The Finished Side Yard

Five months ago the outside of Square House looked like this:

Five months later the outside of Square House looks like this:

Yep. Major change to the side yard!! The jungle is officially gone and has been replaced with additional railing, a patio area, and a custom fire pit! In the previous post I talked about how we cleared out the jungle area and laid down all the gravel. This post will shoe the final project and also how we built our custom fire pit.

All along this backyard from has been our inspiration:

We love the mixture of modern concrete, gravel,Β  warm natural woods, and greenery. While working on our own yard we decided that the finish style for our place would be Southwestern Modern. We took the inspiration from the above image and adapted it to our own place. All along we knew we would have a fire pit in the area. We both love fires and sitting around them with friends. What we didn’t care for were the store bought ones. For our personal style we have always be drawn to a more modern look to a fire pit. I personally LOVE the square concrete fire pits and had my mind set on one.

Through much discussion with one another we came to the conclusion that since we had never worked with pouring concrete into a mold (we have done concrete work for setting fence post, but that is a whole different ball game) we shouldn’t try and tackle a concrete pour for such a big project. I was really sad about this because I really had envisioned a concrete fire pit in the area. Also concrete alone cannot stand the temperature of a wood burning fire. Most modern square fire pits are actually gas pits and not wood burning. If we had done a concrete pit we would have had to line it with fire bricks and that would have driven up the cost and labor. So instead of doing a solid poured concrete fire pit we constructed one out of cinder blocks, skim coated it, insulated it, then added a fire bowl for the actual fire area. Here is the step by step plan that we took. Sorry for the poor quality of images while building, we just used my IphoneΒ  while working πŸ™‚
We started by measuring off the area for the fire pit. Originally we were going to use the pavers that we found in the area for the patio seating area. When we decided to go ahead with a large fire pit we took the pavers and made a walk way. But since the pavers were 12 inches squared they were perfect for getting a visual for the actual size of the pit.

Then we dug a six inch trench and placed the first layer of cinder blocks in the trench. At this point we leveled the first layer. It took a full day to dig the trench and level the first row. Leveling the first layer is vital for the structural integrity of the fire pit. This area is surrounded by crape myrtles and their root system is very intense! Ever shovel full of dirt was full of roots and we were constantly having to stop and chop up roots.

The finished fire pit was made up of three levels of cinder blocks. After leveling the first layer we went ahead and stacked the rest of the blocks on and let them set over night. This allowed the first layer to settle into the trench before we mortared the cinder blocks together.

Day two we took the top two levels off and then mortared each block in place. Even with leveling the first layer we stilled had to level as we went on. Cinder blocks are not the highest quality of blocks so the individual blocks at times were not level. This is where mortar is very handy; you can add more mortar to help level the block.

We used a total of (30) 8 x 8 x 16in cinder blocks for the structure. (These are $1.29 a piece at Home Depot)

We then let the three layers set for a couple hours and let the mortar dry. We then topped the cinder blocks with 8 x 16 x 1 5/8 cap stones. (We used 10 and they are $1.20 at Home Depot). We leveled as we built up but the top layer still was a little uneven when we went to place the cap stones. (Reference above image, the far side wall) I used extra mortar to help level out the top.

While I was mortaring the top Philip planted our new plants πŸ™‚

Next I skim coated the entire structure. I mixed up an entire bag of mortar and watered it down a good bit. I got it to where the mixture was similar to icing in consistency. If the mixture is too dry it will not spread or stick. If it is too wet it will not harden properly. Getting the mixture right was tricky but I eventually got it. Tip- the consistency is correct when you can tack your trowel, scoop up the mortar, and fling it to your mixing board. The mixture should come off the trowel easily and when it lands on the board it should hold its shape. If it runs, you have used too much water. πŸ™‚

Below is the final skim coat. I didn’t get any pictures of me doing the coat. Pretty much all I did was treat the cinder blocks like a cake and iced it. πŸ™‚ Philip kept laughing at me because I called it icing but really and truly that is what I was doing. ( Total I used two bags of mortar and those where about $5.00 a piece at Home Depot)

Another view of it drying. One thing I did do was I left a texture in the skim coat. Because we were going with a Southwestern Modern feel I left the mortar looking like stucco rather than sanding it smooth.

