This Rye Backyard Transforms Into an Outdoor Oasis in Westchester

Photography by Cristina Portale Coco

A Rye backyard receives a major upgrade to become an attractive, recreational space for the whole family during the warmer months.

Of all the pandemic-influenced design trends taking the world by storm, a pumped-up outdoor living space is perhaps the most sought-after. For a busy family, with two teenagers, living in a traditional Colonial in Rye, the ask was for an outdoor space that would serve as an extension of their living room.

Enter Ania Dunlop, from Rye-based Home for Zen Interiors, whose passion for nature and organic form translates to a predominantly modern aesthetic that’s rich in texture and often layered with peaceful neutrals and pops of color.

This backyard project got underway in June 2020 and was Dunlop’s first following the COVID-19 lockdown (“Just when everybody started hanging out outside,” she says). Despite new pandemic-imposed challenges, like long wait times for lumber, Dunlop was able to create a backyard sanctuary where different generations could utilize the space simultaneously. “The backyard is not very large, but we gave them so many places to hang out,” she says. “Now, everybody wants to be there.”

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To highlight the yard from the interior of the home, the space on both sides of the doors (from the living room to the patio) was extended, and Marvin doors were installed. This strategic combo provides a broad sightline from both interior and exterior perspectives.


While the bucolic outdoor space did originally have an arbor-and-bluestone patio, it felt outdated. Working with contractor Fernando Marques and landscape designer Mary-Liz Campbell, Dunlop decided to start from scratch. Light-gray pavers from Techo-Bloc were brought in to cover an area much larger than the original patio. The pavers’ large-scale size was conducive to creating a continuous feel from the interior. Shades of gray and clean lines give the space a more contemporary aesthetic, and a new pergola was constructed and painted Benjamin Moore‘s Wrought Iron to create a more intimate, contained space.

Beyond the patio, Dunlop created another area for gathering. “I didn’t want to do pavers again,” she says. Instead, she used white pebbles, for a soft, dressed-up look that contrasts nicely with dark Adirondack chairs and the black-painted firepit that anchors the space. Dunlop wanted that area to be completely different and fun while also being a creative way to do something high-end.

 fire pit

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A sectional from RH, styled with pillows from Serena & Lily, helps define the lounge area. Dunlop avoided a white Sunbrella fabric, opting instead for a light-gray tone, to complement the more modern vibe. She then brought in fun elements, like a fire table and beautiful black planters from McArdle’s Floral & Garden Design in Greenwich, as well as striped planters from Sarza in Rye. “I love using plants and planters and introducing people to that natural environment,” she says. The chair in the lounge area is constructed from rope and comes from Australian company Harbour Outdoor. Since the piece is visible from all sides, Dunlop wanted to source something with obvious architectural detail.

Outdoor patio grill

The boho-style Marina outdoor hanging chair from Arhaus extends the space to the far reaches of the yard. “I felt like we needed something in that area,” says Dunlop, who also wanted to create a whimsical, not-so-structured moment. The largely neutral palette gets a splash of color with a pillow from Sarza, which echoes the pop of pink in the potted flowers. Dunlop says she’s known for her love of dipladenia. “It’s fun to have those go-to plants in the summer,” she says. “It’s my secret that I’m releasing to the world.”

outdoor swing

The design elements of this multifunctional yard allow the family to revel in fresh air all year long. Dunlop attests that in the dead of winter, the cozy firepit and fire table offer necessary heat and the outdoor kitchen and pergola allow for a lively entertaining space in the dog days of summer.

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