Outdoor Makeover How To:

Hello friends. Today i’m presenting an outdoor   i did for HGTV.com.  It’s a 3 minute video documenting the make over of this space.  Watch it watch it watch it HERE PLEASE WATCH IT, and then read this. Or read this and then watch it. I’ll go ahead and leave that up to you.  But if you want to comment away, that would be awesome. 

OK. Here she is before:


Welcome to a very sad backyard of a very happy person.  HGTV asked me to do two backyard make overs for $1000 each.  Now, backyards aren’t my forte, i know very little about plants besides what i think looks awesome, so i was a bit intimidated. But the story was more about creating an outdoor room, so I figured i could handle that. I love rooms. Outdoor.

The parameters were it had to be done in 1 DAY, for $1000.  Here’s how it turned out:

I called it ‘Bohemian Treehouse’.  

Breaking it down:

Backyard rooms need three major things just like indoor rooms:

1. Furniture.  Obvi.  The choice is between an outdoor dining room and an outdoor living room and in this case I gave her mostly an outdoor living room, with a round dining table in the corner that seats 4.  

2. Lighting.  Just like an indoor room you need good lighting outside.  Ideally it would be above, which also creates a ceiling effect and helps it feel more intimate.  Also it distributes the light evenly for the best mood lighting.  (if you have a pergola that is ideal). But then you also want candles which would be the ‘lamps’ in the outdoor room and scatter the warm light around you, too.

3. Accessories.  For outdoors the ‘accessories’ are mostly plants and pillows.  I didn’t have the budget to style this space with drinks, food, etc, but i wanted it to still feel comfy and cozy – like an indoor room.  

So lets start with the inspiration pics:

I wanted it to feel kinda ‘treehouse’-y because she lived in the hills and was surrounded by trees.  So i wanted to go with that vibe.  Plus since i knew i wanted a bright hot pink color palette, which is obviously very feminine, i figured that using trees or stumps would counter that and help it feel more masculine.  If i had used really feminine white wire or wicker furniture with this hot pink palette it could have looked really good, but also really crazy grandma, so to balance it i mixed the two styles. 

To save money, i wanted a daybed because it acts like a sofa and a lounge at the same time, and its way less expensive than a fancy outdoor sofa.  Plus it has a whimsical, playful, feminine vibe that i loved.  

So i found this guy at my guys stores on Lankershim, 

She was $200 and 100% teak so its going to last outside year round (especially in Los Angeles).  I figured i could throw a foam pad on it and a bunch of pillows and it would be super comfortable and very affordable. 

Then at the Long Beach flea market i found 2 of these for $30 each. Here’s why they work:

a. They are around the same tone of wood as the daybed.  Not that i’m always opposed to mixing woods, but for tv it doesn’t look as good, and mixing woods can look accidental.  So I was happy that while the shape didn’t match necessarily, the wood did.  

b. They are large enough in scale to balance out the sofa.  If i had put two smaller chairs they would have looked way to small to go opposite a long sofa, so these being fairly wide balance it out. 

c. They are a more feminine shape to balance out the masculine rectangular shape of the sofa.  The easiest way to remember feminine vs masculine is feminine means it has curves – yes like women. And masculine means its straighter and more square or rectangular – like men. The perfect room has a balance of both.  

Next up? the rug:

I love this rug for an outdoor rug.  Its from Fab Habitat  It was $108 for a 6×9 and they have a ton of other really cute outdoor rugs, too. I’m actually wondering if these would be great for a kids playroom, too, because they are made from recycled plastic so they are virtually indestructible.  

You know i love hot pink, and especially for TV purposes, you need more color than you do for photographs.  That white pretty room in a photograph normally looks totally dead in a video, so you need color color color.

Planters: God, they can be annoyingly expensive.  You could literally spend $1000 just on planters for a space like this.  So i decided to get a bunch of galvanized bins from the flea market.  

These are great because they have age and the more age they get, the better. The color contrasted well with the hot pink (grey/silver and pink = good combo of cool and warm tones), they are inexpensive for the size of them and they come in all different sizes so you can get the collected feel.  I bought about 20 of them for $150 – some were huge and some were small.  

