Bushwick Reno: From Weeds to a Mural


Having a backyard was pretty much at the top of our list when we were house hunting, partly because outdoor space in New York City seemed just as luxurious as our own washer and dryer, but mostly, for our dog.


Unfortunately, our contractor did not include it in the budget to fix it up at all. So it’s kind of been chillin’ there for a year, a patch of dirt where weeds constantly grow and must be picked, a shed that is pretty much unusable, and cracked concrete everywhere. Oh, and a storm drain that doesn’t always drain, it turns out (yaaaay, being a homeowner is awesommmmme).

We were going to wait until next summer to really focus on this project, or at least after the solar panels, but between the intense summer rainstorms, our lack of a green thumb, and a bit of laziness, our backyard has been taken over by weeds! And by taken over, I mean to the point where no amount of weed killer can stop them.


So we took to the Internet to try to find someone to pull up some weeds and prevent them from coming back up.

Turns out, no one just wants to pull up weeds. Everyone wants to put in grass, or astroturf, or a garden of some kind. Also turns out, no one has lawns in Brooklyn, so landscaping companies are a bit of a rare breed in general out here. We called maybe five people and one person called us back.

He was a lawncare guy and LOVED talking about lawncare. I think he loved it so much, he actually talked us out of wanting a lawn. He went over all the different maintenance services you would need to have, from sodding, to reseeding, to weeding, to bug prevention, to prepping it for winter months. It was going to cost nearly $500 a year to maintain a patch of grass. In Brooklyn. That might just be too luxurious.

It did snap us out of the small job we thought it was going to be, and into a crap-we-need-to-actually-do-something-out-here mode.

I was kind of losing it, I’m not going to lie. If not a lawn, then what?? We can’t just do concrete or bricks or stones because the dog needs somewhere to go to the bathroom. Maybe we should just put in a lawn. I love grass.

And then Brian reminded me to breathe.

Can we agree we don’t want a lawn?

I nodded.

Okay, that’s a good place to start.

Uuuugh, can’t we just take out all the dirt and fill it with gravel or something? I said, exasperated.

Oh, wait. That’s actually a good idea. How about a rock garden?

Yes! A rock garden! No plants or vegetation!

We googled rock garden and it was even more overwhelming than lawn work.

Back to the Internet we went, this time to look for some rock experts. A few days later, I got a call from someone who I hadn’t emailed (my info was apparently forwarded to him from someone else). He asked what we wanted to do and we said, Well, we were hoping to get your advice on what we should do.

Well, just google a few things you like, send me some pictures, and I’ll come do the labor for you.

We tried that, and we don’t really have a good idea of what we want to do.

Just google a few pictures and send me what you’re thinking.

Um, okay.

I hung up and started googling again. And it got even more overwhelming. We just wanted to get rid of the weeds and make sure they didn’t come back! Now somehow we are designing a rock garden and the only person who will call us back has no idea where to even start.

After having a fit in Home Depot looking at tiny bags of rocks (they’re for apartments, the Home Depot guy says), I suddenly say, Maybe we should call the guy who did our steps?

Oh yeah, he was great! I’d rather go with a guy we already like and trust than someone who just called us back.

I’ll email him tonight!

The steps guy — his name is Tee — comes by a few days later and takes a good walk around our small backyard. He gives us suggestions after we tell him no plants or greenery and we settle on keeping our concrete shed because getting rid of it will be more expensive and not give us much more room (he will fix the roof and powerwash it), pave part of the yard with concrete so we can put in a seating area, fill another part of the yard with pea gravel and some weed paper (you know, to stop the weeds from growing, haha), and fix up the cracked concrete in the back.

Brian whispers to me, We should have done this from jump.

I nod and smile. Once we realized we didn’t want a lawn, we should have just called this guy immediately.

We go back inside and ask him how long it will take and how much it will cost.

He says it will take about three to four days total. He also says he will go back and figure out what it will cost and give us a fair price. He says he respects that we called him again after so long (we did the steps over a year ago) and knows we don’t have a very big budget so he doesn’t need to gouge us.

Word. Basically, we should call this guy to do everything. (If we had only known two years ago that he did gut renovations!)

The backyard is done in three days and it’s night and day. It cost just about $3,000 for everything, including materials and the new roof on the shed. Tee even painted the walls white since he couldn’t powerwash the dirt off! Amazing!

And just in time for a big party we were hosting, we had an artist and friend paint the first of many murals we hope to have covering our walls. Her name is Marthalicia Matarrita and she is amazing!

Cross this one of the list. Whew!


Photo of dog by Rae Maxwell

Pamela Capalad posts about the renovation of a Bushwick row house, purchased with a 203K loan, with her partner Brian KushnerPamela is a financial planner who also blogs at So We’re Buying a House! Her latest venture is Brunch and Budget.

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