Backyard Makeover :: Still in Process

We started tearing up our old backyard in March 2017, we did it DIY style with the help of friends who are professionals — a landscaper, a builder and lucky us–an amazing pool designer. It’s not quite done yet, but I’ve never been one to hide the process until we had a big perfect reveal. So here we are 8-9 months into the biggest project we’ve ever done–completely rebuilding a pool, and adding a patio and fireplace area to our backyard.

The backyard when we first toured the house in 2013.

Oh look, this house has a pool!

This is what the pool looked like when we bought the house. It wasn’t much of an asset, it was more of a liability. We bought the property in spite of the pool, but I secretly hoped that one day we wouldn’t just fill it in, but completely redo it. We were not looking for a house with a pool and I never even considered having a pool, it was just here and we knew this was the house for us. So now we have an old green pool. Yippie?

I grew up going to Donner Park pool in Columbus Indiana–all of my best childhood memories take place there. Once we had the boys, I’d save money all winter so we could join the pool each summer in Greensboro, North Carolina. One year I even cried literal tears on the last day the pool was open. I am a Pool Girl. I absolutely love floating in a pool by a pool and think it’s one of the most relaxing, enjoyable things possible. I never ever dreamed we’d have a pool in our backyard. So buying this house with the green pool both excited and scared me.

It’s no secret that I will and already have used this old pool and the new pool more than anyone else in our family.

Once we bought the house, Chad called his high school buddy Tell who just happens to build amazing pools and they had the water looking as good as it could within a week or so. But, the old vinyl pool had rips, a broken main drain, multiple leaks, broken stairs and a cracked patio. It was actually in fantastic shape for being built in 1989ish but pools like this were not built to last for 30 years. We were able to get 3 more summers out of it thanks to duct tape, two hoses always in the pool, and avoiding the stairs.

We couldn’t just redo the pool without considering the rest of the yard. The fence around the pool felt prisonlike–and the pool felt really separated from the house.

Also, we had a wall problem.

See how the brick retaining wall comes to a point behind the two lounge chairs? If you line it up to the house, it lines up with the left side of that skinny window on the right. The retaining wall was so awkward, cutting up the usable space in our backyard. We knew that updating the 30ish year old vinyl pool and patio would require more than just attention to the pool.

We would have to remove the old retaining wall and build new, longer walls that made sense for the space, in order to have a usable backyard patio area that didn’t feel separated from the house.

Here’s a shot after the fence and wall had been pulled out, you get a sense of how large that area can be behind our house and outside of that basement porch.

This screened porch area leads to our basement that we hope to refinish one day. #RealLifeFixerUpper — they take years and all of your money.

The screened porch after the wall was removed. The old retaining wall jutted out all the way to the walkway and then angled back out away from the house.

Removing the old pool.

Our view from the house after Chad and Co. removed the pool. You can see some of the new retaining wall there on the right.

Once the old pool was gone and we saw what we were dealing with, THEN we really started to plan specifics. The piece of plywood back there was what I used to try to envision the fireplace. This is the part where we remeasured for the patio, and planned exactly how far the pool would be from the house. We pulled it in a little closer than it was before.

After a trip for writers to Italy last year, Chad and I were inspired by the pool at La Foce (Villa Origo)

Clearly, Italy is not even close to what Midland, NC looks like. But we loved the simplicity of a rectangle pool with grass on three sides and wanted to interpret that feel for our property near an old sawmill in rural NC.

Chad and the mason finishing the main retaining wall.

Chad and John digging the new hole for the pool once the main retaining wall was built.

Chad, still digging the hole for the pool. The deepest part of our pool is in the middle there.

Since three of Chad’s closest friends are a landscaper, a builder and pool designer/pool builder we had access to brilliant pool and landscape minds. Add in John, a teacher who has the summers off and practically lived with us this past summer, and we had a pool dream team that included our three teenage boys and their unsuspecting friends, and my dad when he stopped by. We had a great crew.

Here they are doing the plumbing for the pool.

