I’m a daydreamer. I suppose it comes with my day job, or perhaps it has something to do with my hometown—I’m from Los Angeles and still live here. I’ve spent countless moments staring out at the tree outside my window thinking as its waxy green leaves blow in the breeze. Last summer, I took a lot of this pondering outside, if only for a brief change of scenery.
My backyard is small, a shoebox by some standards, but is relatively average for my city. It’s made up of a wide rectangle of sun-bleached concrete dotted with succulents in various degrees of thirst, where a sectional and square table make for spots to sit. The concrete patio leads into grass framed by modest trees and bushes that extend to the far end of the lot. As far as outdoor entertaining goes, my backyard is rather lackluster. But above all else, it’s a great place to daydream.
The more time I spent in my backyard—reading, snacking, and pretending it was an alfresco bar—the more I started to picture what it could be instead. Maybe it could accommodate a bigger dining table, or a statement-making fountain that glitters in the sun. It might be possible to have a tiny garden even, or who knows: a kitchen with wide countertops. I sought to make everything more livable, essentially envisioning a “room” that felt calm, stylish, and inviting. Once I started imagining different layouts and more modern details, that’s when it became clear: I’m not a professional. So, I turned to Yardzen.
“Most outdoor renovation projects start without a design, and what we know to be true is that investing in a design ensures a better outcome,” says Allison Messner, cofounder and CEO of Yardzen. “Our process is entirely online, which means that without stepping foot on a property or asking clients to take a single measurement, we deliver a design that maps to the client’s style, needs, and budget, and can be built by a vetted contractor in the Yardzen Pro Network.”
The three-year-old company is based just outside San Francisco as an alternative to what Messner describes as the “historically unpredictable process” of beautifying this often overlooked area of a home. Led by design director Kevin Lenhart and a team that oversees hundreds of landscape designers and architects, Yardzen can transform front and backyards of all shapes and sizes in 32 states. Pricing ranges from $649 for a botanical-focused design plan to $2,395 for a full exterior design transformation. (The cost to actually execute the design, of course, is not included.) In the past year, as the country reevaluated its relationship to the outdoors and cherished every chance at fresh air, Yardzen emerged as a firm opportunity for bringing otherwise flimsy daydreams to life.
“The idea for Yardzen was born after my property suffered damage in a California wildfire in 2017,” Messner says. “I navigated the landscape design-and-build process for the first time as a homeowner, and left excited about the prospect of creating a company that was fundamentally better for everyone involved: the designer, contractor, and homeowner.”
To get started, I took pictures and videos of my yard and submitted them into a quiz about my ideal renovation. I was looking for low-maintenance and native plants complemented by better lighting, as well as less grass and more pavers to reside under seating and dining options. I had to figure out what to do with the stucco wall lining much of the backdrop, as well as how to incorporate a water feature. And more than anything, I hoped for a cost-effective kitchen with enclosed appliances. Yardzen allows you to describe your specifications—wants, needs, and budget—as you move through the quiz.
I submitted the answers in a few minutes, and about three weeks later, Yardzen sent a 3D rendering that checked every box. The concrete patio was replaced with geometric pavers that extend nearly the full length of the backyard, featuring a YardBird dining set and sitting area surrounding a fire pit. The blank stucco wall was transformed by a vertical garden, which matched the surrounding greenery intended to thrive in L.A.. Some grass was left in the side yard, as I requested, and it’s perfect for kids and games. And the best part? An outdoor kitchen fits snugly beside a fountain, with room for a barbecue and fridge. The design shows 360° and aerial views of the new yard at day and night, with lighting features illuminated, so that every inch is displayed. There’s a full source list of what’s showcased at the end of the tour, from plants to chairs, too. I was satisfied with the rendering at first scroll, and left comments for the design team on what I loved about the details—particularly the sustainable ones.
If I had negative feedback, this was my chance to share it. I did question whether the fountain was too large for the corner it was in, which it wasn’t, but that was it. “Design is deeply personal, and while the vast majority of our clients are happy with their first-draft designs, there will always be cases when clients don’t love our first vision for their outdoor space,” Messner says. “We include a thorough revision with every single design package.” Since I approved the design as is, the collaboration wrapped up quickly.
It was a completely stress-free process, and the design team made my opinions and ideas feel valued and understood. Now that I have these plans in place, I can partner with Yardzen’s network to start construction. In the course of about a month, Yardzen was able to take my daydreams and turn them into a rendering that’ll be the first step to a successful renovation.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest