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Mountain House Monday: The Exterior Update and Plan (or Lack Thereof)


In some not so shocking news, the renovation of the mountain house went over budget…by like five times. Someday, I’ll be ready to talk about it, but right now it’s safe to say that we aren’t splurging on the exterior like we thought we could, at least not yet. The fancy outdoor kitchen with wood-fired pizza oven and dining room pergola with a massive surround deck and masonry will not happen. So today, I’ll update you on what the original intent was and what we are still wanting to do. Plus, I have a few questions for you (regarding turf and hot tub plan – because Brian Henderson refuses to even entertain the thought of ditching the hot tub).

Here is an overhead plan Velinda drew out last summer with what we were originally thinking:

Mountain House Backyard Handdrawing With Text

As you can see, the yard is shallow and wide but the lot is actually 1/4 of an acre. It’s just all on the side of the house. It feels so much smaller than it is, especially when you are looking out the new doors because the gate to the back property feels pretty close.

One thing you should know:

The kids have 50 acres of forest to play in outside that gate, beyond the backyard. It’s a family camp that we have access to wander in if we are respectful (and usually it’s empty). There are no bodies of waters or cars so we are getting THIS CLOSE to letting them go on their own with a walkie talkie and the rule that they have to stay together. I think by the time they are five and seven, they’ll be able to do it; they know it like the back of their hands now and it’s basically a dream come true for us as my house that we grew up in also backed up to thousands of acres of government land. THE POINT before you fall asleep: This yard does not need to check every box for them. We don’t need a playhouse or to add more landscaping or greenery for bug hunting. All the fort building and nature hiking will happen back there.

Okay. Originally, we were going to get rid of the big bush (still want to), extend the deck and put a big outdoor kitchen on the other side to open up the space and, well, utilize it.

Emily Henderson Lake House Before Back Yard 3 1 New

Emily Henderson Lake House Before Back Yard 4 1 New

And, of course, we still want a fancy outdoor kitchen but it’s like a $50k expense and it’s not something we can spend right now. Besides, we want to spend the summer up there and see how we actually use the space. What do we really need???

Emily Henderson Lake House Before Back Yard 2 1 New 2

Neither of us like the bark but boy do all of us love that fake stream/pond. It’s huge and so fun for the kids and the sound is just so peaceful even though it’s fake. My dad always built water features at our house and I had no idea that I picked up the obsession but the second that I saw this pond, I was like “this is the house.”

We originally wanted to replace the fence, but I don’t want to replace it with something cheap so once again we are looking at a $10k expense (at least). Thus, we are holding off on that for now, too.

This is the side of the house where we now have French doors coming out the downstairs guest room.

Emily Henderson Lake House Before Back Yard 1 1 New 2

We thought about doing a bocce ball court but now aren’t convinced that people actually use them enough. More importantly, after debating for MONTHS about where to put the potential hot tub, we have realized that this is the best place. It’s totally unused and is a decent amount of square footage that is just sitting there.

But of course it’s not that easy. It’s sloped and you can’t put decking on dirt without pouring some cement (it’ll rot otherwise). So we could put a stone patio and plop a hot tub on top of that but that doesn’t sound too pretty. And not everything has to be pretty in life, but man, to spend $5k on something that is UGLY is a bummer.

Mountain House Backyard Handdrawing1

Brian is against the pretty cedar tubs because they aren’t comfortable. He wants a big molded plastic thing. We haven’t started shopping yet, but I can already tell we aren’t on the same page. So that’s going to be fun!!

The main thing we are backing off of is extending the deck (around the tree) and creating a massive outdoor kitchen and dining area.

Hot Tub Area

But we WANT to put in a hot tub and create a “room” for it for privacy—not in a tacky way, obviously, but something more like a wood-slatted wall or something chic and pretty.

Emily Henderson Backyard Update Opener

Transplant Shrubs

I hate removing any greenery but we don’t use the space on the right side AT ALL because it feels closed off, so by removing the shrubs (and hopefully transplanting them), we can utilize more of the width of the yard. We are toying with an in-ground trampoline but I’d love to know your thoughts on them if you guys have them. I grew up with a trampoline (Mormon, duh) and I’m pretty sure we lived on that thing in the summer.