Y’all, I’m not even going to try to show you seven months of work in the exact order or explain every single decision. For a few months we/they were just doing things like removing the old pool, removing the old retaining wall on the main side of the pool, moving dirt, and building a new long retaining wall and redigging the pool in its new location and then putting forms in that. It’s lots of red clay, wood and more red clay and machines.

We had the long retaining wall built first–to replace the one we removed, but in order to have more patio space and a flat area, we needed another smaller retaining wall on the opposite side. We decided to add a fireplace to that wall too.

I thought of the backyard as an outdoor room. I wanted places to hangout and focal points and since we were investing money into a new backyard, one of our main goals was to be able to use it year around. So we opted for a fireplace on the small retaining wall and a spa in the pool. The fireplace and spa were extra time and money but it instantly allowed us to go from using the backyard comfortably half the year to the entire year.

First Jose built the fireplace, then he added the retaining wall on the sides. We used the cheapest brick since we knew we were going to paint it.


He’s built many fireplaces before so he knew exactly what to do with my random drawing. I had a few goals with the fireplace. And I figured them out by pinning 1.5 million outdoor fireplaces on Pinterest and figuring out what I did and didn’t like.

I KNEW the biggest thing that would make the outdoor fireplace look weird was if the scale was off. Anything else could be fixed, but if the fireplace looked tiny, then it would be wasted money.

I also wanted the side angles of the fireplace (above the firebox that angle to the chimney) to be reminiscent of our steep roofline on the house. One of the thing that bothered me about the previous backyard was all of the weird random angles with the brick and fence. So since we already have a massive, focal point of an angle with our green metal roof,  we kept the angle similar.

My third goal for the fireplace was that it needed a high firebox. I wanted it to work even if we put a dining table and chairs in front of it, no leaning down to make your smore’s.

Meanwhile, the pool was progressing. You can see the outline!


The back of the pool was framed and then Chad filled this spot back in with dirt. Once the plumbing was done they were ready for the concrete.

We had hoped to have the pool done before Landis, our oldest went to college, it wasn’t fished but that didn’t stop me from making everyone get in the pool for a photo.

Here you can see the new main retaining wall on the left when you are facing the back of the house. Remember that old retaining wall? It cut into our yard to the left side of that skinny window–now look at how much room we have! You can also see the pool, the sun shelf on the left and the spa built-in on the right. This is right after the coping and tile were finished.

First they built the fireplace like a rectangle and I was all “guys, it’s supposed to have an angle, what is happening?”. I’m sure they rolled their eyes at me and then kindly told me that they make a rectangle first, then cut the brick with a saw. Crazy.

And ta-da! Look at that fireplace! After this, they built the hearth, and the rest of the small retaining wall and then laid the patio. Meanwhile, boring pool things were happening. We’re on the home stretch!

Once the wall was up and the patio was in, Chad started painting.

And kept painting.

And painting.

And painting.

He actually did this all in one day and it was the most transformative day of the entire project.

Suddenly, with white paint on the brick basement wall, our house is looking taller. Chad and the boys removed the front walls of the old basement screened in porch and now that opens up to the patio. Meanwhile, the pool was moving right along getting ready for plaster.

Once we removed the plastic from the patio–the backyard finally started to look like what we’ve hoped for. I moved some outdoor sofas by the fireplace so our kids wouldn’t have to sit in the fireplace.

The plaster guys finished out the pool and we filled it with water.

Chad and I had to get in that very night.

The water is looking greenish here, but no worries, it turned blue.

Here it is a few weeks ago–the fence is still in progress, and we’ve done no landscaping, but you get the idea.

how about a before again for comparison?

Just for fun, here’s a mockup I made in keynote waaay back in early spring (because I can’t photoshop) of what I imagined our backyard could look like. It actually helped us make decisions, as dorky and elementary as it is. And look…

We ended up using artificial turf. It’s a long story but it was the right choice for this area and I love it. In the summer it’s the same color as the rest of the grass on the property, in the winter it’s a lush green spot to hang out in.

