Satie’s Sunbrella Sanctuary: Rehabbing the Neglected Yard at My LA Bungalow

Photography by Sara Tramp

At long last my LA backyard is ready for summer hangs! Just in time for me to leave town forever! Mere seconds after we shot this space I had to leave for Londo Lodge to finish things up for renting it out and complete Phase I (before I tear it all up again to get started on Phase II and the kitchen). I’ve been gone for over a month, hoping to get back to LA at some point so I can finish setting up my place there and get a much-needed break from the constant DIY party at Londo Lodge which is starting to feel a lot less like a party and a lot more like I’m trying to completely renovate a giant cabin alone in the woods with no money. Ooops!

But let’s not get off track. We’ve gathered here today to chat about how I transformed the previously terrifying backyard in my LA Bungalow from NASTY to RHINOPLASTY in a matter of nine months. Why’d it take so long? Many reasons. Firstly, there was a bit of back and forth with the landlord about the turf. When I agreed to lease the house, part of our agreement was contingent on the backyard getting turf. I don’t actually know what took so long for it to get installed but my instinct is that it was really hard for my landlord to find an option that didn’t cost way too much. In fact, a few months after I moved in I started to get antsy so I contacted a few installers in LA and got quotes anywhere from $8000 to $15,000. It’s not a huge space, about 16′ x 24′ so I can imagine this gets REALLY expensive if you have a bigger yard.

Previously, I’ve had a pretty negative association with this type of artificial turf for a few reasons. My first issue with it is that I’m sure it wears out after a while (my light research has taught me it should last around ten years if cared for correctly). So I guess you just throw it out when it starts to look gross? The waste component of this kinda was my first problem with it. But then I started thinking about indoor carpet, which also doesn’t last forever, and for some reason I don’t see that as wasteful.

My second issue with fake turf is that, unlike real grass (or decomposed granite or other drought-friendly outdoor flooring surfaces) it doesn’t grow back if you do something to screw it up. Here’s a good example. I do art projects all the time and I like to do them outdoors so I don’t mess up my house. If you get paint on real grass, eventually new grass will grow. If you get paint on this grass, that paint will haunt you for the rest of your life. Because not only is that paint gonna last forever, so is this grass that’s never going to decompose. Ever.

Finally, I’m just generally not a fan of fake. I don’t like those plastic candles that glow from within that have fake paper “flames” that waggle around in the wind. I don’t like ceramic tile designed to look like wood. Even if these materials look real, part of your psyche knows it’s being tricked. Your soul is not easily fooled.

The reason I went with this option was that my landlord didn’t want to waste money on watering a lawn back here and I didn’t wanna waste water on a lawn as California continues the apocalyptic drought it has been in essentially since I moved to LA. And I also wanted a clean place for Satie to be able to go to the bathroom that wouldn’t drag a bunch of dirt and dust back into the bungalow. Which was exactly what happened the first few months we were in the apartment.

So yeah, I never thought I’d be a person with plastic grass in my backyard BUT THIS IS WHERE WE ARE, LADIES. I’m a mom now I have a dog to think about!

Sources: Seton 3-Piece Modular Set, Elaine Smith Soren Pillow, Babuka Pillow, Calova Chair, Terrazzo Side Table, Bori Lantern, Corten Steel Planter, Metallic Span Planter, Halden Side Table Small, Halden Side Table Large, Wood Fencing, Bistro Lights, Salad Bowl, Glass Pitcher.

This whole backyard makeover story began as the result of a collaboration I’ve been working on with Sunbrella. So let’s talk about the beautiful Seton Modular Sectional I got from Frontgate. The sofa is not only gorgeous, it’s also extremely well made and the cushions are bouncier and more comfortable than any outdoor upholstery I’ve ever had. I went with the gray because I originally sourced this sectional for my cabin (how this makeover ended up happening in LA instead is a LONG story for another day). I thought a mid-tone would better mask to the constant dust that’s flying around at Londo Lodge so I chose this pretty gray. It’s performed incredibly well and after months of rain, wind, and sun it still looks brand new!

Orlando’s LA Bungalow Backyard Before Renovations

In case you were curious what it looked like before, here you go! The backyard was a big ol weed farm. According to my neighbors it pretty much looked like this the entire time the previous tenant lived there. Which is bonkers to me because I’ve wanted my own private backyard as long as I’ve lived in LA. There was a lot to contend with out there. Obviously the dry desert of weeds was an eyesore. But the chain link fence was also a big bummer. I asked my landlord if we could just remove the chain link fence and have the other property’s fence serve as the barrier between the two houses. Apparently that’s not allowed so I hired a talented carpenter to install some ready-made fencing I sourced at Lowes over the existing chain link.

