrete block pavers, pea gravel and decomposed granite circulate throughout the yard and connect the “rooms” to give the backyard a modern aesthetic.

Lavender, bougainvillea and yellow kangaroo paws add color while boldly textured golden barrel cactus, prickly pear and agave stand out in the planting beds.

“All of the living spaces were rectangular,” Bourdeau says. “By crafting beds with organic edges, it softens the spaces.”

The rear of the yard before ...
The rear of the yard before ... (Becky Bourdeau)
... and after. Strips of concrete create a visually pleasing place to park the couple's Vanagon.
... and after. Strips of concrete create a visually pleasing place to park the couple's Vanagon. (Bethany Nauert)

Fruitless olive trees provide screening between “rooms” and help to define an open space where the couple and their friends play the popular beanbag toss game Cornhole. “I like the sense of intimacy that is created out there,” Bourdeau says. “It’s a flexible space and can be whatever they want.”

Next to it, the couple park their Volkswagen Vanagon on visually pleasing strips of concrete.

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In front, Bourdeau kept the existing brick walkway and added drought-tolerant plants in bold shapes and color – aloes and pink flowering calandrinia -- and gravel.

Before they began, the couple budgeted around $25,000 for the project. In the end, they spent roughly twice that amount, including plants, installation, designer fees, lighting, furniture, contractor’s fees, materials, labor, stucco and structural changes to the garage.

The backyard no longer feels like a cavernous lot, but an intimate space where the couple can have coffee together, putter, and visit with their two dogs.

“We love spending time out there,” says Cooper, who built a potting table and vegetable planter along with the Cornhole set. “It’s therapeutic.”

Adds Yoo: “We view it as an investment in ourselves.”

A concrete pad serves as an outdoor dining room. A step was added to allow better access from the master bedroom.
A concrete pad serves as an outdoor dining room. A step was added to allow better access from the master bedroom. (Bethany Nauert)

Tips from the pro:

Think before you start

“Don’t presume that everything needs to be removed,” advises Bourdeau, who used existing plants, concrete and a brick walkway in front. “If you have something that is in perfectly good condition, work with it. There is character there.”

Your yard is not a blank canvas

Have a concrete pad? “Put down a rug and some furniture. It elevates the space,” Bourdeau says.

Divide areas with trees

Bourdeau created a screen for the play area by planting six fruitless olive trees in 15-gallon pots.

Think small

“Garden rooms don’t take a lot of construction,” Bourdeau says. “A well-placed planter bed or two types of paving can add a lot to an outdoor space. A square of decomposed granite placed up against gravel can define two different outdoor spaces.”

Desert landscapes don’t have to be dull

Strong shapes and textures such as drought-tolerant golden barrel cactus and white stripe agave create a dynamic landscape. “The yard feels like Palm Springs more than Los Angeles,” Bourdeau says.

Cactus, aloes and foxtail fern make a statement.
Cactus, aloes and foxtail fern make a statement. (Bethany Nauert)

Plant list:

Trees

Citrus 'Dwarf Eureka,' dwarf lemon tree

Dodonaea Viscosa Purpurea, purple hopseed bush

Olea Europaea 'MajesticBeauty,' fruitless olive

Parkinsonia aculeata, Mexican Palo Verde

Shrubs, succulents and perennials

Aeonium 'Voodoo,' voodoo aeonium

Aeonium arboreum 'Atropurpureum,' purple aeonium

Agave americana mediopicta 'Alba,' white stripe agave

Agave attenuata, foxtail agave

Agave attenuata 'Ray of Light,' variegated foxtail agave

Aloe striata, coral aloe

Anigozanthos 'Gold Velvet,' yellow kangaroo paws

Arctotis stoechadifolia, cream African daisy

Asparagus densiflorus 'Myers,' foxtail fern

Bougainvillea 'La Jolla,' red bougainvillea

Calandrinia grandifolia, calandrinia

Chondropetalum tectorum, small cape rush

Cleistocactus strausii, snow pole cactus

Dymondia margaretae, dymondia flat

Echinocactus grusonii, golden barrel cactus

Euphorbia myrsinites, creeping spurge

Hesperaloe 'Yellow Sun,' yellow hesperaloe

Kalanchoe beharensis, felt leaf kalanchoe

Kalanchoe orgyalis ‘CopperSpoons,’ kalanchoe

Lavandula angustifolia, English lavender

Leucadendron 'Safari Goldstrike,' yellow conebush

Opuntia spp., prickly pear No. 5

Phormium Alison Blackman

Phormium 'Black Adder,’ black phormium

Phormium 'Jack Spratt,’ Jack Spratt phormium

Salvia chamaedryoides, germander sage

Sedum nussbaumerianum, coppertone sedum

Senecio cylindricus, narrow leaf chalk fingers

Trachelospermum jasminoides, star jasmine

Twitter: @lisaboone19

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