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Sara Updates Her Backyard With A Hand-Me-Down Loveseat & $350

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I’ve never really been an outdoor person. I mean, I enjoy being outside, but I don’t CRAVE it. Recently, though, I’ve been getting a little cabin fever. The temperature here in Pasadena is going up, and the possibility of a weekend beach trip is still far away. So a few weeks ago I decided I needed to enjoy my own outdoor spaces (mainly my backyard).

Here a quick video of me talking about the whole process (just wait for the ad to play first)…

Our front yard is decently cute, and my mom and I have spent a lot of time fixing it up. But it’s less than ideal to layout in as little clothing as possible slurping margs in the front yard where everyone can see you. The whole point of having a backyard is so you can have a private outdoor space (in my opinion). But my backyard is really just . . . a whole lotta cement.

First, let me get all the disclaimers out of the way for the people who are about to yell “YOU’RE LUCKY TO EVEN HAVE A BACKYARD!” Yes, I am very lucky. It’s a decently big backyard too! And one day I really hope that it will be beautiful, awesome, and given the attention and love it deserves.

Here’s how it looked when we bought our house:

It was mostly just cement and weeds. Along with the addition of my boyfriend’s vintage (old) BMW he refuses to get rid of. Even though he couldn’t drive it to work because of the distance, doesn’t have it insured so he actually can’t drive it at all, and has to keep it plugged into a power source almost all the time, otherwise the battery dies. It’s a whole thing. But he loves the car, and I love him. The point is, our backyard wasn’t really a space you wanted to hang out in. And for a lot of the last year it was literally a trash dump, during our renovation.

please note the very cute “forek” graffiti that came original to the cinderblock wall . . .

I’m lucky enough to have some outdoor space, so I wasn’t going to waste it, even if I didn’t have budget to jackhammer out all the cement and landscape the whole thing. So, I started thinking about what it’d need, bare minimum, to be enjoyable. After thinking long and hard I decided it was only two things. 1.) A place to lounge, and 2.) Some shade. THAT WAS IT.

I spent one weekend working on it, and after some sale shopping, leftover prop scavenging, and repurposing of already owned things, I pulled together a little outdoor space that I’m hilariously really proud of. Let me introduce you . . . .

Oh my god, she cute. Is it my dream backyard? No. But is it the backyard I have? Yes, and I really like hanging out here. And guess what, since it’s a BACKYARD I have a whole lotta privacy. NO ONE CAN TELL YOU NO IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD. ‘Buh bye tan lines ; )

I built everything around that loveseat, which is actually a hand-me-down from the spring patio brunch story we shot several months ago. For one reason or another we weren’t able to return it, and I became the lucky recipient of a loveseat in fairly new condition. It became the foundation for my backyard hang out, and it was huge in terms of reducing my spending on this space.

If you have a piece of old outdoor furniture, or two chairs, or WHATEVER, build around those! Even if it’s not the prettiest, newest thing in the world, a few new outdoor pillows, a pretty umbrella, and some glow-y string lights will give it a whole new life. Right now it’s all about working with what you’ve got or can easily find and afford.

The next thing I wanted to address was giving the space a sense of “area.” Because my whole backyard is just one sad cement slab, I definitely wanted to make this feel like it’s own “space.” I decided that an outdoor rug was the best way to keep my loveseat from feeling like it was just floating aimlessly on a cement sea. This cute and neutral one is mostly plastic, so it’s totally outdoor-friendly but still magically feels like a woven rug, and it was on sale for $56. Amazing, great, done.

Next I needed shade. The star jewels of my backyard are three citrus trees, but they don’t really provide much in the way shade until around 3 or 4 pm. EASY – a patio umbrella is the solution. Well, patio umbrellas it turns out can be surprisingly expensive. And you have to buy the base separately. WHAT? It’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard since selling bikini tops and bottoms separately.