The goal with the plants in the backyard was twofold. I wanted a perimeter of REAL plants to surround the turf so the yard would have some real life. I also wanted plants that could survive for a while without being watered. I plan on installing an irrigation system eventually because I leave so frequently, but if it malfunctioned I wanted plants that wouldn’t die immediately of thirst. I’ve learned the hard way that having a bunch of plants in pots isn’t necessarily conducive to leaving all the time. So I want some plants that can handle LA. Since this shoot I’ve swapped the thirsty, delicate Japanese Maple for a much hardier olive tree, which is one of my favorites.

Sources: Halden Side Table Small, Halden Side Table Large, Terrazzo Side Table, Calova Chair, Metallic Span Planter, Metallic Pedestal Planter, Elaine Smith Pillow, Bori Lantern, Bistro Lights, Glass Pitcher.

The reason I was so excited to be working with Sunbrella was that I wanted an outdoor sofa that can handle my dog. Satie is allowed on all my furniture, inside and out of the house. At some point I decided it would be easier to just let her on all the furniture than it would be to try and train her that she’s allowed sometimes and not allowed other times. So it was important I have a sectional that would continue looking great even with a dog hopping all over it. This particular Sunbrella fabric does really well with a shorter hair dog because the hairs don’t stick to it. Satie doesn’t shed a lot but if she snuggles in one place long enough she can (I usually only notice this if I put flannel sheets on the bed, which seem to attract the most hair of anything).

One of the challenges of this space was that it is essentially walled in on three sides by garages. One set of garages is for my building, the other is for the house behind me. To break up the monotony of those white walls, I painted a free-form, cartoony mural using Clare Paint’s Grayish (a sage green). My goal with the wall mural was to add a lush backdrop, help break up the boxiness of the backyard, and cover the cracks and chipped paint on the lower portion of the walls. I love the way it turned out and the soothing color it adds to the yard.

Sources: Dinner Plates, Potting Station, Brolla Dining Table, Elan Dining Chair, Corten Steel Privacy Screen, Metallic Span Planter, Salad Bowl, Bistro Lights.

The dining table and chairs came from Article and I love how sturdy-yet-light the chairs are and the solid construction of the table. The backyard is set up for entertaining so I wanted a table with room for at least six people. Article’s outdoor is really great this season! They have so many sculptural, interesting options it was hard to choose which I wanted for this yard! I bought an inexpensive potting station from Amazon, which I plan to use both as a potting station and as a sideboard when hosting outdoor dinners.

Orlando’s LA Bungalow Backyard Before Renovations

Sources: Outdoor Kitchen, KitchenAid Grill, Corten Steel Span Planter, Corten Steel Privacy Screen, Bori Lantern, Brolla Dining Table, Elan Dining Chair, Halden Side Table Small, Halden Side Table Large, Terrazzo Side Table, Calova Chair, Seton 3-Piece Modular Set.

One of the biggest visual payoffs in this makeover came from the Corten Steel Screens I got from Veradek. I reached out to the brand asking about their modular outdoor kitchen components (I’ll get to that in a minute) and they offered these screens as well. I hadn’t really thought of adding something like this to the space but they were really perfect for what I wanted to do. They helped break up the monotony of the white boxes and also went with my color palette, which was basically sage green, ivory, black, and terra cotta/rust. Veradek has a variety of planters in different colors and finishes but I stuck to the black and corten steel options. The corten steel take a while to rust but you can speed the process up by using a special mixture of vinegar to rust them overnight. We did it on these and it was miraculous how quickly the rust finish appeared.

Now, let’s get to this amazing outdoor kitchen. This whole area was the product of a HOT TIP I got from Emily Bowser when she stopped by to advise me on what to do back here. I asked her to come over one day because I wanted someone to bounce ideas off of about the layout. It’s a smaller space so it needed to be organized in an efficient way or it would look like way too much going on in one space. My original plan was to just buy a grill and build a kitchen around it. But this system was a whole lot easier and a whole lot more fireproof than the wood structure I was planning on building.

I wanted a social kitchen, a kitchen that faced towards the yard not away from it. So I put together a plan with the Veradek Kitchen Components that created a lot of outdoor workspace and kept the layout open toward the dining and lounge areas. I highly recommend these components to anyone considering an outdoor kitchen. It’s basically a really quick way to make your own elevated outdoor kitchen. It’s designed to go with this KitchenAid BBQ, which was a bit more expensive than I would have liked but really does look beautiful and professional once installed.

