5 Great Backyards to Inspire Your Own Outdoor Renovation

Here’s how you can get the looks in your own backyard.


— Cooked to Order —


The Project

For homeowners who love to cook, this project created an exceptional outdoor kitchen between two custom pergolas, a dining area with a table that seats eight, and multiple terraces with fireplace and fire pits, all with a rustic-contemporary aesthetic. It blends with the 18th-century house in Rye and its antique barn.


The Pros

Conte & Conte Landscape Architect and Crisp Architect

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Chef’s Special

The outdoor kitchen is equipped with top-of-the-line appliances, including a Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire grill, a professional-grade gas grill that also cooks with charcoal and wood.

Cabinetry, refrigerator, and freezer (all Kalamazoo Signature series) are built right into the stone and have weather-tight seals that allow outside storage of dinnerware and cooking tools year-round. A built-in wine cooling tub is a fun feature for parties.


Photo by Rob Karosis

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Stepped-Up Style

The main house and its antique barn were lacking a connection due to the steeply sloped property between them. Conte & Conte’s Cleo Abrams-Horsburgh saw that as an opportunity. “The design engages a system of retaining walls to create terraces, each serving a distinct purpose,” she explains. “The challenge in creating the ascending levels is achieving a spatial balance that works with the change in elevation.”

Stone steps with modern wire railings lead from the upper dining area and kitchen down to a large lounge with sectionals surrounding a center fireplace. The team worked to protect a mature beech tree during excavation to keep this focal point thriving.


Wine Country

One inspiration for the food-and-wine-loving family was the Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley. They also drew inspiration from some of their favorite restaurants.

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Natural Flow

What seems to be a challenging aspect of a yard or property can turn into a creative solution. “Every landscape has unique constraints that may appear daunting but are likely to become the most interesting part of the design,” says Abrams-Horsburgh. “Analyze possible ways the space works with lifestyle, what elements would draw people outside, but also remember to value the potential views from inside,” she advises. “Through each window there is an opportunity for a work of Mother Nature’s art.”



Photo by Robert Motzkin


— Family Matters —


The Project

A family with four kids wanted more room for everyday living and entertaining — they host holidays and family dinners for 30 people. When the house next door to their Tudor in Larchmont went on the market, they bought it and made it their main house.

They turned their original home, via demo and rebuild, into a sizable pool house that doubles as hangout zone and dining/living space plus gym. The project changed the way they live and play.


The Pros

Motzkin Blum Architects and Glen Gate Company


Bring The Outdoors In

All the furniture inside the pool house is outdoor furniture from Walters Wicker with custom throw pillows in Sunbrella fabrics and a stone-lookalike coffee table from Stone Yard made of Fiberstone. Wet bathing suits on the sectional? No problem. The family can pull a piece of furniture or two outside (accessed through doors that open to 15 feet wide) when needed and leave it there through thunderstorms and rainy nights.


Photo by Robert Motzkin


Pool House For All Seasons

When investing in a new pool house, consider how it will function in the off-season. This one serves as a second home for the family, housing a gym that the husband uses every morning before commuting into New York and a sizable lounge space where the older kids hang out and watch TV. A ship’s ladder leads to a loft that’s a favorite spot for the kids. There’s also a powder room, changing room, and shower room finished in blue glass mosaic tile.


Cold Feet

Materials are key. “When you’re using the pool, you want to have a surround that won’t get too hot underfoot,” says Blum. “We wanted to use natural stone (bluestone) for the pool house, but we couldn’t use that for paving because it gets too hot. Instead, we used a Norwegian buff granite all around the pool.”


Below Deck

Don’t forget practical features, such as laundry for all those wet towels. This pool house’s basement is equipped with an extra-large-capacity washer and dryer and an extra refrigerator. There’s also space in the basement designated for storage of some of the outdoor furniture, which the family can bring in through a stepped ramp on the front of the pool house.



Photo by Sean Jancski


— White Space —


The Project

This sleek, modern 2,300-sq-ft pool house channels West Coast style with its cool, all-white palette and chic but easy contemporary furnishings.


The Pros

Sean Jancski Landscape Architects and Crozier Gedney Architects


Play Spaces

Even with a large, open space like this one, setting up well-defined recreation areas will encourage family fun for all generations and make entertaining easier. “They wanted a pool house that the adults and kids could enjoy and still have elbow room. The adults can be in one area and the kids in another, playing pingpong,” says Jancski.

The bar flows into the dining area and the sitting space with a large sectional; outside there’s a lounge area for sunbathing, a sitting area by the hot tub, an upper terrace with a fireplace and dining table, and, of course, the pool itself.


