Five Ways to Make a Beautiful Backyard

Five Ways to Make a Beautiful Backyard

There are so many ways to make a beautiful backyard and so many different things to make it a ‘one of a kind’.  If a backyard was just a standard layout and everyone did the same thing, where would the fun be?  For as long as people have been living in houses, they have strived to create outdoor living spaces full of functionality and beauty.  Backyard popularity and the drive to create the perfect outdoor space has always been there, and I feel the things to build, construct, and add are more abundant now than ever.  So many options and so little time.  Here is Backyard Flare’s list of ‘Five Ways to Make a Beautiful Backyard’.

Outdoor Fireplace

Outdoor fireplace beautiful backyard
Outdoor fireplace with flagstone seating and stone veneer.

First and foremost, we love outdoor fireplaces and bang for your buck, they are amazing.  They seem to be the one thing outdoors that will bring you a massive return on your investment.  What you may spend a few hundred dollars on could gain thousands in return at time of sale.  Outdoor fireplaces are our bread and butter and it’s what we think about day and night.  We are always talking to DIY homeowners about different layout possibilities and available building footprints.  It seems like people are building fireplaces in spaces small and large.  Even places that seem to not work for a fireplace, people seem to build in.

Now, you don’t have to build a massive structure to have it be the focal point.  If you position your fireplace in a way that the flame is visible from inside your house, it becomes a very cool feature in that you can build a fire for ambiance.  It’s so peaceful to have a fire crackling and you don’t even have to be sitting next to it to enjoy it.

Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor kitchen beautiful backyard
Outdoor kitchen with drop in grill and access doors.

Holy cow, who doesn’t like to grill?  I don’t know anyone right off the top of my head.  Most homeowners will have a small Weber grill or a cheap standalone grill on their back patio.  Over time, it will probably be in a state of rust and full of cobwebs.  It’s probably because the backyard wasn’t welcoming.  It wasn’t a place where the homeowners wanted to spend their time.  Ah, but build a nice outdoor kitchen and it becomes a destination… a “cooking” destination.

beautiful backyard
Outdoor kitchen with black granite countertop.

Adding an outdoor kitchen, can be as simple as encasing your existing standalone grill, with countertop to the sides.  More extravagant structures may have a raised bar area with stools, a refrigerator, a sink, or even a pizza oven added.  The possibilities are endless and will de

pend on how much room you have to work with.  The layout could be rectangular, built like an “L” shape, or even a “U” shape.  Drop in grills can be purchased for reasonable costs if you look around enough, and you can opt for propane or natural gas.  Building a sunken pit into your structure could even accommodate the use of charcoal, which in our opinion tastes wonderful.

Outdoor Lighting

beautiful backyard
Lighting adds a great look to any fireplace

Spend some time looking into your backyard at night and think about where you would add low voltage lighting.  Adding a transformer and some perimeter lights in the yard can add a lot of character.  Upward lighting on trees and bushes can add visual depth that all but fades away at night.

Outdoor lighting fireplace beautiful backyard
Lighting along the front of a fireplace hearth.

If you add the lighting to a structure such as a fireplace or outdoor kitchen, you will bring those structures to a focal point.  Many homeowners will incorporate lighting throughout their entire yard and through structures, having it illuminate all at the same time.  This is a really elegant look.

Lighting outdoor kitchen beautiful backyard
Lighting brings out the beauty at night on the outdoor kitchen.

Potted Plants

Potted plant beautiful backyard
Colorful flowers in a white potted and textured pot.

The right pot or three with colorful flowering plants puts the finishing touch on many backyards.  The flowers provide a visual pop of color not usually found anywhere else in a backyard.  With colorful pots or textured pots, you can add lots of cool looks.  Change the flowers each season for different colors or type of plants.  If you add a drip line into the pot, you’ll be able to minimize the maintenance time and possibly forgetting to water the plants.  They don’t tend to live very long if they don’t get water.

