Backyard Makeover

When Pierre and Christi Simoneaux purchased their Covington, La., home in 2004, they had great plans for their center-hall colonial. Among the projects they would tackle: an exterior renovation that featured hardscapes, gardens and an outdoor-living space.


The Simoneauxs wanted a place that was conducive to entertaining and included an expanded paver patio, dining area, cabana bar and grill. They also wanted guests to be welcomed with a new front walkway, replacing their existing disjointed path.


Phasing vs. Financing

With so many aspects to their plans, the Simoneauxs discussed how they were going to pay for their outdoor retreat.


In the current economic climate, many homeowners shy away from their dream scenario for fear of overextending their budget. Phasing renovations allows homeowners to tackle one area at a time and space out payments.


A phased approach, though, requires careful planning to account for pre-construction needs, according to Rod Trahan, owner of New Orleans-based La Pavers, a design, install and paving-stone maintenance firm.


“Contractors can help homeowners put together a plan for phasing the project that takes into account budget requirements and existing landscape,” Trahan explains. “The right planning can save time and money in the long run.”


With a clear picture of the extensive renovation they wanted, the Simoneauxs anticipated phasing but found a financing option that better suited their desire for immediacy.


"We had originally planned to phase several projects over a couple of years but wanted to do something faster to create a gathering place for our teenage sons and their friends," Christi says. "After many discussions, we decided financing would be an affordable way to complete our makeover.”


With financing secured, the Simoneauxs were ready to start the fun stuff.


Visualizing the End Result

Pierre and Christi knew what features they wanted in their outdoor retreat, but they couldn’t exactly picture how it would come together. Digital technology provided the solution.


“While plans and illustrations help, some homeowners need a little more visual information to fully understand the possibilities,” explains Mike Miles, designer for the Belgard Design Studio & Harmony Outdoor Living. “Landscape visualization technology can aid design professionals working with homeowners and present a complete, realistic rendering. It’s an inexpensive solution to what can be a stressful part of the renovation process.”


After making some initial design decisions, photos of the Simoneauxs’ yard and basic sketches were submitted by La Pavers to the Design Studio to be converted into 3-D images.


"We were able to see exactly how the pavers and design elements would look,” Christi notes. “We even made a number of changes we wouldn't have realized were needed if we hadn't had 3-D renderings. Some of what we pictured would not have worked well in real life."


The initial plan included a makeover of the front walkway; two paver patio additions off the back of the home; and an outdoor kitchen furnished with pre-built modular units, including an L-shaped bar, a grill station and fireplace. However, once the Simoneauxs saw the initial renderings, they realized the items would overwhelm the space.


“I love the openness of our backyard and the fireplace made the yard seem so much smaller because of where we needed to place it,” Christi remembers. “Had we gone with the initial plan, I don’t think we would have been truly satisfied with the end result.”


In addition to eliminating the fireplace, the renderings spurred other changes to the design, including the curvature of one of the patios and the size and shape of the outdoor kitchen elements.


“The bar and grill we chose were a little too large for the space,” Pierre says. “We measured everything out, but didn’t account for seating. The renderings helped catch our oversight in time to make important changes.”


Planning Makes Perfect

Once the design was finalized, Jim Stone Co., Baton Rouge, La., the dealer where the couple found their favorite paver styles, recommended two contractors to bid on the job. Their chosen contractor, Trahan with La Pavers, brought samples to their home to finalize the product selection.


“Seeing the product in the environment helped us make final choices for what would work best with our home,” Pierre notes. “The contractor took some measurements to plan access and confirm placement of everything. Before we knew it, we were on our way to our new backyard.”


Digging In

After planning and meetings with Miles, who designed the space, and Trahan, the project was ready to start.


First, the area was excavated, which included removing 7 inches of topsoil for the pavers, as well as several sections of existing concrete. One area of concrete was more than 10-inches thick, requiring use of a jackhammer and hydraulic concrete breaker.


The next step was to install the patio areas, which was a multi-layer process. First, black felt was rolled out to cover the bottom of the excavated dirt areas. Next, a bed of limestone was shoveled in and compacted, followed by a layer of sand that was leveled and compacted.


Finally, the pavers were laid and cut to fit the design. Once the pavers were in place, polymeric sand was brushed into the crevices and activated with water to form grout lines.


With the patios complete, next came the bar and grill station. The bar arrived pre-manufactured in three pieces. Once placed into position, the bar and grill station were ready for use immediately.


Although access to the backyard was very tight and space was limited by the existing pool and porch overhang, La Pavers’ installers didn’t miss a step.


“Watching them install the bar was quite the show. ‘Up an inch, lower an inch, to the right a half inch, raise a quarter inch, now back up again,’” Pierre remembers. “There were three pieces and it took about two hours to set them in place, though much shorter than the two weeks it would have taken to build it in place.”


A Happy Ending

After four days of work, the backyard and entrance of the Simoneauxs’ home was complete.


“The modular elements for this project sped up installation time—a win-win for contractor and homeowner,” Trahan notes. “The homeowners wanted to enjoy their backyard, and we were able to move on to the next job without a hitch.”


The Simoneauxs’ backyard makeover has led them to be regular hosts for get-togethers with friends and family, including birthday parties and end-of-year class parties for their two sons.


“It has been a total transformation! We have always enjoyed our backyard, but now it is a true extension of our home,” Christi says. “All my friends keep asking what time the party starts!”