Look how real this turf looks! We ordered this after seeing something similar at The Bradford and loving it.

Watch out La Foce!

I’ve got all sorts of weird lighting going on, but here’s a view out the bay window in the kitchen. You can see that retaining wall on the right and the turf right after it went down.  The pool is a “sport pool” recommended to us by our pool designer and friend, Tell. So the deepest part of the pool (6 feet) is in the middle running from side to side. The far end is 4 feet deep (with a built-in bench at the end for sitting–John’s idea) and the close end has steps from the shelf (9 inch sun shelf with a pipe in it that holds the umbrella) that end at 3.5 feet deep. The pool is 18 feet wide by 40 feet long.

The fence is now up on two sides, the fence will also go on top of the retaining wall on the right and I hope to grow vines on it. I wanted a country fence and since we already had a fence like this around our pasture, we decided this fit right in with our country pool. We’ll add metal roll out goat fence? I don’t know, something will get added to the back of it so there aren’t big gaps. And we’ll be painting the fence in a few months.



So that’s where we are in our backyard makeover. I love LOVE the extra space it provides. It feels like our house just got bigger.  We have some covered area (we call it the underporch–that old screened in porch that we opened up) we still have work to do on that but it’s coming along. We have the fireplace and spa to stay warm. And we have the pool to cool down in.

We built the first fire in the fireplace the night of Nest Fest Eve and the whole area earned it’s keep that very night.

Here we are on Thanksgiving Eve.

If you are in the North Carolina/South Carolina area the amazing people that helped on this project are:

Kurt Wilkinson  // Pinnacle Ground Management (the boss of our walls, fireplace, patio and turf, soon to do landscaping)

Tell Bumgarner // Blue Water Pools (the brain and designer for our pool — he’s too busy and good to need a website so if you want him, you can contact Kurt above (they’re all friends) and he’ll get you in touch with Tell.

Caleb Hill // Adam David Homes (kept us on the up and up with building codes and making sure removing our old retaining wall wouldn’t cause our house to fall down–it didn’t!)

We used Superior Pool Products for most of our pool supplies and equipment, even the patio, coping and tile. We used Natural Paving Classic Flagstone in Promenade Sandstone for our patio and coping. It’s LOVELY and I love it so much. It’s lighter in color than bluestone and doesn’t really get that hot even in the sun.

And my husband, Chad was in our backyard every single day. He worked on every part of this pool, had all of the connections and I feel like he built this pool with his own bare hands. This man can make anything.

The pool plaster is french gray. It’s a super fine sand type of plaster without any big pebbles.

Our pool is 18 feet wide and 40 feet long, we are using a salt system.

I know how hard it is to find info from real people if you are building a pool, fireplace or patio leave a comment if you have a question and if I can answer it I will!


  1. Oh my goodness. So much work but so worth it.


  2. wow…it has been so fun following you and your family all these years through your ups and downs but it looks like you are up now!! What a beautiful transformation and I hope you and your family have been years of happy memories.

  3. So…you basically built a brand new pool! It’s all gorgeous!

  4. WOW! Your backyard is stunning! You did a wonderful job describing how it all came together. Enjoy!

  5. Very, very nice. I was at NestFest in 2016 and remember seeing the old pool. It is gorgeous now!

  6. That is an amazing transformation, but I’ve come to expect nothing less from you. <3 And contrary to your motto, this is PERFECT and beautiful. <3

  7. Absolutely stunning! Your vision became reality – it is all truly beautiful. Thank you for sharing these photos with us. Kara

  8. So so good!!! I love the fence natural! Breaks up all the white and brings warmth to the space. Enjoy!

  9. Thank you for sharing. It looks simply stunning.

    1. Love seeing your boys working throughout the process.
    2. How the heck did you keep all that red clay our of your house and how did you wash it out of clothes???

    • Kristen, I had extra rugs down EVERYWHERE.
      When I wiped off my kitchen counters–the rag would turn RED.
      At the end of the summer, we changed our air filters in the house–and the dust was RED. I have a feeling our lungs are RED now. It’s so gross!