The original umbrella I had wanted turned out to pretty far outside of my budget for this area, and all the $50 umbrellas were sold out at my local Target. I was feeling frustrated because I really wanted to enjoy my outdoor area THAT WEEKEND, and I wasn’t about to wait for one to be shipped to me (what hath the conveniences of modern living wrought on my soul?). But then I found this cute striped umbrella for $100, and this umbrella base for just $36. It changed the aesthetic I was going for (light, airy, boho), but sometimes you just gotta work with what you can.

Then it was time for some details. I started by bringing out a little side black table I had in our living room, and repurposing it as an outdoor table. Is it meant for the outdoors? Probably not, but a benefit of living in Southern California is that it rains very infrequently here and we’re lucky if we can get a drop of moisture to stick around. In general, the worst our outdoor furniture gets is a whole lotta sun.

I did buy a new outdoor ottoman, inspired by a tip from the “small space” vignette from this post.

Small spaces mean less furniture, so you’ll want to make sure that the few pieces you do pick are going to pull double duty whenever they can.

Well, the pouf I got (which is sadly not available online) works TRIPLE duty. Because of how sturdy it is, it can be a footrest, an extra seat, or a table. Though I’ll admit that footrest is my favorite way to use it. Lastly, I stole a few potted plants from my front porch, and brought them out back to hide the umbrella stand a bit, and just generally bring a little more life to this concrete island.

I found that little palm frond tasseled pillow in the Bullseye section at Target (the little area up at the front of the store when you first walk in), and it was only $5. I can’t find it online, but these are similar. The other cream and black pillow was on sale for $18, and yes, apparently it’s made for the great outdoors while also being very pretty.

But I know you’re all dying to know what’s going on in photo #2 up there. Oh, that’s just my private DIY lounging pool. Obviously. I live in Southern California, so remember it gets HOT. I don’t have a pool, and there were no kiddie pools in stock at the store, so I got creative. (Since then, I’ve ordered this one, and I can’t wait to use it this weekend like the adult I am.) That empty plastic tub is just big enough for me to sit with my legs crossed and my knees hugged to my chest. I do look ridiculous, but at least I’m enjoying life.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did you not think this post would have a day-to-night lewk?

Yes, it’s exactly the same patio. I’m not trying to fool you into thinking there’s some huge, dramatic reveal. But this IS how I use it day-to-night. Do I bring glasses of wine out here in the evening? Yes. Do I also bring the whole bottle? Of course. Do I bring snacks, too? No shame! Though, admittedly, they aren’t always so pretty (I’m looking at you, frozen grapes). And y’all already know I’m a fiend for a candle, wherever, whenever I am. Especially ones that are mosquito repelling, like this one.

In the evenings I’ll usually wear my favorite slippers, and bring a little throw out with me. It never really gets that cold, but I like to feel cozy. Plus it makes me feel like it’s harder for the mosquitos to find my legs when they’re wrapped up tight.

The more important star of this whole “evening look” though are those string lights. They’re only $12 a box, outdoor safe, and give the entire space a really lovely, warm glow. The best part about them though? You can buy replacement bulbs for them in packs of 2! Just in case one burns out. Or your dad breaks one (or four) of them while hanging them for you.

I really DO love spending time out here. And I really like doing it while listening to this playlist. Bonus tip: If you’re in the market for a portable speaker, may I suggest this one? Mac and I got it two years ago, and it works SO GOOD. Anytime we bring it with us somewhere, or people are over and we’re using it they’re also impressed. We’ve taken it camping, we’ve taken it to the beach, I turn it on every night while I cook dinner, and bring out back with me. It’s just a really well-made product that works.

Oh, and in case you’re curious. The rest of the back yard hasn’t changed that much. But the view isn’t so bad. Right above the house line is clear open sky, and the tops of some oak trees, so it makes for a really nice place to watch a sunset. And my mom and I planted some drought resistant flowers in the flower beds right behind the house, which really help the aesthetic.

side note – that sun lounger was only $26, and it goes down totally flat

Otherwise, we’re still waiting on a full backyard renovation. So there you have it, my tiny backyard update, on a budget. The total for my set up was $844, which I understand isn’t BUDGET and possibly not attainable for everyone. Myself included! Keep in mind I got the loveseat as a hand-me-down. But these are pieces that I know will not only survive the summer, but hopefully a few summers to come. And since it doesn’t really look like I’ll be going to many places this summer, I decided that investing a little bit into an outdoor space I feel safe in was worth the budget.