Emily Henderson Backyard 11

I’m very hesitant to do ANYTHING until we are confident we have the right plan. I don’t want to put down turf or pebbles and then find out that in order to put in the trampoline we have to level the whole thing. I don’t want to plant more shrubs around the perimeter until I know for sure where, say, the potential gas fire pit would go (we can’t have wood firepits up here).

Emily Henderson Backyard 3

But we are obviously not destitute and there is no RUSH on these things. It was cold up there this weekend but I opened the Marvin scenic doors so you can get a sense of the indoor/outdoor flow. It’s pretty magical.

Emily Henderson Backyard 4

My biggest question, and what Brian and I are debating the most about right now, is turf versus, well…anything else.

OH WE CAN’T PUT IN REAL GRASS. There is a law that was enacted in 2007 I believe that made it illegal to put in real grass due to water consumption. You can have it if you already had it, but you can’t put it in now. So up here, there is a combination of artificial turf or bark/mulch everywhere.

I personally fear that the turf will be jarringly fake, even though I’m not opposed to it in general. When debris falls all over it, it just looks messy and so obviously fake. I know there are good versions of it out there so I’d love your opinion.

38 Ed Konig Millvalley 278 Gpick Web
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See, that looks pretty good!

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That’s a little too perfect, but at first glance, also pretty good.

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Here is what I’m hoping to convince him of (and I think it’s working): do a combination of pebbles, some stone paths and mulch in areas where there are shrubbery and greenery.

Ehd Amanda And William Exterior 101
photo by sara ligorria-tramp for ehd | from: 5 outdoor ideas & hacks that’ll instantly add style
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I could go this modern (below) but Brian can’t and admittedly it’s not as warm or inviting. It’s like it’s IMPOSSIBLE for me to be minimal and cold.

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So imagine if this was us, below, and instead of the cement it was pebbles.

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You get a combination of pathways, pebbles, and landscaping. Brian and I just went outside into the backyard (we came up this weekend for Mother’s Day) and we agreed that we could put in one patch of turf somewhere; something just big enough that if we wanted to lay around or picnic, we could. Maybe under the hammock area? And then we also need to relocate the firepit because it’s too close to our neighbors and our friends are too loud, too late to be near them.

So the plan? HA. The plan would be to come up with a plan over the summer as we spend more time up there and really figure out what we need/want and then where could it go. Meanwhile, we save for the execution of it. I know that I have to create some outdoor patio spaces for work by next spring so I suppose we’d like to start any sort of changes in the fall so we are ready for those photo shoots but I just want to enjoy NO CONSTRUCTION for the summer.

But I’d LOVE your thoughts on artificial turf versus hardscaping and if anyone knows of a nice looking purchasable hot tub so we can avoid doing something site-specific (and therefore custom and expensive) that would be lovely. I guess just any experience would be helpful, so please, please chime in in the comments. xx


Fin Mark


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Is there enough room for a hot tub on the lower deck, nestled near the turret, using those large, to-be-replanted shrubs as privacy for now while you decide? Hot tub could eventually move once you’re ready to build the “room” for it, shrubs can eventually be transplanted or trimmed back once you’ve made decisions about all the rest?


Hardscaping (by which I mean pebbles or gravel) is infinitely preferable to artificial turf. While the fake stuff is beginning to look better, it needs serious maintenance compared to natural products. And at the end of it’s life, fake turf goes to landfill while natural products just break down over time. I would use pebbles and landscaping. And for a picnic area, there are other prostrate plants you can use that aren’t grass, but still provide a soft place to lie.


We recently purchased our home that came with an outdoor hottub on the covered back patio. I love the idea of having our hottub, but absolutely, positively loathe it’s location on the patio. Even though it’s a relatively small hottub (just a corner tub for two) I feel like it takes up SO MUCH usable space on the patio, plus the patio really does amplify the sound. I’m currently trying to design a solution where we flip it to outside the patio and build a non-hideous space for it…so I feel you. I’ll be looking forward to your solutions!

Regarding turf, I’d say to perhaps look into hardscaping options with groundcover in the areas that you need some walkable greenspace…something like brass buttons, babys tears, rupturewort, or gnarled cushion… these look particularly nice with stepping stones PLUS they’re drought tolerant.

OOH. you sound like you know what you are talking about RE walkable greenspace (I didn’t even know that term). You live near LA by chance?