But you have to drill holes in the bottom so they can drain, and you do this simply by using a drill bit that is specifically for metal.  Put 2-3 holes if they are small in the bottom. You don’t want to put too many holes because you don’t want to over drain them and lose all the water.  

I highly recommend buying used ones. The new shiny ones just aren’t pretty, they aren’t.  Instead go for this look:

Cheap and beautiful. It looks collected, effortless and totally chic – without looking fussy and uptight. It has this english countryside vibe that i love. 


Lights: When in doubt go for ‘cafe’ style globe string lights. Yes, they can be expensive (around $15-20 a strand and in this case we needed 5 strands) but they are durable (especially if you live in LA) and give off great light.  They have that European cafe thing happening. 

I bought mine from Lowe’s but i know that Costplus has good ones so does Restoration Hardware if you want bigger and higher end ones.  

Then i used stakes like these with a hook on it to secure it to the hill:

And eye hooks (with an opening) to attach it to the roof of the house:

It was super easy. 

It looks low on the hill side, but its not – it cleared 6 1/2 feet. 


Why? To add to the treehouse vibe, to masculinize up the space. And because they are fun and interesting. BUT mostly because they are $5 a piece. I”m not kidding. The bigger ones were $10, but i bought all of them (around 8) for $50.  You can use them for tables, extra seating and plant stands.

I went to Alpine firewood in Altadena. It’s basically where tree guys drop off trees to get turned into firewood.  Don’t worry, they aren’t chopping down trees just for firewood, its trees that have to be cleared for building or construction, etc.  You obviously need to look for the most level ones to turn into tables or stools.

And then as you watch the video i put some on castors because they are SUPER SUPER SUPER HEAVY.

It was super easy.  Just buy 3 of these guys per stump:

Drill holes in the stump and screw those suckers in.

I bought them to be small enough that you can’t really see them. They aren’t terribly attractive, so if you don’t think you are going to need to move it, then don’t worry about it.  But in general i put castors on A LOT of things to either make them higher (like regular chairs to turn them into dining chairs).  


The little dining nook was cute.  I used the homeowners dining table and chairs and just threw a tablecloth (leftover fabric from my inventory) on it.  Disregard the pillows. The director wanted more color over there, but they aren’t ideal – they look crammed.  

There was also this dirt patch that I didn’t know how to address:

It was awkard and sad. Also notice the wicker shelving thing got an update with white exterior paint.

So i filled it with lavender.  Lavender is cheap (these were each $5), smells so good, and it grows like crazy without any maintenance. By next summer this will be a huge lavender field (but contained) and will smell soooo good. They are also very drought resistant which is obviously good for Los Angeles.  They look kinda dinky here, but by next year its going to be beautiful.  

As far as buying the rest of the plants i wanted a variety of colors shapes and textures – just like any other design.  I wanted some tall things to help it create a ‘room’ effect so i bought these fruit trees:

They were orange trees and lemon trees and if you put them in a big enough galvanized bins they will be just fine.

A simple rule for a collected plant look would be to have one tall, one bushy and one lower to the ground to kinda cover the other pots.  I got some with darker purple leaves, some with more wispy and some wit more graphic leaves.  Consider plants just like patterns – you want to vary the scale and texture of each plant (big graphic leaves with airy wispy leaves) to get a lot of contrast and to look intentional.  

For accessories:

We couldn’t afford sunbrella fabric which obviously would be idea. So i went for white linen from Ikea – it kept it looking really relaxed and inviting PLUS, you can always bleach white, so in a way they are great for outdoors (just not weatherproof).  Then We hit up West elm for pillows

Those chairs normally need custom pads, but i actually like how floppy and comfy the linen pillows make it look, and how it updates them a bit.  The West Elm pillows we used were from THIS line.  I will tell you this:  the accessories put us over budget by $200. But since the homeowner got everything for free and she was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO in love with the space, she insisted that she buy them instead of me returning them (which is unfortunately what i was planning on doing).  

From this:

to this:

Not bad for 1 day and $1000.  In fact, it was awesome and i would absolutely party there.  It makes me wonder what i can do with $5,000 and 5 days……Any takers?

 I did one more that is online, too. But i’ll blog about it next week. This post took me like 4 hours so i gotta get to work….

