Huge Backyard Makeover Featuring Synthetic Grass

I really hate carpet. Unless it's carpet for my backyard, in which case I love it.

We spent the last 6 weekends giving our backyard a huge makeover with outdoor carpet - synthetic grass, to be exact - and I'm so pumped to show it to you!

We've been tossing around the idea of installing fake grass, or "turf," as my football coach husband likes to call it, in our backyard for years. Our neighborhood was constructed in an old tree farm, and the huge shade trees around every house are a huge part of the appeal. Not so appealing, however, is the fact that our backyard is so shaded that we are unable to grow any grass. We asked around the neighborhood, and everyone else has the same problem. Many have tried and failed, and we haven't wanted to spend money installing a sprinkler system and laying sod only to have it die within a few months. We couldn't figure out a great solution that was cost effective, so we let our backyard sit in its embarrassing state as a giant dirt pit for the first three years we lived here.

This past summer while working on our fancy schmancy patio cover and outdoor living room, we finally decided we would bite the bullet and install synthetic grass. Once we had kids, we really wanted to have a backyard we could use. I say "bite the bullet" because synthetic grass is not cheap! The husband and I went back and forth on whether to pay someone else to install the grass or whether he should do it himself. He had no experience installing turf (and I argued that he didn't have the time to do it now that we had twins), but he was having a hard time stomaching the hefty installation price tag.

We wanted to complete both the patio cover and grass installation last summer, but it was just too much work to finish before football season. (Husband is a football coach so he basically disappears in the fall.) We decided to split the project into Phase 1 (patio cover/outdoor living room) and Phase 2 (synthetic grass/landscaping) and tabled Phase 2 indefinitely.

At the beginning of January, we decided we would throw a big first birthday party for the twins. At the same time I told the husband, "Wouldn't it be nice if we actually had a backyard for the party?" His eyes lit up at the prospect of doing the yard makeover, and before I knew it he was spending all of his spare time watching turf installation videos. He was determined to do it himself to save us the money. I decided that he had never let me down on his previous projects so I would just trust him to do quality work with the backyard project, too. Spoiler alert: He did not let me down. In fact, he blew me away with the amount of work he was able to complete and how professional it looks.

Here's where we started at the beginning of February.WHAT A WRECK! Dirt, weeds, dirt, leaves, more dirt.

Scott knew he needed more manpower to do the project, so he hired two of his former football players who were willing to work with him on weekends.

1) The first step was to excavate the backyard and level the dirt as much as possible. They dug up the existing flagstone path, raked up all of the leaves and debris from the trees and then borrowed a tiller to level the dirt. Our dogs had dug a million holes in that dirt part so it was very uneven. That part took a couple hours.

2) Step two was to build a flower bed/retaining wall next to the house to create a border for the synthetic grass. We also wanted to have the flower beds, with irrigation, alongside the house so we would be watering our foundation. Keeping the soil around your foundation moist helps prevent foundation cracks.

To create the flower beds, we used spray paint to draw our rough outline in the existing dirt and the guys dug a 2" channel and filled it with decomposed granite to serve as a leveling base for the stone retaining wall. Once that was done, we placed the first layer of the stones - Pavestone Rumblestone in the cafe color and the trapezoid shape - on top of the leveling base.

Because the ground was uneven, they had to use a tamper and level every time they placed a stone to ensure the wall would be level from start to finish and that stones placed side by side would be perfectly level with one another.  You can see in the photos that the elevation changes as the retaining wall goes on, so they had to be very meticulous as they built the bottom layer. Just typing this makes my brain hurt and my patience wear thin. Thank goodness the husband is so detail oriented!

Once the first layer of the stone wall was done, they continued to stack the stones. Laying the first level of the stone took 90% of the effort, and the rest was really simple. It's a freestanding stone wall, which means we don't have any mortar or glue holding the stones together. The weight of the stone and the leveled nature of the wall are wait maintain the integrity of the structure.

That was Day 1. Because we have kids now and can't devote every minute to home projects, Scott would work all day every Saturday while I watched the kids. That went on for 6 weekends leading up to the big birthday party. Phew!

3) Once the stone wall was in place, Scott measured the remaining backyard to get the proper dimensions for the synthetic grass order. We purchased our turf from Synthetic Grass Pros, a local supplier. They were super helpful because Scott is nothing if not thorough - he asks A LOT of questions when he's taking on a big project like this. I know they were dubious about him doing it himself, but they answered all of his questions.