And @fiona I totally agree with you. And my goal with this point was for Brian to see that hardscaping with ‘greenspace’ is the way to go.


Wooly thyme is an outstanding, hardy drought-tolerant groundcover that my kids spent their entire childhood digging their bare feet into here in Tahoe. It meanders beautifully between stepping stones!


This is what I was coming here to say. Creeping thyme and brass buttons do wonders in hardscapes. They create the grass feel without the need for water.

I’ve commented like 3x in many years so I mean what I’m about to say! I really absolutely completely don’t think you should put turf in. There are so many other better and natural options. A synthetic green space in a mountain environment is like the opposite of what I feel like you’re going for. You have so much green lawn at home, and plenty of outdoor space beyond the mountain house yard. I love the hardscaping inspo pics and love the idea of green ground cover with beautiful stones and pebbles and even brick in that yard. #pleasenoturf 🙂


Another voice chiming in in favor of creeping thyme or something similar! It’s soft underfoot, drought-tolerant, and smells lovely. Oh, and PRETTY!


Alas, I’m in the heart of the midwest in Missouri, but given the opportunity to talk plants with my favorite designer… I mean girl I’ll get a plane ticket lolololol. (I’m only half joking here. Maybe a quarter joking.) I’ve been obsessively looking for similar groundcover for the past year to landscape our VERY shady yard thanks to giant beautiful oaks and the four mentioned about were some of my top choices. Just getting ready make the order as we speak. I did look into if they were appropriate for the PNW and YAY they totally are! Let me know if you’d like to chat via email or offline, plants are my favorite thing to talk about!


Re: your last paragraph
Yes! I’m rather surprised that the local laws support artificial turf which is not good for the environment long-term. Isn’t the PNW more pro-Earth? Anyway, if the the regs are only that they can’t have actual grass, other groundcover that is drought tolerant and native to the area is a great great idea. Surely there’s an extension office at the local uni that posts lists on their website of the native plants that need help to be brought back. That is so often the cost effective option to boot. Plus, you usually get extra benefits like the native fauna responding to native flora that they don’t get to enjoy too much. You start seeing songbirds and cool bugs that the next door neighbors don’t. It’s that awesome.


If it were my place and my money, I’d prioritize experiences over appearances outside. An ugly but fun hot tub? Sure. A trampoline? Yes.


My second home had several of these issues. ..and a limited( non existent) budget. I did gravelpaths and patio you’ll needstepping pavers in areas that require quiet. I have an under deck area and HAD to paint the underside white as it was too dark. I got a small hot tub due to the noise varible..( folks get loud and drinking buzz is amplified by tubbin) and moved it away from the house. I used pier blocks with slots for pressure treated 4x4s on them for the deck (no concrete needed) and enclosed the sides and gravelled, which works great for draining/cleaning it. The fence can be beautified via reed panels wired to them. the 4x 8′ ones are about $22 and will last 2 seasons(in seattle) or can be removed for winter. .. and it works well w gravel. I used micro clover instead of grass. it doesnt reqire much water stays green( even in a summer with 4 days of rain) and reqires minimal cutting.. I looked at fake turf but the water needed for maintance with a dog is high, gets smelly and the nice stuff is really pricey.


I’ve reseeded my whole lawn with micro clover and I love it! We are in the mountains where it is super dry and the soil has been acidified by pine trees. Clover can grow in acidic soil and even returns nitrogen to the soil, doesn’t need to be mowed or watered, sun or shade and if you let the flowers come up is good for honey bees. (You can mow to avoid the bees when your kids are up there). I used a seed company called Earth Turf.
I also just bought a big ugly, but comfortable hot tub. Looked at the wood ones, sorry they are just a wooden bathtub. Hydrotherapy jets are so worth it.


I love this idea.

OOH clover. going to look into it right now. thank you (and brian agrees with your hot tub review – i think i lost this one months ago and that’s ok).


Emily, check out vinca as well. Its been growing as ground cover in my yard in the same region as yours. My front yard is blooming with tiny purple flowers right now. It also comes in white flowers, I think. I would have picked that but the house came with the vinca!


I also love this idea!


