Brownstone Boys: Backyard Makeover Reveal and Tour

We now watch the plants grow. Photo by Shahnee Naftali

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 75th installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary about renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

Outdoor space seems more important than ever right now. If you’re fortunate enough to have a backyard, it’s time well spent giving it a makeover. We’ve been working tirelessly in our backyard for the past few months but we’ve been dreaming about it even longer. After going through a major renovation of the house, we had basically no budget for the backyard. We saved up $2,500 and set out to transform the space as much as we could.

Our backyard is not only a retreat for us to relax, it’s also a way for us to connect with our friends. Now that pandemic related precautions are lifting we are very much looking forward to socially distanced outdoor fun with small groups of friends this summer. We built our backyard with those two things in mind.

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A before and after of our backyard makeover. After photo by Shahnee Naftali

After using a jackhammer to take up a lot of concrete, relocating soil over our entire yard, carrying hundreds of bags of sand and gravel in, carrying many bags of excess soil out, leveling pavers, and planting a lot of greenery, we are finally done! We can’t wait for you to see.

Time for the tour!

Walking out of the back door, you step onto an 18 by 8 foot steel deck. It’s made of steel and concrete to comply with NYC building code. (Because the deck stretches from property line to property line, it must be made out of noncombustible materials.)

The most important use for the deck for us was cooking and al fresco dining. We have a beautiful grill, purchased before our backyard makeover, and a round table that expands for larger al fresco dinner parties. We introduced a pop of color with sun yellow chairs.

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A seating area on the repurposed bluestone and new gravel. Photo by Shahnee Naftali

At the very bottom of the deck stairs you land on the hardscape. We installed a pea gravel and bluestone patio. We used bluestone that we found in various parts of our yard with pea gravel in between. Pea gravel patios always remind us of Mediterranean gardens so we really like the feel it gives our backyard. This space was designed to have relaxing seating and a fire pit. It’s a bit more comfy than the seating on the deck and you have the feeling of being immersed in all of the plantings around you.

Between the patio and the building we built a 24-inch planter box that stretches across most of the width of the yard. On one side are the deck stairs and the other a small path. We painted the planter matte black to match the deck. We wanted to create some interest with varying heights in the garden and also create a separate private space for our tenant. It serves both purposes well.

The back half of our yard beyond the patio is grass. It was dirt…but we seeded a lawn. We had major doubts we would ever see one blade of grass, but we took time to make sure we found the right grass seed. Then after taking care of it like a mama bird takes care of her chicks for five weeks, we had a full lawn. (Watering three times a day!) We used a special grass seed mix for areas that don’t get full sun. It’s dog friendly and drought resistant (aka us forgetting to water). The seed we used is #769 from PT Lawn Seed. At less than $20 for a bag of seed it was definitely worth the five week wait over the instantly gratifying but more expensive option of installing sod. It definitely paid off because it’s a beautiful bright green carpet of grass.

There are two more relaxing places to hang: A hammock and two Adirondack chairs on the grass.

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Facing the yard another new seating area for the tenant. The ferns will grow into a privacy screen. Photo by Shahnee Naftali

All the way around the perimeter of the yard are shade tolerant plants. With help from our backyard beautifier, a Brooklyn garden designer, we picked out plants that would work well in our yard and provide the relaxing environment we were looking for. We planted Bugloss, Hardy Geranium, Ghost Ferns, Ostrich Ferns, Echinacea, Butterfly Bushes, and two Ruby Falls. With help, we got all of our plants from wholesale places, and we are patiently waiting for them to grow in a bit and fill the space.

The last piece of the puzzle, which really sets the mood, are the two 60-foot strings of lights running from the house all the way to the back of the yard.

The result has really exceeded our expectations and dreams. We have spent morning, day and night in the backyard ever since we finished. It was time and money (even with our limited budget) well spent. The total amount we spent ended up being about $2,600. It might look a bit more DIY than the projects on which we were quoted $35,000, but we enjoyed the process and now really appreciate the result even more.

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Our backyard lit up at night facing the back of the brownstone

[Photos by Brownstone Boys unless noted otherwise]

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