Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A French Style Courtyard Comes to Life

What a dump!  
Seriously, our "back yard" did not exist just a couple years ago. It was 
behind the house and a very narrow strip with only one window on the lower level. A totally
awkward space that became the spot to dump things.  Husband was amassing a pile of granite boulders and little did I know that they would become the foundation for a French Country Courtyard.  Courtyards are narrow, and usually made of stone, and over time I put a vision and a wish list together.  We ended up with a space that the entire family loves!
Starting with French doors that replaced the lone window in our dining room, this door is now the most used entry in the house.  The rest of the facade was blank space and so a pair of vinyl trellises added some detail and architectural interest.  The fireplace vent was hidden by a birdhouse constructed from an old wooden crate that we added a simple roof and cedar shingles.  A few holes drilled out for the birds, and a big post was all it took to make it look like it belonged in the flower bed.  That vent bugged the heck out of me, and I just had to figure out someway to hide it.  It turned out to be a very good solution.  In the fall when it comes time to vent the fireplace, we will take it down and store it in the shed until the spring.  
 This shows how the birdhouse was attached to the house. We used an L bracket in addition to attaching the post to the base with wood.  Below you can see the birdhouse in its raw formation.
The crate we used was an old one that fit over the vent nicely.  You could build one out of scrap wood if you need to construct one from scratch.  I love that we made this just using things around the house and the yard.  The moldings are old painted moldings I had from my Maison Decor workshop days, and then the tiny roof overhangs were made by cutting the corners off of a rectangular wooden photo frame.  We glued all the moldings in place with wood glue and when it dried, we painted it in a shabby fashion with white Chalk Paint. Easy to do, it took us about two hours. 
 This is a closer view of the rustic table I created, simply by laying barn board planks on top of the old iron lattice patio table that I have had for years.  (You can see the iron set in the before photo sitting on the lawn.)Hubs drilled a hole in the center of one of the wider boards so the umbrella could slide through, and then the other random width planks were set side by side and we screwed it together underneath on each end to unify it.  This is SO EASY!! And it completely changed the feeling in the courtyard.  The next thing on my list for the rustic dining space was to get rid of the iron patio chairs and replace with all weather wicker chairs.  I wanted a greyish wicker, but none were to be found. At least in my price range...
 Then this set at Lowes caught my eye, and I snapped up 6 of them at $60 a piece.  Not a bad price for all weather wicker with steel construction.  They are so comfortable and I love the way they look with the wood table as well as the color of the rustic iron daybed. I only needed four for the table, but I knew I would be kicking myself if I didn't get two more to use in the conversation area opposite the daybed.  I bet they will be going on sale any minute now, but I had to have them for the photo shoot that was about to take place, and I thought the price was pretty good even not on sale. 
All of the changes combined to create this wonderful European style space behind the house.  Matthew Mead shot the courtyard for his spring issue UPSTYLED HOME magazine.  We spent the day yesterday fluffing and styling it to perfection!
Matthew has such an array of props, whenever he shoots he offers to bring some of his stash, and I am always in LOVE with what he pulls out of his pickup truck.  Like these purple linen embroidered placemats and napkins.  They looked beautiful with the wood top and vintage china  I had for the table setting.  Some newer glassware in purple and green with gold embossed details came from HomeGoods.  We used rustic galvanized pots and tubs and pails to hold the bushels of flowers he brought for the shoot.
My mora clock came outside for a bit of whimsy and in the end we decided to nix it, and it ended up propped up against the fence until it went back into the dining room.  Stacks of purple transferware and scattered plums decorated the tabletop.
Matthew brought old purple toile bedspreads and we used them to dress up the daybed for the shoot.
I adored them!! You can also see my idea for a "coffee table" was a cube shaped granite block.  I normally put a tole tray on it, but for the shoot we used my gigantic turkey platter in purple transferware.  A bottle of purple clad champagne for Costco worked nicely too.
The other large undertaking was the completion of the shed and vegetable garden area on the upper terrace.  Just the day before the shoot two of my sons and husband spread about 5 tons of pea gravel over a weed barrier all around the shed and the little vegetable garden.  Wow, what a difference that made!  Its an enchanting little spot now.  Pea gravel is the key element to creating that French style courtyard space, and its inexpensive and pretty easy to do do yourself.  So have some delivered and get out your wheelbarrow and make a precious little space for your own enjoyment.  That spot that no one uses or looks ugly....could it be transformed somehow?  Take a second look around your own home and yard and see if you can create a courtyard for yourself.  I wish I had thought of this sooner, as it has been ten years now that we have lived here. 
Without makeup and fancy clothes...we met in the courtyard bright and early so Matthew could capture everything.  What a fun and exhausting day.  I can't wait to see it come to life in the pages of a magazine.
I hope this gives you ideas on how to UPSTYLE things to use in your outdoor spaces.  
Oh, and I couldn't resist hanging my old shop sign above the back door.  
The kids thought it would look awful, but they all loved it when it got hung up....and so did I.  
Its now Maison Decor, the restaurant, serving only family and friends, of course. 
And who doesn't love a good before and after?

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  1. So beautiful...both of you...have done such a lovely and inspiring transformation...thank you for sharing!!!

  2. Just absolutely stunning. But I remember when you got that day bed and I found love with it. I hope you bring it inside during the colder weather. I would love to see it around your home for a long time. You have a beautiful home and now a beautiful yard.love it Enjoy!!

  3. Amy this truly made me swoon. I would have loved doing something like this but I couldn't do a ground level. The house is about three steps off the ground, no good for me

    When we have the funds I'm going to try and make our deck more French


  4. Your transformation is really fabulous! We are in the process of updating our shallow backyard and are going with a similar design. I love a gravel patio. I had an epiphany reading this blog post. I have a set of cushioned patio furniture that worked great on our large open deck at our last house but our current property has an enormous pine tree that drops needles and sap everywhere. The cushions look nice for about 15 minutes and at $100+ per chair I can't keep replacing them. I think I need to run to Lowes and just buy new chairs for 2/3 the price of a new cushion set!

    Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. I simply LOVE it all. No other words..... :) ♥♥♥♥♥

  6. This is great on so many levels. Most people would just have leveled the ground and seeded grass. Banal. Lots of work. Lots of water. You improved your house by putting in French doors that not only give access to your new outdoor living room but also a view of it from inside the house. The pea gravel looks great and will be less work and more environmentally sustainable than grass. Your little conversation areas, the parasols, the lights, the raised beds--they break up the space and make it intimate. Congratulations on a great job!

  7. What a transformation! Lots of work but we'll worth it, beautiful.

  8. Looks Amazing Amy! You have such great vision for creating beautiful spaces.

  9. It all looks so charming! I love all the purple accents. That clock is wonderful (even though you didn't keep it there). I love pea gravel. I love the sound it makes while walking on it. You've done such a great job with your outdoor area.

  10. I have the same sort of outdoor space at my house. It started with purchasing the large metal "Paris" sign from Decor Steals which I hung by my side patio, and now we have a "french" area on that side of our home. It has been so much fun to create and use this space. I love how yours turned out as well!

  11. How fun and how utterly gorgeous! I love and the purple against the weathered wood is just beautiful. I love seeing you in your element, creating beautiful things!

  12. This is gorgeous and an amazing transformation. Love the french doors and the bonus is that it lets you see this beautiful new space from inside as well. LOVE all the boulders, I have a "thing" for large stones:) Beautifully done and I found out that the magazine is out now! Can't wait to get a copy!


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