A Midwest patio became a cozy escape in just a few weekends with the help of lush plantings, colorful DIY projects, and comfy seating.

A bank of wall-to-wall windows gave photo stylist Joseph Wanek and his husband, Nick Sellers, an expansive view, but anyone walking by could also see straight into their Des Moines living room. "It was like living in a fishbowl," Joseph says. 

Joseph wanted to come up with a privacy solution that didn't require window coverings blocking the natural light. Their midcentury modern home featured an L-shape entry that offered the perfect spot to tuck in a fenced-in patio. Joseph and Nick built a 16×12-foot outdoor room complete with a seating area and bar. They also turned the fence panel opposite their windows into a plant wall.

backyard porch area with multiple plants
Credit: Marty Baldwin

"We love that this front patio makes our place feel more like a tropical paradise," Nick says. "Surrounding ourselves with plants makes us feel like we're on vacation." Now they can bask in the sunshine on their patio—or in their living room—without waves from anyone passing by.

An aggregate stone product called trap rock creates texture underfoot at half the price of slate pavers. Joseph and Nick sloped the ground away from their house so water wouldn't drain into the basement. Then they laid landscape plastic for weed control, using inexpensive pavers to hold it in place. Once the base was ready, they poured the trap rock on top.

orange cabinet next to wooden fence
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Joseph gave an outdoor galvanized-steel cabinet a color facelift to turn it into a fun bar. "I painted the bar turmeric to add a pop of color out there," Joseph says. The living room's color palette extends onto the patio for a seamless look. "Our cats even match our color scheme," Joseph says with a laugh. 

orange cabinet with entertaining supplies
wicker covered light on outdoor patio
Left: Credit: Marty Baldwin
Right: Credit: Marty Baldwin

The cabinet is a handy spot for storing entertaining supplies and extra cushions on the patio. Joseph updated this outdoor cabinet with exterior paint and then applied a clear-coat sealant. 

A rattan planter was transformed into a sconce by cutting out every other row of strapping. A battery-powered lamp kit hangs from a bracket and works on a timer. Its battery pack is tucked out of sight behind the bar. 

person sitting on outdoor couch with cat
black and white table with cacti
Left: Credit: Marty Baldwin
Right: Credit: Marty Baldwin

Porcelain tiles cover a concrete countertop remnant to form a low-profile coffee table. Joseph, shown with cat Julio, selected the tiles for their size so he didn't have to make any cuts. The tabletop sits on two stacks of pavers and can serve as extra seating when needed.

black wicker chair in outdoor patio area
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Most cities have front-yard structural height restrictions. Joseph got a permit for the patio design before he installed the 6-foot-tall cedar fence. He initially left the cedar natural, but it contrasted too much with their home's gray-painted brick. To help the fence complement their home instead of distract from it, he applied a semitransparent, dark brown stain and planted ornamental grasses to soften the street-side view.

overhead view of back porch area
Credit: Marty Baldwin

Joseph and Nick didn't want the patio to require endless upkeep. The trap rock surface they chose, requires only a quick blowing out of leaves in the spring and fall. When the coffee table's white tile and grout look a bit grungy, Joseph simply wipes it down with Borax and warm water.


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