Tips For Creating A Backyard Oasis

Middle-Aged House LoveBy Julie C.

Four years ago my new husband and I moved into our ‘forever’ house. To this day we still can’t believe we live here, nor can HE believe that we’re still working on projects. He should know by now that we’ll never be done – it’s not just home improvement to me, it’s an obsession. Call us “Middle-Aged House Love”

Most of our projects thus far have been inside, and while that constantly-evolving list remains unfinished, we both agreed that it was past time to hit the deck. Literally. Since our home had sat empty for over a year before we bought it, the acre lot was in sad shape when we moved in. We’ve worked hard to update and rejuvenate the lawn and landscaping and it’s looking great, but the deck attached to the back of the house was beyond help and had to be changed. So it was sometime back in January this year I started my Trash-the-Deck Campaign. It took a little while to get The Husband on board, but in the end he knew to fight it was a losing battle. Yep. Happy wife… yada yada.Old deck before picture

First I took my own advice and set a budget perimeter (Our budget was money saved for an Italy trip. Ciao to that plan). One thing you should know about me is that I’m all about “the Deal”. While the Husband can remember the most obscure sports facts, for me it’s where I bought it, how much I paid and what it’s really worth. So naturally, for this project, it was important to me to get the most bang for my buck and that meant prioritizing: function, looks, relaxation, shade, and entertainment. That’s my list, but yours may be totally different.

We wanted a more functional and better-looking deck, so the first step was to tear the top boards off the existing deck and then to scale back the overall size. I drew the out the plans and researched ideas to add to my backyard ideabook on This site is by far the best place to get ideas for basically anything house- or yard-related, and has a tool for you to save your favorites. To get the shade we wanted I chose to add a pergola with columns and a metal roof. deck overview with gazeboLet me tell you, I fought hard for that roof as the Husband did not agree with me. Ha! I love I told you so’s. (An added benefit of the metal roof is the amazing sound of the rain hitting it – so nostalgic!) Next, we shopped an outdoor outlet for a new hot tub to add the relaxing component we wanted. We found a great deal and added a concrete pad to the plan for the hot tub to sit on.Hot tub

Since neither the Husband nor I have any building experience (and we’re getting too old for that level of physical labor anyway), enter Our Guy (everyone needs one). He had helped with our small interior projects, but he is also an experienced house builder. After looking at my plan, he had a couple good suggestions, and in the end I gave him major credit for taking my rudimentary drawings and a couple of Houzz photos and making my vision a reality! The finished deck/pergola blocks the midday sun, the west sun is blocked by drapes (IKEA panels hung on a plumbing pipe), the new hot tub fits perfectly on the concrete slab with decking steps built along two sides, and an outdoor ceiling fan circulates the air. Perfection.finished deck

The next phrase was the pea gravel patio that I planned to enlarge the outdoor living and visual space (sort of a European look). It took ten tons of pea gravel to cover the forty-plus foot area from the deck to a small copse of trees with brick pavers used to edge the lawn on either side (This labor was done in 4 hours by Our Guy #2 and his crew. Thank God.)gravel patio Our Guy brought the electrical from the house out to the copse of trees so I could incorporate two forty-eight foot commercial lighting strings (Amazon) to give the area a beer garden look. For a little added drama I placed an uplight in the center of the trees, too. So now instead of a visual black-hole at the edge of the deck in the evening, the lit-up pea-gravel patio extends the visual line forty-plus feet to that copse of trees.outdoor lighting

We can honestly say we have no regrets spending our vacation stash and we would do it again – exactly the same way! Now that we have our own version of paradise right outside the back door, we’ve already entertained several times, had the grandkids over for hot tub fun, and thoroughly enjoyed a stay-cation. Maybe we’ll visit you again in the future, Italy, but for now we’re more than happy right here. Ciao.

About the Author:

JulieJulie Choquette must decorate! Must paint! Must re-purpose! She has retirement dreams of turning those passions of painting, decorating/design, reading, writing and photography from part-time endeavors into something grand.

