A Backyard Reno Fashions into an Urban Retreat

by Robyn Roberts

K.V. Harper, a strategy director in advertising, purchased a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath duplex in Brooklyn’s hip Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in 2013. For a year thereafter, the industry influencer lived out of a rental in the building while major renovations were underway. Read on down for a complete look at the sweetened backyard deemed “the ultimate urban getaway” by culture and design blog AphroChic.

Acquiring even an iota of personal outdoor space in New York City is like striking gold. The backyard of K.V.’s new place was dazzlingly lengthy but laden with unkempt sod and dead grass—mainly weeds—and bordered with a haphazard combination of fencing from neighboring properties. And all of this was trapped under the debris of disposed wood, rock, and rubbish. K.V. was pretty spare in articulating her vision for the space in her Sweeten project post, calling for a stained cedar fence, pavers, sod, and some new wood decking. We matched her with this Sweeten contractor to help this tastemaker clear out the yard and re-build.


K.V. took an inventory of friends’ suggestions, many of whom called for a pool, but found herself inspired by the gardens of Mexico and Brazil. Quiet retreats that were more lush than luxe, welcoming spaces for relaxation and fun without being overly designed. Hosting friends and barbecues was top of mind.

Her vision for cedar fencing turned out to be the defining element of the project. The yard would be framed by warm, reddened cedar boards, split into a few distinct areas for lounging and dining, and incorporate a bit of natural asymmetry with lots of clean lines. Her Sweeten contractor got to work clearing the yard entirely, pulling up everything until they reached fresh dirt to make way for a clean slate.

Once the plot was cleared and leveled, he began installing stained cedar fencing around the full perimeter of the yard, preserving the lone mature tree taking up residence in the far right corner. The crew discovered bluestone under the rubbish during demolition and they were able to re-purpose it cost-effectively by the back entry; stepping down off the back steps into the garden, the upcycled bluestone blocks create a pathway onto square slabs that lead to the right of the yard into an elevated oasis at the very back, where gravel supports a simple perch.

cedar fencingfire pit

Fresh sod was used sparingly but with high impact in the yard’s midsection to create the green, lush aesthetic that K.V. was after. She’s the first to admit that grass is a lot of work, but it’s helped her acquire a bit of a green thumb, a better sense of gardening, and ambitions for more extensive planting next season. With the new row of mulch running along the left side of the fencing, thriving with healthy annuals, perennials and blooms, K.V. has a fabulous foundation for her newly acquired greenskeeping skills.

K.V. outfitted her backyard retreat with a few necessities for a summer siesta or kicking back with friends and local fare. The elevated seating area in the back includes handpicked Acapulco chairs in bright colors, plus a fire pit and hammock (which she considered tossing until she made peace with the fact that she spent most of her days relaxing here). The paved walkway houses an outdoor table and bench seating plus a grill.

Summers in the city aren’t so bad for this gal.

acapulco chairshammockbench seating

AND ALSO!!! K.V. Harper is hosting a community pop-up coffee shop in her neighborhood on August 6, for those interested in stopping by!

BACKYARD RESOURCES: Fencing: Stained cedar/fire pit: One Kings Lane. Hammock: Novica. Table and bench: World Market.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.

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