Pretty sure the regulations up here are for no new ground cover to be planted. ☹️Grass is just the tip of the iceberg of what cannot be planted…


yes! we are in Portland and are in the process of turning our lawn over to clover. we have the opposite problem with lawns up here; too much water / overcast skies make moss grow in it and it gets super patchy (at least in our shady yard). But, the clover thrives!!


Yes!! A ground cover like clover is a great idea for bringing in greenery without having grass. I’d imagine its also much better for the environment than having fake plastic grass?


Yarrow also is a good lawn alternative and can be mowed.


Particularly because the hot tub will be tucked away to the side of the house, I’d be less worried about how hideous those things are. It won’t be in your sight-line as you look out to the backyard. One thing I’d consider is the noise re proximity to neighbors. If the neighbors are close to you on that side, I might re-think things, as kids splashing in the hot tub is always rowdy/screech-y/scream-y and you don’t want to be constantly shush-ing them. I’d work with one of those hideous plastic ones (maybe black, so you see less of its plastic-y ness) and try to build around it a beautiful deck space. What about submerged half-way below ground with a pretty tiled space around it.
This ( in slate with grey interior isn’t the most hideous thing….


I think the fake turf looks ok in very small amounts. Almost like a patio area, but made of the turf.
The house looks great!


We ended up just doing a custom hot tub, so pretty but expensive. I’d just get a run of the mill hot tub and surround it with stonework. Just a note, we have a gravel pathway. When people walk in the foyer from it they track in so much powdery dust from the gravel. (We come in through the garage, so thankfully it’s not always a problem). If that will be a constant path to and from your house, just know it can be messy. Love the house and your blog!


yes – we have gravel and people are always tracking tiny bits of gravel into the house. Also if you tend to pop outside in barefeet it’s not comfy to walk on – at least ours isn’t!


I have had neighbors put in artificial turf in small spaces and they loved it! I love the look of pebbles, but it’s not the easiest thing to walk in, as you sink in as you go. But I absolutely love the look. I really liked the big cement pieces used with them in your photos above. I know it goes modern, but it makes the pebbles more practical. I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with!

Cf Betcher

Personally, I vote no turf. I think it doesn’t belong under a canopy of trees. I love the pebble path, landscaping ideas.

Kate F

I, fun-killer will say despite the trampoline-heavy fun we all enjoyed as kids, we have several doctor friends (including a neurologist) who all agree that aside from concussion sports, the one activity they won’t allow their children to do is trampolines. So many head/neck injuries. ?


I second this. Fun, yes. Totally avoidable high potential serious injuries, definitely. A friend’s pediatrician made her swear their kids would always wear bike helmets and never use trampolines.

For a backyard that doesn’t have to check every box, that’s a lot of possible boxes. The top priority that can make or break all your other decisions is the turf. In the end, it’s always going to be fake and plastic. Are we not trying to avoid this at all costs now? Why go to all the effort an expense to get a house on a property like this and then get fake turf? Your other house has grass, have a picnic at the table. There are clearly a lot other (better) options, especially pavers or permeable areas that can be planted between with ground cover or even herbs if you really must have green underfoot..


I’m also a hard no on trampolines. If you have a net and only let one kid on at a time and maintain it properly you can minimize the risks but basically no one does that. Even if you as the adults set those rules little kids break rules all the time. It’s also a huge liability; it’s considered an “attractive nusiance” just like a pool so in most areas if someone comes onto your property (even without permission) and hurts themselves you can be sued.


Agree! We even had a neighbor with an in-ground trampoline (seemingly safe) and their kid STILL broke his back on it and had to do all sorts of physical therapy.


Allow me to be the voice of dissent among these trampoline naysayers 😉 I grew up with a rectangular-style, above-ground, no-nets-around-the-outside, old-school trampoline and LOVED IT. I spent hours out there in the summer, inventing games and “routines.” We had kids’ parties alllll the time and no one ever got hurt. My parents had one rule when we had friends over: no flips, and no more than two bouncers at a time.

When the friends left, my parents let my sister and I flip and flop to our hearts’ content. We were in gymnastics classes so we knew how to do tricks properly, which greatly helped with our spatial awareness. (Another tip for parents out there: enroll your children in kiddie gymnastics classes! They’ll learn how to fall properly and not get hurt!) Anyway, pro-trampoline 🙂


Even with proper netting most accidents happen with clashes between kids and it is nearly impossible to enforce the one person at a time rule. We’ve had x2 trampolines, x1 split lip requiring stitches and x1 broken leg. No more trampolines for us!