  10. I need to borrow your guys and bring them to Texas. I can make a mean bologna sandwich!! Your house and backyard are so full of character. I love it and hope you smile everyday.

  11. Wow! Great job. You are one courageous woman to have taken on a project of that magnitude. I can tell you had a vision though and the determination to see it through. Very inspiring. I’ve looked at your blog on and off for a few years, but now I intend on being a regular. We bought a fixer upper last year and I have recently become determined to make it beautiful, orderly, and comfortable for my family. Thanks for sharing your project! Love it!

    • You can do it! I have a love hate relationship with our fixer– I hate that I love it so much! It’s SO worth the trouble, the fights, the money and the time!!

  12. It looks so beautiful! I’m so happy for you guys!

  13. Congratulations it looks great!! I know your family will make many wonderful memories in this new ‘room’ of your house! Well done and thanks for sparking some inspiration!

  14. WOW! All the first pictures made it look like a mess and noisy and more mess. But then the outcome is wonderful! I’m a big swimming fan, so I think the pool renovation is my favorite part.

  15. Seriously this is incredible!!! it looks so fabulous!!

  16. GAH I love it so so much!! Gorgeous! SO thrilled for you all!

  17. norma v Northcutt says

    love our salt water generator! what a difference! we are selling our house this spring and i will definitely miss our pool! loved just taking care of it!

  18. It’s lovely!! Such an awesome place to relax, host, and make memories in. And I didn’t know you were from Columbus! I live in Edinburgh, and work in Columbus. =)

  19. Soo…super dorky of me, but is that a Mahindra tractor I spy? Haha! I only ask because my dad has a dealership and I just thought it was neat to see one in action! :) Also, this pool area is wonderful! I wish we could do something like this, but we are stuck in our rental for now!

  20. Wow that is gorgeous! I too love to float in a pool….my husband loves to swim laps. He swam for ~15 years. Would love something like that in my yard! I didn’t know you lived in Greensboro…..that’s where we’re from and still live.

  21. “I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love! And I don’t care who know it! XOXO

  22. Beautiful work!! This is a great backyard transformation!
    I have a quick question on the turf- did you all install that yourselves OR did Pinnacle complete that work for you? We’re thinking of installing turf ourselves in our backyard, and I’d love to hear about your experience if you did install yourselves!

  23. I’m proud of my buddies, Kurt and Caleb! They rocked it out. Kurt was just at my house Friday doing landscaping that I have been dreaming of for 4 years! Your pool area is beautiful!

  24. Wow, Myquillyn! So impressed with your vision for the space. And the execution makes it all such a dreamy place to hang out! Kudos to you! I have no doubt you’ll enjoy it as much as I hope you do!

  25. WOW. This is beautiful. I can’t believe how different it looks since our visit. Good work from both of you!

  26. Looking at this post and a few others, I see nothing at all I can relate to. Must be nice to be able to afford such a big project like this, as well as others, and vacations and trips. Some of us are struggling with putting food on our tables and affording substandard housing. I am way older than you are and even though we worked very hard we continuously struggle with daily necessities. Your blog is not what I thought it was, there is no way you could relate to us regular people. Enjoy.

  27. Oh my word, girl. Wow wow wow is all I can think. I’m so proud for you!

    Thank you for showing the real pictures all along the way. I love the fact that you live in a real fixer upper that didn’t immediately get transformed in one hour on prime time or even in six months of real time. I was thinking yesterday that a good question would be NOT “Do you have the courage to take on a fixer upper?” but instead “Do you have the courage to LIVE IN a fixer upper?”!

    On a side note, these photos reminded me of one of my favorite old albums. Have you ever listened to Emmylou Harris’s album “Red Dirt Girl”? I think you’d love it!