One of the things I love most about my new backyard is that it’s visible from both the home’s bedrooms. Now that it looks pretty back here, I like to leave the drapes open. The outdoor space feels like an extension of the indoor space so even if I never went out side this transformation would be worth it because of the joy I get from looking out my window and seeing a happy, composed space instead of a neglected desert weed graveyard.

One of the issues with this space is that there aren’t any outdoor light fixtures or working outlets. My landlord has promised to fix those eventually but in order to be able to use the space I put up some bistro lights to add ambience and illuminate the space for Satie if she has to go out at night (she, like me, is very afraid of the dark). Unfortunately there wasn’t an easy way to install the bistro lights so they’d swag over the whole yard because I can’t drill into the stucco for obvious preservation reasons and rigging something on the roof was a bit more of a TASK than I had the bandwidth for. Having the lights strung on the fencing and around the perimeter makes them look a little more like Christmas lights but I don’t actually mind. At some point I may buy or build a pergola out here so I’d probably move the lights at that time but for now I’m liking the evening glow they provide.

Sources: Glass Hurricane, Salad Plate, Flatware, Linen Napkins.

Joey and I have both had a wild few months. He has had back to back chef jobs in LA and Austin and I’ve been bopping from my cabin to various spots in Northern California for work and work events. But we have already taken advantage of the beautiful Sunbrella lounge space and the practical-yet-pretty outdoor kitchen. In the warmer months, I love cooking and eating outside. Not only does it feel much more relaxing than cooking and eating indoors it’s also a way quicker cleanup.

Sources: Seton 3-Piece Modular Set, Elaine Smith Soren Pillow, Babuka Pillow, Calova Chair, Terrazzo Side Table, Bori Lantern, Metallic Pedestal Planter, Corten Steel Planter, Metallic Span Planter, Halden Side Table Small, Halden Side Table Large, Wood Fencing, Bistro Lights.

I posted a photo of this space to my Instagram last week and a lot of people messaged to ask me if I’m getting a discount on my rent for all the improvements I’ve made. The answer to that is a big fat NO. As far as my landlord was concerned, the yard was fine before so he has no incentive to incentivize me to improve his property. It’s always been my belief that if you’re going to live somewhere for six months or more you should make it your own. Almost everything can be removed if I leave (though I’d leave anything that was professionally installed (like the fencing) because removing it would be A. Rude and B. Really difficult. I rented this place during a work spike in early 2021 that ended up not being the pay spike I thought it would be. I leased it because I was worried rents were going to start going up again (Fun Fact: They did!). So while I may have had some leverage going in, I can’t make any demands for rent reductions. Which is fine, I really like my landlord and his family and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I helped them improve their property – as I’ve learned with Londo Lodge, homes need to be taken care of every day. I’m fine to be a steward of this place for a few years (forever?) until I can afford to buy an LA place or until I decide to move to Barcelona to be a cool, aloof, Spanish vegan.

The backyard has definitely gone from a dusty, dirty mud pit to a cozy, comfortable outdoor room that’s fun to spend time in. It took a while longer than I wanted but now it’s ready for my return to LA. I’m stuck up at Londo Lodge for the next few weeks finishing up as many to-do’s on the vacation rental front as I can. Here’s hoping I get some time to enjoy my LA Bungalow’s backyard sometime soon!

8 thoughts on “Satie’s Sunbrella Sanctuary: Rehabbing the Neglected Yard at My LA Bungalow

  1. Absolutely stunning transformation (as usual!)! Everything is gorgeous. The veradek planters are first on my list. And the kitchen components will make for a great combined father’s day/birthday gift.

  2. The before and after photos are amazing! You are so creative. The sectional is perfect back here but my favorite is the outdoor kitchen. Congratulations on a beautiful makeover!

  3. I think I would love this little place on the internet even more if you moved to Barcelona to be a cool, aloof, Spanish vegan.
    Good work on the back-yard! Improving your rental space for the good vibes is a GREAT reason, not everything has to be for money / rent reduction 😉

  4. The backyard transformation looks amazing!! You did such a great job!! Only thing I’ll put here so maybe someone who has a choice (I know as a renter the turf isn’t really your choice!) but turf is so bad for everywhere but especially in LA! Here’s some info about why if people are interested 🙂

  5. I’ve been wanting to do something like this in my boring gross burnt backyard in Texas. I can’t stand all the waistful watering trying to keep grass green down here. Thanks for the resources too! It’s very helpful!

  6. Fab space, unique ,as you always do.!
    I looked into fake grass to save water and work. I have a beloved dog friend too and I discovered I was going to have to presssure/hose wash it with the hose frequently or it would get gross and smelly. That and the price stopped that. how do you contend?

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