This is me, trying to look glamours in 90-degree heat, while also trying to direct my boyfriend who was photographing me. CUTE. Now if you’re into it, here’s a “Get The Look” for my set up.

1. Outdoor Pillow | 2. Throw | 3. Striped Umbrella | 4. Outdoor Loveseat | 5. Umbrella Stand | 6. Black Wood Accent Table | 7. 5×7 Outdoor Rug | 8. Woven Ottoman | 9. White Tray | 10. Outdoor String Lights

Not into my style? I’ll survive. I’ve pulled together two other looks (a modern aesthetic and a boho style), both under $800 total.

1. Navy Throw | 2. Outdoor Pillow | 3. Umbrella | 4. 5×7 Outdoor Rug | 5. Side Table | 6. Outdoor Loveseat | 7. Outdoor Ottoman | 8. Cork Tray | 9. Outdoor String Lights | 10. Umbrella Stand

1. Throw | 2. Outdoor Lumbar | 3. Tasseled Umbrella | 4. Outdoor Seating Set | 5. Umbrella Stand | 6. Outdoor String Lights | 7. 5×8 Outdoor Rug | 8. Tray

In case you are looking for a few more shopping options check out our very extensive outdoor furniture roundup post and our outdoor accessories roundup post🙂

Fin Mark

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Kim B

Sara,your outdoor space looks great. Good for you for making your space somewhere that works for you NOW. You are right to do it, as yes I think we are all going to be sticking closer to home this summer.

That picture of you in the plastic tub is hilarious. Your neon kiddy pool you’re waiting on is adorable. And you had a lucky inheritance with that loveseat!

Enjoy your space. I love all the alternate ideas too. Wish I had something more than a balcony!! This confinement is really showing the value of some garden space no matter how small or cement-covered!!!!

Fun post!

I hadn’t read the post so I was excited to this morning and when I saw the photo of her in that tupperware I almost died and slacked everyone that it is her forever headshot. So Funny.

laura

and I wish I had a balcony!

isabelle

I’m at the point where I’m wishing I even just had a windowsill deep enough to put a potted plant on. It’s too sad to even consider that I could possibly have a balcony or *gasp* a YARD! For those who do, please make the most of it on my behalf!! I am living vicariously through you.

Sara, you did a wonderful job and while it might not feel this way now, your yard is on its way to being a big, beautiful outdoor space. Save up some money and wait until you’re really pissed off about something and then you can take it all out on the pavers! Ha

J

This is really pretty! Yes indeed, work with what you’ve got! I was pleasantly surprised by the day to night change. It looks so cozy!

You are sitting on a gold mine with all those flower pots in your backyard. Any plans to fill those puppies up? In the pic of the house and the awesome drought resistant landscaping, those pots with some annuals would seal the deal lined up against the fence.

Ok I admit I was a bit skeptical when I saw the post title, but this is actually perfect and relatable pandemic content! Your DIY pool is hilarious too, thanks for be willing to put it into the internet for our entertainment. I had pinned the roundups from the other day about outdoor furniture but this is the post that has really inspired me to actually think about how we might be able to make our unfinished backyard more usable even now (we’re waiting for grass to grow, so it’s hundreds of square of feet of just…dirt… And a sad gravel area that is what was underneath a tragic old deck we pulled out when we got this house last year). I also am indignant about how umbrella stands are separate from the umbrellas themselves! But anyway, thanks for the collections, I’m gonna talk it over with my husband tonight and possibly just buy one set altogether and get it done.

Amy

Gorge 💜 Paint your breeze block before we all have to leave the house again and you’ll be in heaven x

Sue

I stuccoed my cement blocks a gorgeous blue..it makes me so happy !

jess

i love a stuccoed cement block moment a la justina https://blog.jungalow.com/2019/04/jungalow-by-the-river-backyard-update.html ! i love the idea of white stucco wall with painted and stenciled pavers.