Love Mountain House Mondays!!


Some friends have of mine have artificial turf in their backyard. It looks fine, but the stuff gets HOT in the sun. Like burn your feet hot. Not sure if that happens to all brands, but be forewarned.

ohh this is true..


Is moss an option for ground cover? It’s green, so soft to walk on, and won’t track powder and rocks into your house. Also, maybe you can cover the chain link fence with ivy or some other pretty evergreen climbing vine. My parents have ivy and it looks like a beautiful living wall in their back yard. And my mother-in-law has climbing hydrangea and it is so pretty. But I’m not sure what would work in your plant zone. And yes to a trampoline!


Hard no on ivy, just housing for vermin, bugs and snails….yuck


As someone who had to pull Ivy out, because in addition to the above points, especially concerning vermin, it takes over everything anywhere near it and is practically impossible to get rid of. Never plant Ivy!


Sounds like you had one of the invasive varieties of ivy. Some types are more mannerly.

cindy e

exactly what I was thinking….plant “confederate Jasmin” (also called evergreen star jasmine) on the fence. We did this to cover unsightly lattice under our deck and it was TOTALLY COVERED and a beautiful green wall in a couple years!!!!
It has big waxy green leaves that stay all year and bonus: it smells divine!
This is a beautiful solution to spending 10k on a fence that you don’t need because you back up to greenery:)


Instead of grass, what about some kind of groundcover? Nurseries usually have a whole section dedicated toward plants that can be stepped on without damage. I have a type of sedum in my garden that is great at this and fast spreading. There are books dedicated to the “no mow lawn” movement (just type “no mow yard” on Amazon)…it’s supposed to be a good alternative for the environment and low maintenance.


Agreed – and talk with the nursery staff about plants that are native to the area, so you’re not planting an invasive species that will threaten the ecology of the woods next door.


Young house love just bought a cute hot tub! I’m sure it was in stock and not that expensive !

Ann in Mpls

I thought of YHL as well! Looks like their’s is a Jacuzzi J-LX. They cover the details on their podcast in Episodes #104 & #107.


I was going to chime in with this also. I pinned for when we finally get around to updating our pool/yard. It’s the plastic Jacuzzi goodness on the inside, but with clean lines to hide the tacky on the outside.


Please no fake turf.


Long-time nurse here echoing Kate F’s comment: please check the info at the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons before choosing a trampoline.


a trampoline park just opened near us and my daughter has 4 friends who have broken a bone using it thus far…with just once in a great while visits!


My husband went with our son to a trampoline park. 10 minutes later he had torn ligament and swears to never step on a trampoline again. Those things are evil!


My friends husband broke all the bones in his ankle on a trampoline and had to have major reconstructive surgery with pins, etc to fix it. So fun but not worth it.

Amy KS

Also check with your homeowners insurance, they often times will void a policy or make it vety expensive to insure if you have a trampoline on the property.


We spent a LOT of time shopping for a hot tub. My hope was to find something that wasn’t hideous but it turns out they all still look like hot tubs. But my husband is so happy with it. We have a Bullfrog R7 in white. The biggest thing with hot tubs is they’re trying to sell hundreds of bells and whistles with space-age jets that rotate and spin and make you a drink and do your taxes, it’s really hard to find one that is simple.


I don’t get the attraction of a hot tub. Gross and bacteria infected. Shudder!


I encourage you to use the planning services of a good landscape designer familiar with your area. An excellent designer will spend time with you, Brian and the kids, asking millions of questions to understand what you want to do in your landscape and what you want your landscape to do for you. They can prepare a phased plan for you, based on your priorities and budget. The person I worked with spent hours asking me questions, many of which I would never have thought of myself, before beginning work on the design.
Your focus is usually and understandably on appearances but this is one time when function needs to lead.


We have a molded plastic hot tub that has a cedar surround- I like it better than most.
Do you vacuum the turf to get rid of debris?
I like your idea of a patch to be able to picnic/lay on and rest pebble path, although pebble takes work to clean up debris too.


Something I’ve learned from EHD is that when doing interiors you need to keep the style of the house in mind when designing. So, a ’70s split level isn’t going to be a farm house (no matter how much shiplap you add!).

