How an “Unusable” Back Yard Was Transformed Into One Family’s Private Resort

When tasked with turning a normal Southern California yard into an oasis, the landscape designers at Kate Anne Design Build set about converting unusable grass slopes into rustic and functional “rooms.” With sculpted spaces for pets and kids alike, the new patio—complete with an Argentine grill, built-in bench dining area, and firepit—is the epicenter of the client’s family life. The homeowner is a grilling enthusiast who wanted a home suited for a casual but refined dining experience. So the designers delivered calming and comfortable zones for private lounging, cooking, and play. A selection of contemporary grey and black metal tones pop against weathered teak furniture, lending private resort vibes to the backyard.

Unique material and design choices make the space feel clean and cozy: Patterned turf gaps in the cement have both an aesthetic and functional use for water drainage. High-pressure cement with metal reinforcements was used to make a sleek counter for the outdoor kitchen. Even the pool has a new luster after just a plaster refresh. Blending the positives of what was already in place—like the hardscape near the garage—with soft touches like landscape lighting and bistro-style illumination, Kate Anne and Greg Ross delivered a well-designed space that doesn’t look or feel overcrowded.

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Q & A

House Beautiful: Did you keep any elements of the original space in your overhaul?

 

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Kate Anne Design Build: The existing landing, stairs, and railing off the living room was already so lovely and blended with the architecture so well. We modified the railing slightly to work with the new flows as you enter the patio space from the stairs. The pool just got a plaster refresh.

HB: What was the biggest challenge during the renovation?

KADB: Working with the natural grade of the yard and making it feel leveled within a tight space—while maintaining proper drainage. Because we decided to work with so many ‘rooms’ within the yard, the smart use of space and material selections was a top priority for us. We wanted to keep the yard feeling open, soft, and natural without being cramped.

HB: The best solution?

KADB: For the outdoor kitchen, we had to get clever in creating a way to have a thin concrete counter rather than the usual 4” thick bulky cement counters that are so common. We had to use high-pressure cement and a lot of metal reinforcement within the cement. We also had to get very creative with the site drainage in the rear, as we were dealing with such tight spaces; the use of turf gaps in the cement served a dual purpose in helping greatly with drainage without need for a roller coaster of slopes to patio drains.

HB: What “zones” did you define within the space?

KADB: We like to refer to these as “rooms” within the yard:

  1. The lawn space where we converted a portion of the driveway connecting to the rear patio areas, for use by the pets and kids to play
  2. The firepit lounge space with a 36” wood-burning steel fire pit bowl
  3. The dining area with built-in bench
  4. The chaise lounge area at the base of the steps leading down to the pool patio from the living room
  5. The grilling center, which is the nucleus of the space

HB: What’s your favorite thing about the finished space?

KADB: Our favorite thing about the finished space is how open it feels while providing so many different ‘rooms’ within the yard to enjoy. I love how we used limited materials and repeated them throughout, resulting in a perfectly clean, refined, rustic feel to the space.

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Nafeesah Allen, Ph.D. is a multi-lingual author, independent researcher, editor, and contributing writer for various national online publications. She frequently covers personal finance, family, culture, real estate, and discrimination. She also leads BlackHistoryBookshelf.com, a book review website that highlights global Black histories organized by language, theme, and country. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @theblaxpat.

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