Karen T.

Ok, the picture of you in the tub made my morning. Love the budget update. We actually just swapped out our deck set-up (round table, 6 not so comfortable chairs) with a whole new set of comfy patio furniture (85″ long couch, rocking glider, two oversized chairs,fire pit table, bar cart, Edison string lights). Might as well use it since we’re here all.the.time.

Debbie

Love what you’ve done to create a cozy, cute space. I think your backyard has a lot of potential, without spending a lot of money, sometimes it’s just fun to get creative on a budget. You might even be able to get your dad to build a raised herb/vegetable garden….

Iz

Great job! And while I agree that it’s odd for patio umbrellas and bases to be sold separately, it absolutely DOES make sense to sell bikini tops and bottoms separately!! Boobs come in all shapes and sizes and for many of us do not match the standard size of of the bottoms in a set. Just saying….

Jessica

LOL totally! The worst is when they have sold out of your size in one part but not the other

Suzanne

So true!

Sabrina

Yesss to bikinis sold seperately – I was like WHAT?! I am almost never the same size in both pieces.

Anonymous

Could you pretty please do a DIY post on how to hang string lights if you have: no fence, no trees, no wall, and no trellis?? I have Googled and there seems to be no click-and-buy solution for this problem. Bonus points if you include a solution for when there is no nearby outdoor electrical outlet. TIA!

ML

Solar lights! They’ve gotten a lot better/brighter these days.

Jessica

Ooh, I had some solar string lights on my fire escape for a couple years and it was great to be able to look out and feel summery without having to go turn them on. Their second NYC winter did them in (or maybe it was a squirrel) but I got them cheap on amazon and we were moving to a place without anywhere to put them so I didn’t mind. (And now I will be bringing in my string lights for the winter)

Katie

This isn’t particularly click and buy, but i have had great success with cement in a couple cheap terra cotta pots with wooden posts in them. And a brown outdoor extension cord. But for sure solar lights would be a better idea than the extension cord.

Amy C

String light DIY inspo here, https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/happy-pride-velinda-katies-backyard-budget-wedding
Perhaps hung with electrical conduit, but using battery powered or solar powered lights?

As an artist, that big blank cinder block wall is just calling to me for some pretty artwork! Also, like another commenter said, throw some pretty annuals in those flower pots and that will make the concrete that much less pervasive. I love what you did with the space. There is so much to be said for making what you have in the moment work for you.

Frances Terry

HAHAHA I love this but my favorite is how in the “night lewk” with the rose it looks like there is an invisible person under your blanket, wearing your slippers and drinking your wine! Seriously tho, nice job 🙂

In case anyone out else out there is having mini parties with their pets right now, I have that rug from the modern lounge look and my frenchie looooves to stretch out and scratch her belly on it (but it’s still very comfy underfoot).

ML

What a great, quick transformation. Paint that cinder block! Or maybe even just a “wall hanging” right behind your lounge. Game-changer for us.

Jessica

LOVE!!! Super cute, and obvs the best part was you in the tub. That kiddie pool is going to be AMAZING. Please give us updates as the space evolves!

I was super excited about moving to a place with a roof deck, all tucked in a nook of the building’s roof, FINALLY some private outdoor space, a haven during this time when we can’t go outside… and then when I went over to measure for an outdoor couch I discovered small children’s toys strewn about everywhere.

HA! So much for privacy. But apparently the previous owners said they were going to miss the rooftop community most (and we were told this after we’d already put in an offer), so it won’t be the end of the world. They’ll just have to learn to love me in my bikini 😉

Jessica

You could also try painting the cinder block in a color blocked kind of way, add a little whimsy without committing to painting the whole wall… 😉

Cute! Gotta make one suggestion – paint the wall! Most suburban back gardens in Dublin have those concrete walls and it improves morale one billion percent not to have concrete grey as the backdrop. Ours took the guts of a weekend to cover with 2 giant buckets of masonry paint and it is still the biggest bang for our buck several years later.