We found a synthetic grass that was on clearance because it had been discontinued (of course, you know we love a sale) so we ended up saving 55 cents per square foot. We bought 1,095 square feet, so buying the clearance turf saved us $600. Our total cost for the synthetic grass, including the actual grass, 36 50-lb bags of silica sand, composite edging for the grass borders and 1,000 galvanized 6" staples, was $2,680. If we had used Synthetic Grass Pros (who had reasonable pricing for installation -- we really shopped around) to install the grass, it would have been more than $7,000.

The next step was the lay metal edging that he bought from Home Depot to serve as the borders for the grass. You can see it in the bottom of the photo above. We went with a curve to mimic the curves of the flower beds and soften the hard corners of the deck. The edging runs alongside the deck and all along the iron fence separating our yard from the creek area.

4) Once the edging was in place, it was time to install the aggregate rock base on top of our existing dirt. The bottom layer is 1" gravel, also known as 57 stone in the rock-buying world, and we needed 10 tons of it to create a 2-3" layer for the entire synthetic grass area. They rented a plate compactor from Home Depot to compact the rock into a smooth surface. We bought our 57 stone, which is a crushed concrete, from Big City Crushed Concrete. It was very affordable - $250, including delivery. Scott had 3 former football players (perks of being a coach!) shoveling and wheelbarrowing the rock into the backyard. The more manpower, the better.

Note: This is another area where we saved money because Scott did a lot of research. Had we purchased 1" gravel that was actual stone, it would have been more expensive than the crushed concrete.

5) On top of the 57 stone, they laid a 1" layer of decomposed granite. Because this granite is so finely ground, it provides a smooth base for the grass. It packs down really well and is easy to form into a smooth surface while still allowing drainage. They used the plate compactor to tamp this layer down as well. 

5) This is not relevant to every project, but they had to switch gears to the wooden fence at this point and install a new border at the bottom because that needed to be finished before the grass could be installed. So many moving pieces!

6) Once the fence was ready, then it was time for the grass. SO exciting! The grass comes in 15 foot rolls and is cut to whatever length you request. I wonder what our neighbors were thinking when they realized we were carpeting our backyard!

Scott had a "cut list" where he diagramed all of his cuts to make sure he was cutting the turf in the most efficient way. That way he wasn't wasting any turf (basically throwing money away). It makes my brain hurt to explain it so let's just say it required much more patience and geometry skills than I could ever possess.

Are you wondering how Scott learned how to install synthetic grass? YouTube, duh! Every night I would find him watching videos about installing turf. What a geek, right? But this geek saved us thousands of dollars by doing this himself so he's basically the coolest geek in all the land. He's my hero. I married up.

His favorite YouTube resource for the synthetic grass installation was by Purchase Green Artificial Grass. They have a three-part series that he found very helpful:

  1. How to Install Artificial Grass - Part 1 - Sub-base Preparation
  2. Part 2 - Application
  3. Part 3 - Infill

If possible, install on a warm day so the material is more flexible. Always cut the black side, not the grass side. Change your blade more often than you think. Unroll the grass and let it sit for a few days, kind of like you need to do before installing hardwood floors, before you make any cuts. He didn't do that the first day and it was so much harder to cut than after her let it sit out flat for a while. 

The process involves rough-fitting the turf in place, stretching it out as best you can, stapling the seams every 3 inches (using a rubber mallet to nail the staples into the ground), and then make your exact cuts around the edges. Those edges are secured with staples every 3 inches.

I asked Scott how he would describe the process: "Labor-intensive. Tedious. Physically tiring."

Sounds like a blast!

Still, they kept chugging along. Our party was coming up quickly at this point. The pressure was on! 

Once the grass is cut and stapled, the next step is to install the infill. You apply about 2 lbs of silica sand per square foot on top of the grass, and you use a push broom to spread the sand around, going against the grain of the grass. The sand lifts the grass fibers, which had been flattened with the turf was rolled up, to look more realistic. It also weighs down the turf to prevent movement and make it feel a lot more like real grass.

I can't tell you how exciting it was to look out the playroom and see green grass back there instead of dirt. The green color was so bright and saturated - it was beautiful. 

Finally, the grass was installed! Now we just had a million other tasks to finish before the party. 

7) We decided to install flagstone on the other part of our backyard. We worked with our good friend Charley Hellmuth to get some gorgeous Oklahoma Silvermist flagstone and Tejas Black Gravel from DFW Stone Supply. Charley recommended we do the Silvermist instead of trying to match the old flagstone we already had (regular Oklahoma) and I'm so glad we did that because the grey tones look so nice with our grey-blue deck color. 