Shaded Seating

Adirondack chair beautiful backyard
Comfy Adirondack chairs begging for usage.

Last on our short list for a beautiful backyard but not even close to being the least important, add some shaded seating to your outdoor space.  On cool mornings, I will grab a cup of coffee and sit in my Adirondack chair with my feet propped up.  This chair lives under my patio cover, adding lots of protection from sun fading.  When I want to venture out from the confines of the patio cover, I can relax in one of my teal colored padded chairs.  The rectangular shaped glass table sports a teal colored umbrella providing great sun protection for most of the day.

Outdoor chair beautiful backyard
Teal padded chairs and umbrella around glass table.

Just adding a few different places to sit comfortably in your backyard will offer the look of a welcoming area.

Over time, with these few things added or built in your backyard, you will have transformed your outdoor space and you will hopefully have a beautiful backyard that begs for usage.  Lots of usage.  And who knows, maybe you’ll add all five recommendations, completely renovating it to the envy of all your neighbors.

If you have any questions about any of the suggestions, or if you want to build an outdoor kitchen and/or outdoor fireplace, visit www.backyardflare.com.  We’ll help you with your project and provide you with a very comprehensive DIY construction plan.  Most if not all the guesswork will be gone.

The Perfect S’more

The Perfect S’more

Is there a day that goes by where you don’t contemplate the perfect S’more or the ingredients that it takes to construct one?  I don’t think so, as these quandaries are what keep lots of people up at night.  I often lie there for hours at a time, beads of sweat collecting on my forehead, while I count marshmallows and small squares of chocolate.  Did I break the graham cracker perfectly, so the two sides are equal? Is the marshmallow gooey enough?  The perfect S’more…oh my…so much to consider.

Funny to think about, and “no” I really don’t drive myself into crazed sleeplessness over something as simple as a S’more.  Having said that, I thought this would be an amusing blog post to write about how to build the perfect S’more and to get some feedback on what constitutes your perfect S’more.

So Many Questions

What is the perfect roast level of the marshmallow?  How much chocolate is necessary for these tasty and crunchy dessert sandwiches?  These seem like crazy questions and an over analyzation of a simple sweet snack, but really think about what you do when you build the perfect S’more.  You make a lot of micro decisions when you are in the S’more frame of mind.

Marshmallow on a stick
Marshmallow on a Stick

You will usually impale a helpless marshmallow on a skewer or metal stick and hold it over the open flame without mercy.  The question lies; however, do you hold it just outside the flame or catch it on fire?  Do you require a golden brown slow roast, or do you prefer the stick mounted flaming marshmallow ball like a torch used by Indiana Jones?  How long do you let the marshmallow burn before you blow out the flame?  Is there a point when too much burn is too much, and intending to start over, you resort to flinging the sticky mess off the stick for the dog to devour?

Chocolate
Perfect Milk Chocolate

Do you prepare your graham cracker and chocolate before the marshmallow torture or do you yell at others in panic to get your cracker and chocolate ready?  If you’re like most, you do the latter.  You were so focused on the marshmallow torture and open flame that you “tunnel-visioned” yourself out of paying attention to the chocolatey crunchy portions of the sweet treat. Remember that your failure to prepare the cracker and chocolate should not constitute an emergency on the part of your family and friends.

S’more (Some More) Questions

Do you forget and leave the graham crackers open, so the dog gets into them, “Pavlov Dog Style”?  Do you viciously eat a good portion of the chocolate beforehand, and then realize that there may not be enough to go around?  Are you the one that puts the hot and sticky marshmallow skewer down on the chair in haste not realizing that it will glue itself to the seat cushion?

The Perfect S'more
Building the Perfect S’more

With so many things to consider, should we as humans even be stepping into the tough decisions necessary to build the perfect S’more?  Is it better done as a team event?  This blog post has not done anything except make me hungry for a S’more and nervously anxious at the thought of building one.  I hope the next time you decide to make the perfect S’mores that you talk it over first with your guests.  Think about logistics and have a game plan before indulging in such glorious delicacies.