Carol

Sara, you did a great job. It looks so nice and cozy. TH
here is nothing like having an outdoor space to be able to relax, enjoy a glass or two of wine, and your space! Way to go!!

Sara

Sara! GEM of a post. Gem of a pool And night lewk😂

We’re updating our deck and I’ve been on the prowl for cool large planters that are inexpensive … but not plastic. Yikes they’re pricey. Turns out galvanized metal trash cans are super cute and fit a large evergreen! It helped me to look outside of the traditional patio area. Hear ya so hard on the umbrella stand — took me three years to find a not insanely expensive one that rolls. $56 at Lowe’s right now.

Those pots in the back are begging for perennials! Or evergreens! Something you can plant and not have to replant year after year.

I would love to follow along as you fix up your backyard. SO FUN! And real and honest as opposed to one of those before and after wham bam kind of fix ups. Looking great so far!

Sarah

Can I ask where the pouf is actually from? It’s great and maybe calling they can ship?

Grace

The plastic tub!!! Hahaha loved this post.
Loving these mini makeovers! We have a tiny front porch area at our rented townhouse and this post is the first “outdoor living” post that I could see myself emulating!

Amy Madeline

Thank you for the reminder and inspo to enjoy what I have and make do! I too have an under appreciated outdoor space I am giving some much needed love and attention. And the photo of you in your patio “pool” is simply the best!

Morgan

I’m definitely with you on wanting to get things now during quarantine, how spoiled we were previously with everything in an instant. Really love this little transformation and was pleasantly surprised with the day to night transition even if it’s just the hanging lights that are different. Also really wishing I had an outdoor space now with my apartment but open windows with a view are pretty good too.

As for getting outdoor furniture on a budget my sister and her boyfriend actually got two outdoor chairs out of somebody’s trash (not very glamorous I know) but they were in great condition and with two new cushions they were perfect for the balcony of her apartment. So while we all might not have your same good fortune with a loveseat there’s still creative ways to get things for free.

Roberta Davis

Lemonade out of lemons! Enjoy! I like your look and also the Boho Lounge! Most important is the pool, though, right? And sunset-watching. The flowers you planted look really nice.

Roberta Davis

Also- not being a photography expert, but having read your prior posts and now seeing posts with photos that you didn’t do- I really appreciate your artful photography!

Lisa

Love your citrus trees. Your space reminds me of a lot of the spaces landscaped in the show, Big Dreams, Small Spaces. You could grow vertically and keep room for entertaining and have a raised bed or two. Might be fun to plan while enjoying your mimosa on the loveseat!

Ashlea

Me too! Big Monty Don fan over here! Sara – you can find the show on Netflix. The spaces can be pretty inspiring. Also want to add my two cents for the cinder block fencing – painting is a no brainer for sure. Re: the moroccan blue – I think Frida Kahlo’s home is a good use of the color if you want a reference. However not sure if it’s a bit too much compared to the house? Might be too much of a contrast? Anyway, I love landscaping as much as a good house reno, so would love to follow along when you decide (ie: can afford) to overhaul the space. In the meantime, looks fantastic. Cheers!

Jillian L

LOL that tub shot is the best!! Making me seriously want to do the same now…

Jenn

Love this space! You’ve inspired me to embrace my imperfect backyard, thank you!

Suzanne

That kiddie pool will be so welcome in the LA heat! Lovely little backyard makeover!

Rusty

Sara, you’ve created something really sweet and private from a whole lotta concrete! Go, you! Great job and your discussion of the how, why, etc. is so helpful for motivating others to start.
Loved this post. Your writing style is catchy and motivating. 🌼

I’d personally be lifting a few more chunks of concrete around the edges and planting local, indigenous, bird attractting, shrubs. Voila!