Same with outside. What’s the natural environment up there? Is it a wet environment where turf would survive? If so, turf, even artificial, stands a much better chance of fitting in. Is it an arid environment? Turf is likely going to look out of place and fake.

This might be worth hiring a local landscaping designer!


Echoing other commenters here re noise. With bubbling and splashing, people tend to raise their voices in a hot tub, both adults and children. I imagine this is a feature you’d want to both use with kids and then use as a group of adults (maybe sharing a bottle or two of wine) once the kids have gone to bed. It would suck to have to constantly be checking your volume/shushing one another b/c the kids’ bedroom window is right above the tub.


I have an idea!! What if you nix the gravel idea and the artificial turf idea? This is the mountain house and so far you’ve made it all about using what would naturally belong there. Wood chipping a and clover are perfect ground covers for you. They would blend in seamlessly with the environment. (I think turf is great in a small city lot, but def not for the mountain house. Besides, think about the picnics you will have on soft beds of clover! We used to have a clover ground cover in our yard when I was a kid and I remember spending hours searching for one with 4 leaves.) As far as those gorgeous poured concrete pavers go…I get that in these pictures they feel cold, but that’s because there are stones in between them. If you use either mulch or clover as your ground cover in between the poured concrete then the natural materials will visually warm up the concrete and I think it will seamlessly carry the style you have inside through to the Ok the hot tub, why not put one inground? Have you ever seen a poured concrete hot tub? They can be gorgeous… Read more »


I just wanna say, I love that you are going to let your kids have some roaming freedom. A little freedom is so good for kids. I have seen high end turf that is really really good. I hadn’t thought about the landfill aspect that someone else mentioned..maybe there is a mix of turf and stone that would be good? because turf does look better in smaller portions.


Give some thought to how many steps it takes to get the the hot tub.
We have one at our house that we moved into 6 months ago…didn’t really think I was a ‘hot tub’ person. Turns out I totally am:)
When it’s chilly though, I am beyond grateful that I only have to take 4 wet/freezing steps to get inside.


I’m so Team Brian on the hot tub–my girlfriends and I rented a mountain house in Maine for a vacation, and nights in a hot tub, with the steam and the stars and the gallons of wine and the magic of multiple water jets…oh, my lord, yes. YES. Fight for that tub, Brian Henderson, this is a righteous cause!

Maybe I don’t know enough about design, but I would imagine, if you buy the ugly tub now, you can figure out a way to hide the ugly when you can do the landscaping. Like…for now, it’s plastic ugly, but soon, you could build a deck around it or you dig it into the ground and landscape around it…in other words, it’s an “eyesore” for now but can be rectified later? I feel like you rise to all design challenges, and that would be a great one for folks: You buy the thing you love that’s not cute, how do you make something so non-cute cute??


The “fight for that tub, Brian” comment just made my day! 🙂

Want to just echo the many comments already on this post:
1) buy a comfortable tub and “make it work”
2) don’t use turf. so many environmental implications! and ultimately hanging out on plastic doesn’t sound great.
3) hire a landscaper. I’d love to see how you guys collaborate together vs you having to try and figure out landscaping when that’s just not your jam (and you’ll probably spend more time & money frustrated than if you just see how they can help).


My husband LOVES his hot tub. I think they are valuable for a lot of people. I am personally happy with a nice tub.

I have realized that a landscape expert is really valuable. I know my way around things inside a house, but there is a whole world out there of products and mixing hardscape with softscape. I think it is worth asking a landscape architect.


The exterior colors look great. Is there a spot where they are linked? Thanks!


Please do not put in fake turf. It’s super hot in the summer, not comfortable (neighbors have it), it creates habitat loss and is ultimately destined to be landfill. Oh yeah, and it is fake, which, to me, is the exact opposite of what I would want for a mountain house/nature emersion destination. Please consider living ground cover that is drought tolerant.


Please, please, please pass on the artificial turf!


My sister put fake turf down and:
* It gets too hot in summer, like reallly hot! Too hot to be nice and thekids hated it.(real grass keep things cooler when it’s hot)
* When the kids got scrapes on the fake turf, the scratches and scrapes festered, go figure?!
* It’s bad for the environment. Frogs, good bugs, creatures in general, hate it.
*It’s MORE PLASTIC TRASH. Please, you’re an Influencer. Influence for good.