CLICK HERE to see me in action, again. 


  1. One day and $1,000 is totally awesome. I'm really impressed. And I LOVE the stumps. I need some yesterday. Thanks for sharing, I really needed some inspiration for our boring yard.

  2. Oh, and the string lights in the hill are so cool they make me want to have a hill like that.

  3. This is beautiful! I love the treehouse look. I wish you could come do our backyard, our deck/pool combo is in desperate need of some style.

  4. Danielle

    Love it! We have those string lights, but I've never been thrilled with how we've strung them in the past. My husband's going to be thrilled to learn that I need more strings so I can hang them all the way to our garage!

    Er, is it bad to be planning outdoor landscaping to a house we're still negotiating the purchase of?

    Anyway, thanks as always for the inspiration!

  5. looks amazing! love the colors and the lights…the fabric on the dining table looks cute too!

  6. That's lovely! The stumps are my favorite part.

  7. Neen

    This is the first outdoor setting/ garden that I have seen that looks doable! What creative-genius ideas, thank you!

  8. Erin J

    For someone who was intimidated by the plants and decorating a backyard you did an awesome job! Super cute & cozy! Love that there was a how to video to go along with it :) Love that you used pink!

  9. Stump tables are awesome. Always a fan of those. And string lights.

    Living in Oregon, I always forget that outdoor cushions and rugs and things aren't impractical in places like So Cal where it's more often warm and sunny and dry. None of our damp wetness to mold it up and ruin it.

    Really gorgeous space. I'd like to hang out there too. :)

  10. Love your outdoor room!
    I just did my own last weekend… check it out at ladolfina.blogspot.com
    I'm so looking forward to your styling tips… bring em on!!

  11. Cathy

    I really love your outdoor makeover.It's totally fantastic!!!The stump tables are wonderful!My most favourite part!

  12. Heather K

    Lovely. The space is very welcoming.

  13. I really love your blog recaps and this is no exception. I stumbled upon your HGTV video last week. So so well done, Emily. You have such a knack for seeing a space in a different way than any one I know and any already-done-that-show I've seen, and making it happen. (Obviously. Understatement of this amazing career I've watched blow-up since I fell in love with that quirkly little winner of design star.) But the recaps make it accessible to me. Thanks for the how-tos that I can do in a military rental. Without feeling like I have to repave, etc. So updated and SO much practical help with your tips. How to mix plant textures? Brill. Galvanized anything? Doing it this weekend. You're a style genius…. And by "fell in love", I mean with your mad skillz, of course.

  14. amyks

    I think it looks great, love the hot pink rug! Love the trees in the pots and the use of lavender. I think those flea market chairs are my favorite though. Fabulous job!!!

  15. I've missed seeing you on video! Great little short piece. I love this outdoor space! I just wish we had better thrift stores / flea markets here in Kansas… basically you have to buy everything new unless you are buddy-buddy with an old lady who is about to… ahem… transition to the next phase.
    Great inspiration for outdoor spaces though! And I love the other video too!

  16. Andee

    I love this post. Thanks for the very specific information and style tips. Great job!

  17. Christa

    Very pretty and practical. That day bed is so pretty, and the pink rug brings the whole space to life.

  18. Sara

    I love it, Emily!! You did such a great job!

  19. HelpSavePluto

    You are AMAZE!

  20. That was amazing. I wanna do something like this with my mom's backyard. We can sit out there and hear her neighbors Ron and Margie have sex with their windows open. Usually my brother will yell at them and try to ruin their climactic orgasm. Sick, wrong and twisted somebody pay for the therapy. I have no idea how you should do your kitchen. Because, I can never remember my own comments. Just awesome.

  21. Linda

    Are you serious! 5 days and $5,000 sound like an invitation to a great summer outdoors for my family. We are in Pasaden and just finished an addition/remodel. Sadly, our backyard space needs some attention. I can only imagine what you could do with a few more days, dollars and a blank outdoor canvas!!! LMK…

  22. Andrea

    I am in for the 5 day, $5,000 makeover. :).