Jan

Well done!! I agree with other comments that painting all of the masonry walls and the back fence would make a HUGE difference to the back yard!! I vote for white paint on the cement blocks! After painting the back fence in dark green – you could add a roll of bamboo fencing to the existing fence. And yes! do consider planting in those planters! These next steps would make an awesome blog post too – we really need these kinds of relatable projects!

Paula

No to the white. First, what the space needs is color. Secondly, white is so glare-y in the strong light we get here AND it reflects the heat and makes it more intense.

Kristin

I love this post so much! Your space looks great. Super cute job on a small budget.

A

Girl I feel you on the concrete backyard. When we bought our house we DIY removed a 40×16 foot section of our concrete-only yard, and it ended up being 6″ deep and reinforced with metal mesh… 320sqf of concrete removed, 320sqf of dirt wheelbarrowed in, and a box truck of sod later, we have comfy grass and trees! But it truly sucked.

Glad you have a little patch of paradise!

Christa

OMG Sara you look so cute in these pics! This is a perfect little spot for summer nights.

If you do decide to paint the block fence, I recommend painting 2 layers of Killz primer on it. Well that’s what I did and it’s lasted 2 years so far, giving a nice bright background for potted plants. We all gotta work with what we got!

Courtney

Your playlist is SOOOO good! Thanks for sharing. Excited to drink a mint julep on my patio tonight (that also needs updating…)

Paula

Perfect BUDGET makeover. I love the citrus trees. I love the string lights in the citrus trees. I love string lights outdoors.

Oh, and I love you in your soaking “pool.” 😍

Suggestion? Are you considering painting the wall? I think it would add so much, and the concrete block is so, I dunno, prison yard? But maybe that’s phase two.

Erika Gallagher

Forek forever

SARAH

One day you can have a big dance party on that concrete slab.

Before you buy paint, may I suggest edible vines! The passion fruit vine in our San Diego yard is beautiful! And yields so much passion fruit a couple times a year! I love snacking on 3 or 4 at a time 🙂

Or bogainvillea grows like a weed and the color is one of earths miracles. I’d bet on it beating any paint color.

elle

Wonderful post. Like everything about it — the writing, the pictures, the concepts. Everything you have in this space is just right. Including you!

Paige

First, this is all so gorgeous!!

But… don’t they sell swimsuit pieces separately because women’s body sizes are remarkably and beautifully different? So someone may have an XXS bust and an L bottom.

Jeanine

I really enjoyed this post and the fact that even small transformations add so much to the quality of life, especially during this time! I would get a paint sprayer and paint all the things white (fence, concrete wall, and house) except for the concrete pad. I would either paint that green or get artificial turf. A lot of people are actually using that now, and it doesn’t look half bad! I would love to see that transformation!

JANNA

No paint? A gallon of paint to cover the cinder and fence would be magical-black or dark green-so much bang for your buck

Sara, this is a great start to what will surely become a boho paradise! I’ve been s-l-o-w-l-y working a backyard renovation on a shoestring budget for the past 9 years. I have a tip that is relatively inexpensive and will change everything. Paint that cinder block wall a really dark color and it will practically disappear and make your backyard look even bigger. I painted mine a dark green. Dark paint will help hide flaws in the block wall and when you put plants against it they really pop.

AnneG

Painting/updating your cinderblock wall would make a huge impact! I would paint the wood fence behind the car or even attach reed privacy fencing to it which would go with the boho/airy theme you were originally aiming for. It’s like $26 for a 6′ tall x 16′ long section from Home Depot and it’s pretty easy to install. I bet 2 16′ rolls and a nail gun/ your BF would cover that. I actually stuccoed the cinderblock wall in my yard a medium pink and I love it. I think a nice warm white/cream would look good for you, but any color would work because the space is so large. Also, you can use a product called quickcrete on the wall to cover the seams. You mix it up like cement and slather it on like icing, basically. A lot of professionals put down mesh and then put it on in multiple layers and work for it to be totally smooth but I prefer a rough Mediterranean look for plaster/ stucco – which is a plus because that is also way easier. It doesn’t 100% cover the cinderblock seams but once its on and painted you really can’t see the… Read more »

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