S'more
S’more Time Anyone?

Or just have fun.  S’mores are a great way to share memories with family and friends.  Leave a comment and let us know some of your S’more memories or thoughts.  We’d love to hear them.

Build Your Own Marshmallow Fireplace

Please visit www.backyardflare.com if you are interested in a DIY fireplace or outdoor kitchen construction plan.  They are perfect places to build a fire necessary for your marshmallow torture.  Thanks for reading, and as always…happy building.

Dan

Shaping and Cutting Natural Stone

Shaping and Cutting Natural Stone

You’re done with your DIY outdoor fireplace or DIY outdoor kitchen and you are contemplating what you will use to cover the horizontal surfaces.  Look to natural stone for a possibility.  Shaping and cutting natural stone does not have to intimidate you.  There are ample resources that will help guide you through the process of getting your stone to fit the seating, shelving, and the top of your fireplace or kitchen.  And it looks beautiful.

Flagstone seating material and lighting on a DIY outdoor fireplace
Flagstone seating material and lighting on a DIY outdoor fireplace

Do Your Research

Do an online search for DIY outdoor fireplaces or DIY outdoor kitchens and you’ll see some amazing structures.  Pay attention to the horizontal surfaces and you’ll see that these DIY homeowners have used lots of different materials.  One of the widely used materials for the horizontal surfaces is natural stone.  The use of the natural stone will require some cutting and shaping of the material before it can be applied to your structure though.  This can be done via a couple different methods.

Cutting Natural Stone
Method One – Use a Diamond Blade
Flagstone on a DIY outdoor fireplace
Mark your cuts on the stone using a long straight edge.

The first and most common method of stone shaping is to use a diamond blade to cut it.  This is a very effective way of cutting the stone and curved cuts are even possible.  The final look will be a smooth edge that can be rounded off for a finer look.

The diamond blade you use to cut your cinder block can double as the stone cutting blade.  Depending on your saw, diamond blades can be used dry or wet.  Dry cutting is dusty so use a mask and prepare to be covered in the colored dust.  With a good blade, some stone, such as flagstone will cut through like a hot knife through butter.  Don’t try to cut too deep, too fast though as you will bog down the saw.

Check out this video showing how easy cutting natural stone can be using a diamond blade.  This is an example of a dry cut, using a 9″ grinder.
https://www.facebook.com/BackyardFlareLlc/videos/630083177148781/

One more thing to keep in mind about dry cutting is that your blade will become super hot and it will begin to soften and warp. When this occurs, simply stop cutting to allow the blade to cool down.  If you proceed too long with a warping blade, it may maintain that warped out-of-round shape even after it has cooled.

Cutting Natural Stone
Method Two – Hammer and Chisel Cutting

If you want a more rustic look, you can opt to chisel cut the stone.  This is a bit more of an art form and could require an extra piece or two of stone that you can practice on.  You will use a hammer to hit the chisel, but don’t hit too hard.  For the best cut, you will use small movements of the chisel head as you impact the chisel with your hammer.

If you are cutting a 12” straight cut using a 4” chisel head, you will probably hit the chisel at least eight to ten times along the way.  The stone may not break after the first pass so start again and continue as you first did until you see the stone begin to crack.

It is not uncommon to go from end to end three or four times before the stone breaks.  At times, you may have a stone that will not break exactly on your intended line.  This may be a result of a stone that already has cracks and fissures in it.  The stone will break where it is most vulnerable but it may not be exactly where you intended it to break.  This is the frustration of chisel cutting versus cutting the stone with a blade.