Ground cover (like clover) is the way to go. Good for everyone (including the environment) and….it looks vreat with virtually no maintenance.


We go to a park that has a small area of artificial turf, over a small (fake) hill..its so great to sit on and watch the kids, I would totally do turf. Its way better for playing outside than real grass. As far as hot tubs… I’m with Brian, this is one purchase where function should win out over aesthetic. You can always put plants around, or a cute fence, something to cheer it up.


I would say try not get to fake grass. It’s not the same situation, but when I bought my house I couldn’t afford wood, or even laminate, flooring, so I got lino that looked like parquet instead. It’s very realistic, to the extent that visitors used to bend down and knock on it to check it. But although it looks like wood, it doesn’t *read* like wood, and despite having “wooden” flooring throughout my house I found myself craving wood. I fear you might end up with the same feeling with fake grass.
There are several excellent suggestions here of natural growth alternatives to grass, and as you’re in a water conservation are I’m sure a local nursery would have a ton of options for your situation. Please at least explore those before you make any decisions about fake stuff.


Our house came with turf and I really like it for lying on and walking on with bare feet. It soaks up the heat of the fun so in the winter here in the Bay Area it’s particularly nice. But we won’t ever replace it with more turf, mostly for environmental reasons.

Our molded hot tub has a facade of redwood slats that makes it fit into the outdoor environment pretty well. Another idea is to sink your tub into the ground similar to a fish pond. I’ve seen that done really well and when the time comes for replacing ours it’s a possibility that’s what we’ll do. Houzz and Pinterest have some beautiful inspiration shots.


Definitely do the gravel with stepping stones, maybe throw in some seeds through between them all (dichondra reopens is so beautiful and in between stones even magical!)

Your house is beautiful, so I’m sure you’ll get it right 🙂



Ugh excuse the autocorrect haha

It’s dichondra REPENS!

Paula Carr

Hee. I was wondering. I never knew dichondra even closed, so that it needed to be reopened. 🙂


I love the look of pebbles, but it does prevent being able to walk around barefoot. I don’t know about you, but I like being able to do that in my own backyard! Turf can be ok in small doses, but it has a limited lifespan and has to be replaced every 15-20 years. I’ve always wondered what it must look like, say in years 10-15, before it needs to be replaced. Does it start to look bad? Mondo grass or other groundcover might be good options for green areas to break up the pavers! I’m sure you’ll come up with something amazing!


This was my first thought. Walking barefoot is such a joy, pebbles make it miserable. I wouldn’t even consider artificial turf for all the reasons people have given. Some combination as others have said of pavers, stones, and a ground cover that in reliable in that area, would last longer, be more usable, and look more beautiful. I do agree with others that looking for a landscape designer who is familiar with your climate/microclimate would make a real difference. Familiarity with plant materials, planting schedules, (when you plant has a huge impact on the health of what you plant) and the impact of weather on hardscaping choices is a real expertise.


I grew up in the country – the first couple weeks of summer going barefoot on the gravel driveway was painful but we basically had hobbit feet by fall and could run on it no problem. I don’t have an opinion, this just brought up that memory 🙂


I hate fake turf SO much and I definitely think it will look jarring. I will echo the above, consult a specialist and find a drought tolerant ground cover that can be walked on.


Please, anything other than the fake grass.


We have turf and pebbles. Couldn’t love the turf more, so practical and makes more livable space outdoors I always say it’s like a rug for outside. Kids can always be on it, no mud, not itchy, doesn’t stay wet long after rain or frost. Highly recommend! As for the pebbles, my kids love playing in them AND transporting them all around the rest of our yard – basically my husband’s least favorite thing. If you do pebbles be ready for pebbles on your turf, your deck, and everywhere else a


We have a mountain cabin as well. We go there to relax and soak in quiet nature with family and friends.

It must be exhausting to need everything to be so perfect. Sigh.


Put a Brian approved hot tub in and then build it into a deck or build wood siding around it to look like one of those cedar tubs. Those cedar tubs look soooooo good. There’s got to be a way to do both!


A combination of pavers, pebbles and poured in place concrete pavers create a nice look. Although the ground needs to be level…..hmmmmm….