Flagstone installation is easier to install than turf, luckily. You still need decomposed granite on the bottom to create a level base, and then you lay the flagstone on top in your preferred pattern. You use the gravel to fill in the joints between the flagstone.  He also put a weed barrier between the decomposed granite and the flagstone to try to prevent any stubborn weeds from growing in between the stones in the future.

8) After the flagstone, they started working on the landscaping for the flower beds. We bought azaleas, hydrangeas, foxtail ferns, peonies and some ground cover plants that are all supposed to do well in shade or part sun. First the soil is laid, then the plants go in, then the irrigation is installed, and lastly the cedar mulch was applied. We hear that cedar is a natural insect repellant so we're hoping that helps during mosquito season. 

9) Because that wasn't enough work, Scott decided to rebuild the two fences on the side of the house. He patches the bad boards, added trim at the top and bottom and restained it. It looks so much better now. The dogs had really destroyed those fences.

Speaking of dogs, we have added this fence to create a dog run on the side of the house. They are no longer allowed to hang out in the nice part of the yard where the turf is. We have learned our lesson! The last part of this project is to lay turf in their dog run, but that will come later. 

Can we get to the good part, the glorious after pictures? Don't mind if I do!

It's probably the biggest home improvement project we've ever done. We spent a total of $8,250 when we added up the materials and labor. (Don't worry, we did actually pay those former football players for their hard work.) Of course that's not cheap, but we feel like we saved a fortune by doing it ourselves. We said all along that having a backyard was an investment for us that would be good for resale in the future because the previous dirt pit was such a terrible turn off. We felt comfortable spending the money, especially because our twins are almost a year old and they are at the perfect age to enjoy this backyard for many years. Also, it turns out that having twins really increases your tax return, so you better believe that check went straight to this project. Ha!

We are already enjoying our backyard so much in the past 5-6 days since we finished. It was SO worth it. It feels so great to have an outdoor space for playing and relaxing. It only took my brother and Scott a couple of minutes to bust out the golf clubs back there for some chipping contests, and the kids had so much fun playing out there during the twins first birthday (which I will write another HUGE blog post about). You can see the aftermath below. 

We are so glad we finally bit the bullet and installed synthetic grass. We couldn't be happier with our new backyard "carpet" and can't wait to break it in! 

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How the house has changed after the twins

In my last post, I showed you how I converted my home office into a playroom for our infant twins. Hope and Evan are 11 months tomorrow. ELEVEN MONTHS! How can that be?!

Anyway, during those 11 months we have been systematically adjusting the house to suit our new reality. I've definitely learned that our reality is always changing depending on what phase the babies are in at that point, so we're trying to stay flexible and keep making small changes to help the house work for us. I wanted to share a couple of small changes we've implemented that help us manage our daily lives with the twins.

I'll start with the twins' nursery. This room has changed a little because we keep stealing from it for the playroom. We took the dresser and some of the art, but we replaced the art with one of my favorite recent craft projects, these sweet little shadow boxes.

How sweet is that heart light above them? That was a gift from a friend. She got it at Michael's.

On the adjacent wall, where the DIY colorful dresser used to be, we now have an Ikea shelving unit that we stole from my mom's house. She wasn't using it, so she offered it to us to add more storage to the nursery. I'm sure we'll need it eventually, but right now it's pretty much empty. It is functional for us simply because it's a nice empty surface for our humidifier, the white noise machine and laying out baby clothes (one of my favorite activities). 

In the bathroom next door, we've changed the art to be both kid-friendly and guest-friendly, since this is where we bathe the babies but also serves as our guest bathroom. 

That random towel in the middle is the pad we use to lay the babies on after we get them out of the tub. They will soon be too big for this and we'll need a new system. They're also starting to reach for the mirrors and grab every little thing, so we need to baby-proof this room asap!

How perfect are our hooks for the baby towels and tiny bathrobes? I'm dying over those!

Speaking of hooks, we added several to the laundry room once we realized it was becoming a dumping ground for the [literal] baby baggage. Now we have a spot for the diaper bag, the daycare backpacks and my work backpack. We are apparently really into backpacks in this family. 

Over in the kitchen, gone are the days of having a beautiful bouquet of flowers as our centerpiece. Now we have a lovely basket full of baby paraphernalia. Puffs, bibs, books. We have all sorts of goodies in this basket to keep them occupied during meals. Hope has this weird habit where she often won't eat her food without having a little board book to "read"while she eats. We also let them play with paper plates and are constantly wiping their faces with those baby wipes. 

