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Designer Interview: Outdoor Living

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

Kristen Martone sits down with leading online furniture and décor retailer Hayneedle to share her tips for styling a mixed-use backyard.


In the second installment of her interview with Hayneedle, Kristen talks about the "staycation" approach of the This Old House 2018 Idea House and shares tips and tricks you can use to create your own relaxing and recreational outdoor living space.

Project Design Manager Kristen Martone

Tell us about this backyard space....

We brought in the talented team at Landscape Creations to help us make the most of what was essentially a narrow lot. Our overarching aim was to create a “staycation” backyard – meaning that homeowners could enjoy the outdoor lifestyle of the beach area without ever leaving, and that they wouldn’t have to chase after a regimen of yard work all the time. The landscape team recommended the sustainable clover lawn for that reason. It’s soft, lush and green with very little maintenance. We also installed a fire bowl instead of constructing a traditional fire pit. This low maintenance alternative can be turned on and off with the flick of a switch.

How did you choose each of the elements and decide what to put where?

For the design, we thought about all the different activities that take place in an ideal backyard. That helped us identify the key spaces we wanted… from a grill and eating area to conversation areas, a fire pit, lawn, pool, and outdoor shower. The narrow lot forced us to think about how to fit everything efficiently and tailor different areas to how they will be used. The lawn made sense at the back, both as a visual focal point and as a logical place to send kids to run and play. The outdoor shower is tucked into a private alcove, and the pergola swing along the side of the yard creates privacy from the adjacent lot. We landed on a small heated plunge pool given the lot size, and the remaining spaces started to fit in naturally from there.

How did you differentiate each area of the backyard?

The combination of the stone patio, stone pavers, lawn and mulch helped us to establish the foundation for each area. Then, similar to our approach for the open floor plan on the inside of the house, we used clusters of different furniture to create a dedicated area for each use: a high-top table with bar stools across from the grill for dining, Adirondack chairs around the fire bowl, etc.

How could someone with a smaller outdoor space create a similar mixed use look?

Some of these elements could be combined. We have three seating areas, where one seating area with low cocktail tables could function for conversations, outdoor eating, and fire-gazing. Also, while I love the fire bowl, a moveable version with old-fashioned logs may make more sense within limited space so it can be placed or taken away depending on what’s on the agenda.

What's your favorite part of the backyard?

Again, I always go back to the craftsmanship details. My eyes go right to the pergola swing, especially when it’s lit up at night. I’ll admit this embellishment is not as high on the list of needs as an outdoor grill, but it’s an element that makes this backyard feel different and special!

#WatchGracekeDesign. To see the original article and shop the look on Hayneedle, click here.


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