Also no turf if it repels wildlife. The number one thing that made my kids huge nature lovers is the fact we don’t spray chemicals so our home tends to attract every frog, bee, butterfly, worm, caterpillar, bird in the neighborhood thus turning my kids into avid nature lovers and explorers. Best decision I ever made was to not douse our home in chemicals that kill off life.


My dad has turf in his backyard and it does look a tinge fake, but not ugly. And it’s super easy to keep clean. He just uses a leaf blower to collect all the fallen leaves and tree mess from above and then baddabing it looks fabulous again.


Check out Lauren Liess’ raised garden beds on top of pebbles…looks so beautiful and warm! and it’s surrounded by lots of greenery in the form of trees which it looks like you have!


I like the hot tub location idea. Just get a plastic one, inside should be a light color or else it feels like murky water (and you can see the dirt). They make ones with cedar sides that look pretty enough and you can always dial it up with styling. If anyone can make a hot tub look chic, it’s you.

I think paths, landscaping and bark is going to serve this property well and be easiest on your budget and to maintain long term. For picnics and naps, get an outdoor table and a hammock. I just don’t think the turf will get used much. In LA we sit on the grass, but at my family’s mountain/lake house, the ground is cold and filled with bugs and ants (and sometimes snakes). We picnic at a table next to the fire pit, and take naps in a hammock or on lounge chairs on the deck. Are you thinking to add a fire pit? Is this yard good for star gazing?


Landscaping on the mountain is such a head ache. I haven’t seen a single instance of the artificial turf here looking real enough to convince me that it’s worth the cost. Stick with easy to maintain (and repair, because w.i.n.t.e.r.). The pebbles, bark, and limited landscaping that is allowed will look beautiful and achieve the goal of blending into the forest. As for the hot tub…let him have his way and choose what he likes best. None of them are really aesthetically pleasing, yet they are all enjoyable. It’s all about compromise, right?


Love the look of the outside of the mountain house. I agree with most of here and would not put in turf. I would totally love the clovers. About the hottub. We have a swim-spa (an enormous hottub with swim jets) in our backyard and that is a BIG BIG box (25 feet). We build it half way in the ground and build a redwood deck around it so you can step in it easily. If you build in you have to make sure there is a pump to get any rainwater out since that’s the lowest point in the yard (to where the rain water flows) and the electrical/pumps of the tubs are mostly on the lowest point. Also a point is the noise. Don’t place the tub close to neighbors (just like your fire pit), the jets make a lot of noise and yes, you raise your voice and kids will scream and laugh. You don’t want neighbors getting annoyed with you-nothing worse then to listen to people in hot tubs drinking -too- much wine ;-( Last thing I wanted to point out is the material on the ground around the hottub. You don’t want any dirt/rocks/pebbles etc… Read more »


For synthetic grass check out Superlawn Xtreme 80 oz. I was completely opposed to synthetic but was outnumbered, so this was a tough sell for me and after looking at samples this one was the obvious winner. It has a lot of density with brown roots and real enough looking two-tone green. In small quantities it looks okay. 100% permeable backing, shine block, heat block. All synthetic has the advantages of no water/chemicals/fertilizer. My online research found that recycling is possible but it’s not like you can put it in the blue bin, and its more often done with sports turf (and even most of that is repurposed rather than recycled). The individual materials are recyclable but separating them to be able to recycle is the issue. Hopefully there will be more accessible recycling options for residential applications within the next 10-20 years (the lifespan of this product) but it’s definitely a factor in deciding real vs synthetic.


My neighbors got the artificial turf. It looks… weird. In winter, there is green grass under the snow, which looks really fake. In Spring there is very muddy sad looking grass. In the summer under full sun it looks terrific, but they have to clean it up after storms.


I am a huge proponent of turf with kids. We replaced our (muddy) grass with turf and are outside so much more now! This is in Texas and our backyard is quite shady – the grass wasn’t growing well and we get a lot of rain. Now it can rain all weekend up until Sunday afternoon and we can still have a picnic lying around on it that night. Super easy to maintain. It’s gotten really popular where I am – I think because there have been so many aesthetic improvements and families with young kids (us!) really like it. Wouldn’t put it everywhere but I do think it’s super practical and can increase your backyard usage. Which is kind of the goal.

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