Julie’s been told she’s ‘Best Nana Ever’, and works hard to keep that title! She loves being a nana, mother and wife. She really loves being an empty-nester with her husband, feeling blessed that she was given a second chance at love/happiness/life! She has worked as a director/department head & grant writer for a government/non-profit agency for 20 years, but is more than ready to see what the next phase brings.

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  1. Patty says

    Julie I love it! I love the romantic touches like the tin roof so you can hear the rain and the lighting!

    I also liked the mix of deck/patio areas.

    I look forward to seeing more from you!

  2. Deborah says

    I absolutely love it!
    What a beautiful space you and “your guys” created.
    Have you thought about marketing your talent?

  3. says

    You shouldn’t have any doubts about using your vacation money for your project since now your backyard is its own getaway. It looks wonderful! Thanks for sharing your experience and advice.

  4. Jen says


    I LOVE YOUR NEW BACKYARD!!! The lights, the hot tub, the columns… It’s all perfection!
    I’m going to have to find some of those lights on Amazon.
    Welcome to IW!!!

  5. says

    I dream and daydream about doing stuff like this to my backyard. We have a HUGE backyard so it would take a lot of funds, but creating a backyard oasis is def. on my to-do (or should I say honey-do) list!

  6. Chardonnay says

    Your backyard is awesome! When you own a home, the work seems to be ongoing! One project always leads to another then another. Thanks for letting us know about

  7. JennieIW says

    Your backyard looks lovely! I adore outdoor light strings; I’d keep Christmas lights up all year if I could. :-)

  8. says

    Julie, welcome and thank you for sharing this with us. You have truly inspired me to want to do more with my own back yard. Most of my changes have been small to date, but I want to do something big scale and FANTASTIC like you have.
    How did you find “Our Guy”? Any chance he will travel around the country helping IW readers with their home projects? Just kidding (mostly). 😉

  9. Julie C says

    Submitting this 1st article was truly a leap of faith for me – WOW! Thank you, thank you, thank you – for all the wonderful comments and kind words. I have been decorating my interiors (& some other folks’!) for what seems like my entire life and this is my 1st big outdoor project, but I, like you, Ashley B, have dreamed of it my whole life! I think the first key is working with what you have, and then making it what you and your family need. And you’re correct, Michele – my guys were outstanding; self-employed & proud of the finished product! We acted as our own general contractor to keep it less expensive & to keep control. And Deborah, I’ve been approached about starting a blog – a friend and I do a little interior staging on the side, so I just might see where it goes! Anya@IW – I used a contractor I knew, and the landscaper came recommended from our local nursery here in Illinois. Jen, I will share the commercial string lighting & 11 watt bulb info from Amazon on here (when I find it!). Thanks again, everyone – next up maybe something inside?

  10. Deborah says

    I would love to see more of your projects, inside and out.
    What shows is that you thought it through, a plan of what you wanted, and put your heart into it.
    I think you would make a great consultant.

  11. Lily@IW says

    I love the patio, it’s so big and inviting. Lol, that’s a lot of pea gravel. Nice idea to hold out for the roof, so cozy to sit under and enjoy the rain (and the sound of the rain). Very relaxing.

    It turned out wonderful. Nice job!

  12. Sage says

    What a gorgeous back yard. Welcome to IW and I am looking forward to hearing more of your decorating projects.

  13. DI says

    I’m drooling here. Everything looks just beautiful. It’s 90+ degrees out yet your story inspired me and I’m thinking I need to get in the backyard/patio today to do some work!

  14. Ann@IW says

    You were very wise to add the roof, and a metal one at that! to your deck. How nice.

    I couldn’t agree more about everyone needing an “Our Guy.” My husband an I are too old for this stuff too, and my husband’s time at home is too precious. Also, in a bad economy, those who can hire someone who needs the work should. “Our Guy” is great around here!

  15. snickers says

    Wow, love your yard. As a outside gal and planning on putting a walking path into my gardens, the pea rock looks inviting. Ten tons?/ my guy would have the big one. :) I am looking at pavers, wet spring, so nothing got done. I may rethink my ideas now. Thanks and welcome to IW.

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