If you're thinking about buying those high chairs from Target, I highly recommend them. They're perfect for us. I'm glad we didn't get the full high chairs and did these booster seats. All 4 of us get to sit at the table together for dinner, and they aren't that intrusive when we aren't using them. 

It's also a great place for me to sit and keep an eye on the twins when I'm trying to sneak in my own meals while they hang out in the playroom. 

The rest of the house is pretty much unchanged, unless you count the fact that we park our double stroller in the formal living room! Oh, and the kitchen cabinets and pantry are now full of baby food and bottles. We do SO many dishes. 


We are working on a HUGE backyard project at the moment that I'm so excited to share with you in a few weeks. We will [hopefully] end up with a lovely yard for the twins instead of the big dirt pile we have right now. We can't grow grass because the yard is so shaded, so we've gone a different route. Our goal is to have it done by the twins' first birthday party, which is in less than a month. Wish us luck! And of course I'll share the party details with you because I'm so excited about that part, too. Thanks for sticking with us on this crazy journey!

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Transformation: From Office to Playroom

Ever since the twins were born, our house has been changing rapidly. I plan to be back with a full post next week about how our home has changed since we had the babies that will summarize the differences in all of our rooms, but today I want to focus on the space that has undergone the biggest transformation: my office.

While I was sad to give up my dedicated office space, I was excited to create the perfect spot to hang out with the twins all day. I still work from home a couple days a week, but now Scott and I share his office in one of the guest rooms. It's not my space anymore, but this room remains one of my favorite spots in the entire house, and I'm so happy we changed it to better suit our family.

OK, let me start at the beginning. Ever since we fixed this room up as part of a blogging challenge a few years ago, this has been one of my favorite rooms in the house. It gets incredible light and I decorated it in a really fun style, a little more bold than the rest of the house. I always felt energized in this room, which is a great vibe for a home office. 

A lot of the touches I added for my office (sparkly stickers on the ceiling and letter bookshelf, for example) still worked perfectly for a playroom. But we did have to make several changes for functionality. 

Now it looks like this:

It has everything we need at the moment: a big open play space, lots of storage for toys, diapers, books, blankets, etc. Much stayed the same, but much changed at the same time. Let me explain...

Here's one of the parts of the room that is the same but different. See those cabinets? They are actually four random IKEA pieces we bought from the owner of our first house and have used in so many different ways. They used to be stacked in this corner, housing my art supplies. 

Now these cabinets are providing toy storage and an extra place to sit over by the windows. They're basically a makeshift window seat that we didn't have to build. Hooray!

As for this corner, we ended up stealing the colorful dresser and DIY bicycle lamp from the nursery and putting it out here instead. The horse photo and magazine rack stayed put, but we swapped out the magazines for books and added soft animal heads from Hobby Lobby instead of the previous art. Everything is super secured into the wall now because the babies kick and grab everything while they are on the changing table. Safety first!

You may be wondering why we have the dresser and changing table in the playroom. I think this problem might be specific to having twins, but we found that we were never changing the babies in their room. We needed to have one play on the floor while the other was being changed, so the playroom was the natural spot to do everything. We also got them dressed on the floor of the playroom while the other one played. We used to go back and forth to the nursery all the time to find clothes and other things we needed. Eventually I thought to myself, why don't we just bring the dresser and changing table out here?

From this angle you can see the necessities that aren't as pretty -- the diaper genie, the changing pad, a wipe warmer, a bin full of baby medicines and diaper cream on top. We also put some hooks on the side of the dresser so we can hang clothes or PJs there while we are changing outfits. 

I am constantly looking for ways to increase efficiency and I try to think of systems that make things easier with the twins. Hooks are so helpful. Every night before bath time, I hang their PJs on the side of the dresser on those hooks. When Scott gets done bathing one of the babies, he knows exactly where to look for the fresh pajamas. 

The dresser has clothes, headbands, hats, socks, shoes and diapers. It's really full. We use every available spot!

Obviously we removed the huge desk/table from the center of the room to give the babies room to play. We also replaced the thrift store chandelier (one of my favorite finds!) with a simple ceiling fan. This change bummed me out, but this room was getting hot because of the windows. I also use this as my workout room so now I really appreciate having the fan. We lost something stylistically, but we gained functionality. 