Next we put in about two feet of gravel. This was to help insulate the cinder blocks from the heat of the fire. (gravel was left over from the base layer on the ground)

Following the gravel came six inches of sand. The sand also worked as an insulator but it also help to hold the fire bowl in place. (We used six bags of sand and those were $3.77 a piece. The fire bowl was actually from a fire pit kit that we purchased at Home Depot. The kit was $39.)

And finally we place another 4 inches of gravel around the bowl to secure the bowl and help it match the rest of the area. We brought in our old patio furniture that we built last year and hung some lighting. The chandelier over the pit is actually the one that used to hang in the dining room. We replaced it with a more modern one and I stripped this one of its electrics and placed candles in the place of the light bulbs.

So here is final look at the area! Also you can see that the railing is no longer on the house! We wanted this new area to flow into the porch and breezeway area so we moved the railing to right next to the driveway. It majorly opened up the area and we love it.

The path way to the breezeway and the backyard:

A closer look at the stucco effect. Also we brought in 16×16 inch pavers ($3.35 from Lowes) to place around the fire pit. These are great for standing on while roasting marshmallows πŸ™‚

So total we spent about $160 for the fire pit and the pavers that are around it. Not bad for a custom patio piece πŸ™‚


The Yard: Progress!

Whew! We’ve been working really hard on the exterior of the house this past month! We wanted to wait until the weather got a little cooler before we tackled the jungle area πŸ™‚ Thankfully we have been blessed with some great weather the past few weeks and we took full advantage of it!

The first thing we did was to clear out the jungle that was our side yard. As you can see from the above image (what we saw right before we closed) the side yard was completely out of control! We learned from our neighbor (who is a super sweet older lady) that the house was vacant for over a year and a half. That much time vacant made for a crazy area. There are five very large crape myrtles in the the side area and they hadn’t been trimmed in years! Also the entire area (what we learn was 900 sq ft) was covered in ivy and four large rose bushes. The ivy was so thick that when you reached down to pull it out it took several pulls before you could see the ground.
We pulled out all the ivy, trimmed the crapes, and transplanted the rose bushes to the front (where we made a new flower bed). When we pulled up all the ivy we found about 50 pavers and 100 stones that you use for edging a bed. Nice little surprise! Saved us about $300 in stones.

We then till the entire area and leveled it. And then we had 9 tons of gravel delivered. Yep as in 18,000 pounds of gravel. Together we shoveled all 9 tons into the bed and it only took about 4 hours πŸ™‚ Of all the things we have done on this house, this yard project has definitely been the hardest on our bodies. It took us 2 days to clear out the ivy and undergrowth. After those two days we were aching like never before. We had to take a week off from pulling it all out and the laying of gravel because of a wedding and it was a good thing we rested between the chores. πŸ™‚
We are putting a seating area in the cleared out section and right now we have the rescued pavers down but we still need to level them. We are in the process of moving all the railing from right next to the house to perimeter of the graveled area. Below shows the progress we had made up till this past weekend:


You can now see the studio! Another before:

And after:

Before (and you can see the old railing color. Man I forgot how dated the cream looked):

This shows the new bed out front. We used rose bushes that were in the side area as well as monkey grass that was lining the driveway. We lined the edge with stones that we found in the side area. We’ll see if the roses actually live πŸ™‚

And a look at the soon to be seating area. We went ahead and laid down the stones before putting the gravel in so we would know what area we would be using. The leveling won’t be fun but we are looking forward to having a fire pit here as well as some cool lighting in the trees.

So that is what we have been up to in the yard πŸ™‚