They didn't intend to become do-it-yourselfers, but after consulting with a landscape architect who told them, "My gardens start at $50,000," Michael Moore and Chad Rothman had a change of plans.
"We had been thinking it would cost $10,000 to $15,000, so it was time to figure out how to do a lot of the work ourselves," Moore said.
The couple's 1920s Spanish-style home in the Brookside neighborhood, just south of Hancock Park, is 1,500 square feet, making an attached deck all the more valuable as extra living space. But whenever they used it, the men found themselves staring at an uninspiring backyard.
Then a windstorm this year knocked down one large section of fencing, prompting them to replace the whole thing. Through the house flipper next door, Moore and Rothman met Creole Walker of Creative Design Works.
"Creole's estimate was one-third of the first bid we got from a different fence company, and he came highly recommended, so it was a no-brainer," Rothman said.
Walker replaced the old vertical-slat fence with new cedar boards that ran horizontally and were finished in a rich brown stain. "Suddenly, we had an amazing fence, and everything else looked awful against it," Moore said.
And so the backyard makeover began. The couple, who both work in the entertainment industry — Moore as a legal executive, Rothman as a creative director in marketing — tackled demolition and cosmetic finishes themselves.
When a tree had to be removed, they claimed the space for a cedar deck, slightly elevated above the new lawn and proportioned like an indoor living room. "That one decision created what is the centerpiece of the new yard — and also gave us 130 square feet of outdoor living area," Moore said.
The existing fire pit, capped with brick and centered on a kidney-shaped brick patio, wasn't in an ideal location, but it was already piped for gas. "It didn't look awful," Moore said. "It just wasn't us." Another too-high bid, this time $4,000 to resurface the fire pit brick, led Rothman and Moore to try a product they had seen advertised on TV: surface bonding cement. The smooth, modern finish went on after Moore used a chisel and a disk grinder to cut and sand away stucco and brick.
"We refinished the entire fire pit for $200 — plus a ton of our labor," he said.
Yes, they saved money. And yes, they spent most of their spring and summer weekends working on the project. But the backyard renovation also taught Moore and Rothman how to use unfamiliar tools, get creative and source materials.
Daily checks on Craigslist helped them furnish the two entertaining areas. Moore snagged a set of Restoration Hardware all-weather wicker just minutes after a Hollywood producer's assistant posted it for sale. He found the powder-coated cast aluminum seating from another seller, paying one-third of the retail price.
Now when friends come to visit, the party starts with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails on the raised deck. After dark, the entourage moves to the fire pit. The chairs pivot to face a refreshed garage wall that now serves as a screen for movies. There's new outdoor cabinetry, which Walker built to match the fencing. It serves as a bar but also hides the gas and irrigation systems from view.
"For someone who likes instant gratification, the long process definitely delayed my enjoyment of the final project," Rothman said. "But it was worth every swing of the sledgehammer."
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