We bought an affordable rug for the floor that tied in with the rest of the blues in our house because this room is visible from six other rooms in our house. It's smack in the middle of the home, so I really didn't want it to stick out like a sore thumb. We layered that with the rubber play mat, which I also bought to tie in with our blue/green colors. Plus I'm a sucker for polka dots, so I couldn't resist!

Our DIY letter bookshelf is one of our most popular projects ever, and I'm so happy that it works so well for the playroom. I filled it with their toys and stuffed animals, along with some other sentimental gifts. Can you spot the real dog down there?

Next to the chair are too very important things: a basket to hold our books, and an air freshener. If you have two babies and change a lot of stinky diapers, plug-in air fresheners are your friend. 

Back when we fixed up this room originally, Scott built these floating shelves for the corner to house some of my art supplies.

The shelves have new purpose now, and they're the perfect place to display toys when they aren't in use. I'm in favor of getting things off the floor, especially since I work out in this room in the mornings before the babies wake up.

The white trash can houses our dog food, so that stayed. We still feed the dogs in here because this door leads to the backyard. Can you tell this room has a lot of different uses? We have to squeeze as much functionality into this space as we can. 

It's fun to see the same space side by side. I love a good before and after, even if it's just shelves that are styled differently. 

See that tiny dustpan and broom hanging at the bottom? Between muddy dog paws and messy children, we have to be ready to clean the floors at a moment's notice. We tucked it away under the shelf to make it easy to keep the floor (kind of) clean. 

You can see a peek of the old Ikea cabinets that we repurposed as a window seat. Inside we have activity cubes and bins full of small items like rattles and teething toys. 

Lest you think our entire house is this tidy and organized, you should know that I took all of my art supplies from these cabinets and just dumped them on the bed in our guest room. That's another organizing project for another day! I can close the door and pretend like that mess doesn't exist. 

The wall with the back door is the same yet different. I guess that's the theme we have going on in this room. We spent very little money to change this to a nursery and tried to keep as much of the original furniture and storage pieces as we could. 

We already had this white shelving unit from Pottery Barn in here serving as storage and a dog food station. We removed the wheels as part of our childproofing efforts, and we added colorful bins. The TV from our master bedroom moved in here because we never watched TV in bed. Now we use this TV for workout videos, Sesame Street, football (when dad is on baby duty) and soap operas (when Grammy Jo is on baby duty). Everyone wins when the playroom has a TV! 

We've had the wire with photos above the door for a long time now, but we have swapped out the old photos for snapshots of the twins. Can you tell my OCD husband spaced them perfectly? I never would have done that! 

I love this animal art so much. They are gift bags I bought at World Market. I just cut off one side of the bag, removed the handles and taped it with washi tape. How easy (and cheap) is that?

This storage cabinet is so useful. The bins store pajamas, diaper pail refills, wipes, dog supplies, our baby carriers and video equipment for my workouts. I've had those chalkboard labels for a while so it was nice to finally put them to use. 

We paired down the art in the corner to keep everything out of reach of tiny hands. We got that alphabet poster with our names as a wedding gift. I decided to keep it out here (it does have an alphabet, after all) but I colored over the twins' names with dry erase marker on the front of the glass pane just for fun. 

You can see more gift bag animal art over here in this corner. I'm such a sucker for artwork that features animals dressed in clothes. I swear I have 10 different paintings and drawing with that theme in the house now that we have children. It's sprinkled in the playroom, the nursery and the guest bathroom. I just can't help myself! Trust me: Don't go to Hobby Lobby unless you want to buy another painting of a llama in glasses and a necktie. 

I love this room so much. And thank goodness, because we spend a TON of time in here. It is worth the extra effort to make this room both pretty and functional so that we can all hang out in here and be really content. 

The best part is, the babies love it. They have room to roll around and wrestle and strew toys all over the place. What could be better than a piece of tupperware and some blocks?

If you're considering transitioning one of your extra rooms into a play space for your kids, my advice would be to go for it. We are so happy having all of the baby gear in one spot instead of sprinkled throughout our adult living spaces like the formal living room and den. Keeping the mess contained helps us keep our sanity. It was the best decision we could have made. 

I'll be back soon to share some photos of the kitchen, guest bathroom and nursery so I can show you the babies are impacting our other rooms. These tiny kiddos have a lot of needs! I think it's a fun challenge to figure out how I can marry child-friendly functionality with my personal style in my favorite rooms of the house. It's a constant work in progress, but I'd love to share what we've done so far. Be back soon!

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