  28. I love, love, LOVE this project! I love every detail about it! We are facing a major renovation on a house we purchased and moved into a year ago (yes, we are living with 1980’s mauve and green paisley wallpaper and fiberglass showers, bare ceilings where we scraped them before we moved, and horrifying kitchen cabinets.) I love that you keep it so real – other bloggers who, you know, move across country and have pictures hung and walls painted and drapes sewn within a week make me grit my teeth. :D

  29. Oh I LOVE! What great vision you had for this space. We are also about to work on a portion of our yard, and I’m realizing that designing outdoor spaces that have slopes and need retaining walls is just a whole ‘nother thang!

  30. What swayed yo towards the salt water pool? We’d like to get a pool in a few years but aren’t sure which way to go.

  31. Having a pool myself, I was so worried to see the grass so close to the pool thinking what a pain it would be to get the grass out after mowing. But no worries with the artificial turf!

  32. It’s magical!! Like the Walt Disney World of backyards!! My fave part is the sunshelf with umbrella. That is crazy genius!!

  33. It looks so amazing and such a great place to relax and entertain! I’d love more information on your fence dimensions. We are working with a builder and pool designer now and I just hate the thought of having a fence so close to the pool, especially since we have a very large back yard-looks like you do too. Obviously, I understand the reasons why we have to have one, I guess I have to trust they’ll make it look nice!

  34. Wowza!!! What a difference! I love that you didn’t just throw money at this fixer-upper and transform it overnight. This project has been a long time coming, and I know y’all will get lots of great use out of it. I’m still waiting to get my fire pit (sniff, sniff). Can you tell my husband doesn’t share my love of projects? Haha. And you just casually threw in the part about your son going to college–how did I miss that?!

    Everyone involved deserves a huge “well done.”

  35. Wow- What a great job you all did!!! The pool and grounds look beautiful! And now it flows so well with the style of the back of the house. What a great accomplishment! So much time and energy. Thank you for sharing your creative view point. I love your designs!

  36. Eleanor Craig says

    WOW! Love the AstroTurf decision. More pool time and no clippings! My brother and his family had a sun shelf and umbrella, it was a wonderful feature. I am most impressed, though, by how much TALLER your house looks with everything painted white!

  37. What an awesome design! And what a great team! Love to see people coming today to make a vision happen! I know how much work it took for you to make it come alive and alive it is! I’ll definitely be sending those recommendations to family I have down there!

  38. Literally speechless! It’s stunning! And maybe even better than your inspiration ;)

  39. beautiful!! So happy for you all

  40. How awesome, and what a great feeling for you and your family!

  41. Wow you do amazing work. I found your book at Barns and Nobles when out with my students with special was sitting on a chair, didnt know much about u but loved the book now the Cozy Minimalist winter course. One question, just quirous, why paint over the screen house beautiful wood? Because i love the way you combine wood and white. Janet ps absolutely loved the Winter course!

  42. Wonderful!!! I love when you write realfixerupper need years, that’s true.
    I hope someday to do something similar in my backyard, I dream about a pool every summer, when here in italian prosecco region is too hot.

  43. Simply gorgeous! I love every single thing in your space! As a fellow-fixer-upper owner, you have given me hope and inspiration!

  44. Wanna come to Texas & build me a pool?!! ? This is just so great!!

  45. So amazing!! Thank you for sharing the process!! What a beautiful family memory maker space!!!

  46. Hot fire flames! What an improvement Think of all the years of fun and frolic! Worth it!!

  47. WOW!! This is jaw-dropping amazing. I can’t believe how much excavation and overhaul you guys did – Chad is incredible and your vision is perfection. Your man definitely deserves a month off to sit by the pool when it warms up.

  48. Necia Little says

    So lovely! We also have red clay. Were there any extra considerations for dirt work/prep due to the clay?

  49. Girl. I savored every bit of this post! It. Is. Stunning. And thank you, as always, for showing what real life fixer upper-ness truly looks like over the long haul. What a labor of love!

  50. HOLY CRAPOLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is amazing!!!!! Gonna have to convince all these guys to come to Georgia, LOL. Okay now the important question is: Are you gonna make an AIrBnB out of the basement!? I wanna come play!!!!!

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