Color Theory

The simple white palette is beachy and light. “This is a large indoor space and when none of the lights are on and it still looks really bright,” says Jancski. White furniture, white cushions, white walls, white ceiling — the unified look is easy on the eyes and gives the space a spa-vacation vibe.


Well Grounded

For a strong visual connection from the pool house to the outdoors, the team extended the oversize bluestones to the floor inside, too. It creates a seamless transition when looking out to the pool or vice versa.


Open Season

Special doors from Marvin open completely, so there’s no visual barrier between the indoors and out. “More and more people are doing these,” says Jancski. “It seems like California indoor-outdoor living is really starting to take hold in our area.”

To achieve the look, he recommends hiring an architect and landscape architect at the same time, so they can plan the space together and the landscape and hardscape support one another.


Planned Planting

As with the interior colors, Jancski opted for a simple palette in the garden, too. “Good garden design doesn’t necessarily mean putting tons of types of plants in there. It’s about the architecture of the plants, sculptural landscape design,” he says. “We used hemlocks, which are good native plants; to provide screening.”



Photo by Denise Davies


— Porch & Pool —


The Project

Originally a 1950s ranch, this Westport home was gut-renovated and expanded to include a second story and a side porch room that functions as an attached pool house/cabana for the family. They wanted a casual, fun space where they could entertain.


The Pro

Denise Davies, D2 Interiors


Have a Seat

For this indoor-outdoor living space, Davies picked modern orange chairs from Y Living and a sofa covered in a graphic fabric treated for stain resistance. She recommends incorporating lots of seating choices. “Don’t be married to one big sofa. A lot of people fill a space with a sectional and have room for nothing else,” she says. “Especially outdoors, people will move the furniture around, they’ll pull chairs next to the pool. It’s more mobile than an inside space.”

Her go-to outdoor furniture sources: Dedon, Holly Hunt, and Kettal, as well as more affordable Gloster and Crate & Barrel.


Works of Art

Wall art serves as a focal point in this petite pool house. A bright, cheerful abstract by Linda Colletta hangs so that it can be seen from the pool. Davies says that art has its place in outdoor decor. Local fine-art photographers such as Allyson Monson (whom Davies sourced for another project) and Jay B.

Wilson offer images that are treated to weather the elements. Wilson’s photos printed on aluminum can withstand sunlight for years with no fading. Sculpture is another option for bringing art into your outdoor living spaces.


Divine Details

Accent pieces can spruce up an outside living room and make it feel polished. Jonathan Adler and Serena & Lily are among Davies’ favorite sources for smaller pieces. Music completes the outdoor living scene, and Davies recommends speakers by Sonos; she spec’d some that look like rocks for her own outdoor living space.



Photo by Sean Jancski


— Instant Classic —


The Project

For this historical house in Rye, the homeowners wanted outdoor living areas and landscaping that would complement the 1800s style while providing modern amenities for entertaining and for family time with their kids, ages 5 to 14.


The Pro

Sean Jancski Landscape Architects


Sense of Place

Traditional materials, such as an arched arbor gate, teak bench, metal obelisks by the pool, and brick walkways and terraces, and classic garden design feel at home on the property. Jancski and his team created a landscape with familiar plants like boxwood, lilac standards (shaped like trees), hydrangea, and roses. The lilacs and roses bring a fresh fragrance into the space.

“Not a modern style, but it’s clean, timeless, and classic. And the brick really warms it up,” says Jancski.


Well Lit

It’s important to consider how an outdoor living area will be illuminated. Here, there are copper triangle lights, path lights, step lights, wall lights, and even accent lighting on the fireplace as well as up lights to showcase the trees.

A chandelier hangs from the pergola over the dining table. “The whole place is unbelievable at night,” says Jancski. “A lot of entertaining with friends happens in the evening. They may be sitting outside on the couch, having some wine, and there’s a fire going and all the landscape lights are on, accenting the whole layout.”


Level Up

With its multilevel design and stone walls between the pool area, terrace, and eating area, the property’s outdoor rooms are well defined. A detached garage was repurposed to serve as the pool cabana; French doors lead to the pergola-covered outdoor dining space next to a big outdoor fireplace.

On the same level, there’s a spa behind a stone wall. From there, steps lead to the brick terrace and up again to the pool level, which is adjacent to another outdoor sitting area.


Mixed Materials

A modern fountain in the center of the terraced garden makes the space feel very current, yet it blends gracefully with the more traditional boxwood hedges and stone walls.


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