A backyard is supposed to be a homeowner’s kingdom. Most people move into a new house with grand plans for a marvelous, verdant green space complete with a gazebo and a hot tub/pool/bar combo. But after a few weeks in, they’re probably still drowning in so many boxes that they can’t even make it into to their backyard, let alone revamp it.
Put down that glue gun and listen up. Turning your yard into the dream space you know it can be doesn’t have to involve seven billion trips to the hardware store and the daily consultation of its Friendly Employee #22323. Backyard guru Reed Loar is here to help. He has created simple projects you can complete in an afternoon with a Coors Banquet Beer in hand. Reed has been making furniture and interior fittings for the last five years, focusing on steel, wood, and mixed materials like concrete and glass. In fact, craftiness runs in his family —- his dad was a cabinet maker and wood worker, and his childhood home was constantly under renovation.
Avoid cutting off some much-needed appendages and just follow the step-by-step illustrations below.
You know what makes the great outdoors even greater? Photographs of you enjoying said great outdoors. This project creates a simple, illuminated booth where you and your guests can take photos during any backyard party. The height’s variable, which means you can rest your tired legs and take a seat for picture time.
What You’ll Need
- 3x 3/4-1 1/2” dowel rods (depending on height)
- twine or thin rope
- rope light and outdoor extension cord
- several zip ties (optional)
- pocket knife or small saw
- Cut notches into the top and bottom of each dowel, making sure the notches are on the same side of the rod. The notches need to be at least deep enough for your twine to fit into without easily slipping out.
- Gathering your three dowels together, notches facing outwards, bind the top of the dowels together with twine, encircling the rods several time before tying off the twine. Keep the binding loose enough that you can splay the dowels.
- Stand the bundle on end and splay the three rods, creating a tepee effect. Optional: If the ground is not dirt or grass (where the rods can sink into the ground a bit), use the bottom dowel notches to encircle with a few rounds of twine to keep the legs from slipping out. This will help keep the tripod shape intact throughout the evening.
- Run your extension cord and rope light to your tripod. Use twine or zip ties to bind the rope light to the inside of one of the legs.
- Throw a sheet over the tripod booth for more privacy.
Cinder Block Bench
Whatever the size of your backyard, whatever time of day it is, sometimes you just need to sit down and get some goddamn peace and quiet. This bench does the trick, and Reed explains that if you leave it out during the winter, the timbers will age into an attractive silver. Or just paint it if gray isn’t your color. Reed recommends putting this guy on solid ground to avoid slippage or spills.
What You’ll Need
- 6x cinder blocks (typically 8x8x16”)
- 2x landscape timbers (96” long)
- adhesive caulk
- caulk gun or wood saw
- Using concrete adhesive caulk, glue together a pair of cinder blocks lengthwise, and then another block across the top of those two. Reed explains that this creates the support for one side. Repeat for the other side.
- Place your two assembled cinder block structures about 6’ apart in parallel, and run two landscape timbers through the holes on the topmost cinder blocks. There will be about 8” of timber overhang on each end.
It’s the end of the night, and you’re too tired to entertain your guests. But you’re not ready to call it quits. Solution: build a fire. It’s warm, smells pretty great, and you can stick food in it (proof: s’mores), offering endless hours of entertainment. Connect with your inner Prometheus and become a backyard barbecue legend with an easy-to-make fire pit.
What You’ll Need
- 9x patio pavers (16x16”)
- 16x cinder blocks (typically 8x8x16”)
- 2x 60-lb bags of gravel
- Mark out a 4’ by 4’ square, and remove the top sod layer (but keep it close by, as you’ll use it again).
- Place the nine patio pavers in a 3x3 grid onto the dirt square, creating a platform for your pit.
- On top of the platform, create a square wall of cinder blocks — two on each side, overlapping on one end of each row. Repeat this, creating a two-block-tall wall.
- Pour gravel into the center of the pit and into the hollow cores of your cinder blocks until all your gravel is used up. This will help give a base for your fires and give the wall some weight.
- Use your removed sod to fill in the rest of the cinder block cavities. Reed explains that the tufts of grass coming out of the cinder blocks will give your pit a harmonious connection to your surrounding yard. You’re so zen.
Freestanding Deck Shade
It’s been a long, boiling hot summer. Your deck is so hot you can basically fry up some bacon on it. Protect your delicate complexion (and your delicate bacon) with some much-needed shade, and create a space where you can nap at your leisure without worrying about pesky sunburns. This project creates a tall structure but if you want something shorter, Reed suggests cutting the PVC pipes with a saw to your desired heights.
What You’ll Need
- 1x 10x8’ tarp (gray), cloth sheet, or canvas
- 6x 1” 90° PVC conduit elbows
- 2x 1” 45° PVC conduit elbows
- 3x 1”x10’ PVC conduit
- PVC cement
- zip ties
- sand bags (optional)
- hack saw
- Cut one of the 10’ PVC pipes in half, creating two 5’ lengths.
- Cut the two 45° elbows in half, creating 22.5° elbows.
- Dry-fit the frame together. Then, one at a time, cement each PVC joint.
- Once the frame is dry and cemented together, zip-tie the tarp to the large-top face of the frame.
- Bonus: If you’re in a windy area, you’ll find your new shade might tip over. Simply throw a sandbag or two onto the bottom legs of the frame.
That wasn’t so hard, was it? You’re well on your way to true backyard domination. Aren’t you crafty. Now onto the food situation. Deep breaths. It’ll be okay. You’ve got a wealth of options available, from sandwiches to burgers to hot dogs. Or try going rogue with grilled pizza (yep, you can go there).
Wherever you land, make sure you grab a Coors Banquet Beer. It goes perfectly with your brand new backyard kingdom.
Illustrations by David Saracino