5 years ago I was single, living in a loft in koreatown dreaming about the day I owned a home with a backyard for my puppy Diego. It was just me and Diego back then. No kids, no boyfriend. And when I wasn’t working, I would be at the newest LA restaurant having dinner with my girls. One night, after a few drinks with my girls I texted my then ex-boyfriend with a simple ‘hi’. Little did I know that those two letters would change the course of my life forever. He and I had dated years back, but things didn’t work out for us the first time around. But after he and I reconnected, it was clear we were meant to be together for the rest of our lives. After a year of dating again, he proposed. We then got pregnant and bought a home all in the same year. Yes, it was a crazy 2014. House hunting was not fun, it was stressful, and having a belly the size of a watermelon didn’t help. I can’t remember how many homes we looked at, all I can tell you is that the house that would ultimately be our home was the 13th bid we had submitted. I was in disbelief when we finally went into escrow. I do have to give it up to our real state agent Raul, he was so patient with us (mostly me). I remember one day after losing yet another home to a higher bidder, I completely lost it (I blame the pregnancy hormones).
When we moved in, our yard (which was one of the selling points) needed a lot of work. We thought we were prepared for the project, but we weren’t. From start to finish, our backyard remodel took a total of 10 months, a lot of patience, some marital disagreements, and countless learning experiences. I began the project by asking my great friend Alexis from Preen to help me sketch up a design of what she thought was the most economical and easy-to-achieve design. It took weeks to find the right contractors and landscapers. We used three different companies and it took so much out of my husband and I to manage everything.
But at the end, the result was exactly as we pictured it. We learned so much along the way and yes, I would do things a bit differently if I had to do it all over again. Here is what I learned throughout the process:
1. CREATE A MOOD BOARD WITH PHOTOS AND SKETCHES – You can either hire a professional, or do this yourself. But trust me, this is a very important step that you simply cannot rush not skip. First, create a blueprint of your yard by taking photos and measuring the entire area. I had a pinterest board that was all over the place, so make sure you are 100% sure of the style you want to achive. Do you want mostly grass, concrete, sitting space, gravel? Modern, retro, bohemian? There are so many options, so take your time and don’t begin until you are 100% sure and have an agreement with your partner, if one is involved in the process.
2. CREATE A BUDGET – Know from day 1, that most home owners that take on any sort of remodel always go above their budget (specially if you live in LA). Once you begin changing things up, you are going to want to change more and more. You’ll get ideas along the way, which is why is important to really spend time in step 1. Be sure of what you want before you seek out quotes. This may be the hardest and most frustrating step. Landscape contractors are not cheap, they know their worth. A landscape contractor is a one stop shop for everything you may need. They will manage your project from start to finish. If you have the budget, they are worth it. This will be the sole person you will have to manage throughout the process.
3. RESEARCH! – If hiring a landscape contractor is out of the question due to budget constraints (which was our case) , then get ready to do massive research. Carve out the time to meet with independent contractors, speak to them frankly about the budget you have and what you want to achieve. We used 5 different independent contractors for each step of the way. The first built out our retainer walls, and leveled out our hillside into two sections. The second did all the wood work of our fence, our kids play house, and bench. The third was our plumber who ran all the plumbing for the pool and fire pit. The fourth was the plaster guy who did all the finishes on our retainer walls. The fifth was our landscaper, who installed our pavers, sprinkler system, lighting, grass, trees and plants.
4. COMMUNICATE WHAT YOU WANT - Yes, communicating with all of our individual contractor was hard, and coordinating their work even harder. Had I done more research on concrete, plaster, wood and outdoor electricity, things would have gone more smoothly. Print out photos of the textures you are going for and ask your contractors about them. If possible, get samples. If you are working with concrete, plaster or paint, ALWAYS ask for sample first. There is ZERO room for miscommunication when dealing with any sort of construction. Don’t be afraid to ask question.
My absolute favorite part of the entire process however, was choosing our outdoor plants and lighting. If you are working on a tight budget, leave room for those two things. You won’t regret it. It’s really plants and lighting that can make the difference. Trust me on this, lighting is everything! Sometimes we want to splurge on furniture, but without the right lighting or living plant next to it, it won’t have the same impact you are looking for. And it works both ways really, you can dress up any corner of your backyard with the right light and living plant next to it. It’s been a bit over a month since our lights and plants have been installed and I sometimes can’t believe its real.
When we moved to this country, my entire family (there was 6 of us) lived in my aunt’s spare bedroom of her 2-bedroom apartment. I went to school in Brentwood, where my mom cleaned houses for a few years. I remember accompanying her somedays. When we were done cleaning, we’d drive down Mandeville Canyon, and I would day dream of one day owning a home with a pool and big yard. Sometimes in remodels, amid the stress, we can lose sight of the bigger picture. Learn to draw inspiration from photos but catch yourself when you begin comparing yourself to picture-perfect Pinterest and Instagram posts.
Study lighting and learn what and where to invest in. I picked everything from Lamps Plus. The site made it super easy to learn about lighting and it was convenient to order everything from one place.
If any of you are embarking on a house remodel of any kind, whether big or small, don’t be shy to ask questions on the comments below. I love sharing information.
And remember, dream big, and then dream a little bigger after that!