  23. bobbi

    love everything about this room. i have been trying to figure a way to get some giant stumps on my back patio….and have been collecting old metal buckets, too. the furniture that you found is seriously wonderful :)

    you are SO my fave HGTV star….I hope you are back on full-time soon!

  24. Missy

    This looks great! I love the stump idea and the galvanized bins for planters. I will probably be stealing those ideas for my backyard!

    I also really like the IDEA of an outdoor rug, but the practicality of it for me kinda freaks me out (I live in the northeast). Like, do you actually leave them outdoors all the time or do you have to store them away when it rains or during the winter? And what about those lights, can you leave them up year-round in all weather or is this just a dry, pretty, warm type of thing?

    Regardless, I LOVE what you did with this space and thank you so much for the breakdown so that I can apply some of these design tips to my own backyard makeover!

  25. chairs are the boss. and also loving the galvanized containers. trying to pull off something in my back in the next few weeks. thanks a mill for the inspiration. i always leave here thinking, 'I can do that' which is a tribute to your ease of style and simple/understandable way of relating your thoughts/techniques. appreciate you, gal, donna

  26. Lisa

    Would you like to come to Illinois?! I already have the tree stumps!

  27. Katy

    I love this whole space! I live in an apartment with no back-yard to speak of, but I can totally see turning my deck into an outdoor room like this one. If only I could convince my boyfriend that a hot pink rug is cool….

  28. Alby

    I love the pink rug, but I feel like it dominates the space.

  29. AC

    Aaaand now I want to redo my whole patio. This is awesome. The "shopping" pictures help me understand your creative process when you shop. Brava!

  30. ummm, yes please! we will take the 5 day/ $5000 makeover! love the bohemian vibe!!

  31. angie

    totes in for the $5000/5 days…but i suppose you want me to provide the $5000, huh?! ha. anyway…about those stumps. i just so happen to have a garage full of stumps right now since we had two trees removed from our yard. did you do anything to treat the stumps or are they completely au natural? i've been thinking about using them for something…other than chopping for firewood but i was feeling overwhelmed with what to do! this is some great inspiration. now off to check out those rugs for a playroom in desparate need of a rug!

  32. Jen

    Love it!! Looks fantastic.

    Found you on pinterest.


  33. yvonne from van

    Love the space! Just moved to LA (Westlake) and would LOVE for you to do our place! It is so needing an outdoor update!

  34. Sara

    I just love everything about this. Especially you sharing all the behind the scenes bits in your post…like about how the accessories really put you $200 over…makes total sense and makes the greatness you achieved seem at least a little bit more achievable ;).

    We have a cool stump like that from our neighbor's tree that was cut down…wishing now we had taken 2 more but like you said, SO heavy! The casters idea is totally brilliant! I told my husband and he was like, well, it's going in the yard so it won't be able to be wheeled around anyway. Buzz killer. I want to do it anyway. We have a very nice smallish deck that my husband built and it is perfect in many ways, but it does have its drawbacks when compared to a patio that become more obvious when watching/reading this. Like, can't put an outdoor rug on it b/c it will rot the wood underneath…darn.

    Oh, and great tips on the lights and how to hang them. So cool that this space had a way to string them overhead without adding a structure.

    Mostly, I'm totally jealous of the used/vintage furniture finds you have out there in LA land. I am in love with those chairs. Never, never find anything like that in boring old rust belt bad economy OH.

    As always, amazing…love to see every thing you do.

  35. Chelsea

    Quick question: Why lavender? I understand the idea of fragrance and drought tolerance but that area looks like dappled shade at best, which would show why the ivy seems to be doing better than people would desire, and lavender needs 6-8hrs of direct sunlight. As do the orange trees. Is there morning sun which we do not see with these pictures or are the homeowners going to have leggy plants with very little blossoms and bloom? There are really attractive hosta cultivars on the market that could green out that space that are drought tolerant as could Japanese painted ferns, Heuchera, campanula, or spiderwort. I'm just saying – for a bit of color and to thrive in those conditions, I don't know if lavender would have been my first choice.

  36. Al Zimmer

    Two thumbs up on the galvanized plant containers. You just gave me a great idea for our own home. I would've loved to see you fit in that display cabinet from the sixth picture, but I guess that's better for indoors.

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