DIY outdoor fireplace, stone seating
DIY outdoor fireplace with chisel cut stone seating

Check out a great video on cutting natural stone using the hammer and chisel technique.
https://www.facebook.com/BackyardFlareLlc/videos/289085947915174/

Cutting Natural Stone – Practice Makes Perfect

A great idea is to purchase a small piece of stone ahead of your construction.  You can practice cutting lines, both with a blade and chisel.  With enough repetition, you will find the preferred method and look that will look great on your structure.

As always, happy building.

Dan

 

Vintage and New Outdoor Fireplaces – They’re Everywhere

outdoor stone fireplace, house is gone
What stories can this AZ fireplace tell?

Outdoor Fireplaces – What History Can They Tell?

I have been traveling quite a bit lately.  Additionally, I have been fortunate enough to have gone to some really neat locations.  Just a few visited in the past few months are Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, Winterpark, Colorado, El Paso, Texas, and the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.  When I go to a new place, I love the opportunity to walk around and explore the old and new.

One thing that seems timeless is the fireplace built in an old house lot.  They still stand, absent the house or an old cabin.   I love walking around these towns and noticing great outdoor fireplaces built in new areas, at shopping malls, at apartment complexes, and even outdoor patios of fancy bars and restaurants.

Vintage Fireplace
Old fireplace in a WV city park

The old vintage stone fireplaces through their cracks and stains can sometimes tell a silent story, letting your mind wander at how much they have seen and been witness to over the passing years.  Who graced the hearth and seating around these graceful structures?  What conversations and decisions took place in front of the fire?

Imagine the fireplaces in the homes and parks of West Virginia that kept home owners and those fighting in the civil war warm.  They used them every day during the harsh winters.  Imagine the fireplaces in the Grand Canyon lodges that kept tourists warm during the 1930s when the park was really becoming a destination.  Now those are old fireplaces with stories too abundant for us to even imagine.

How About the New?

Shopping center outdoor fireplace
Fireplace spotted in an AZ shopping center

But let’s think about how we can create our own memories and stories around an outdoor fireplace.  When you spot an outdoor fireplace at an outdoor shopping center, stop and check it out.  Sit on the hearth and if it is providing heat, enjoy it for a few minutes.  Relax and even grab a drink if you have time.  Become the history that can be told by that fireplace 100 years from now.

Pay attention to where you are and if you see an old or even a new fireplace that needs to be in a photograph, take a pic and send it to us at, dan@backyardflare.com.  Let us know where and how you found it.

Thanks and as always, happy building!

Cinder Blocks Explained

Cinder Blocks Explained

Cinder block sizes vary and many different shapes are available for your outdoor projects.  There are short ones, tall ones, solid ones and some are made with holes/voids.  Not only are they different sizes, but some that are classified with the same dimensions can be slightly different allowing them to be used in a different manner.

You can build outdoor structures such as fireplaces, kitchen, and pizza ovens using primarily the blocks that are described in this article.  Just for a bit of clarification, most people will call them cinder blocks but there is a slightly more technical term for them.  They are sometimes referred to as concrete masonry units (CMU) by the folks that make them and sell them.  When shopping for these blocks, you only need to call them cinder blocks though and know a little about how they are sized.  The cinder blocks sold in the United States are sized in inches.

Cinder Blocks and Sizes Explained

8x8x16 Block

8x8x16 block

The most common cinder block is an 8x8x16 as seen in the adjacent picture.  These measurements are the depth, height, and width respectively.  Most construction projects, needing any structural integrity, will be built using this size block. These blocks have voids, designed to be filled with concrete, which provides great strength.

 

 

8x8x8 Block

8x8x8 block

These 8x8x8 cinder blocks are perfect cubes that are widely used in conjunction with the 8x8x16 cinder blocks.  These blocks also have voids which allow them to be filled with concrete.

Some have notches manufactured into them for rebar, but the notch will not be used most of the time.  When you are building using a running bond/staggered pattern, these will certainly be useful.

 

8x4x16 block

8x4x16 block

An 8x4x16 cinder block is half as tall as standard 8x8x16 cinder blocks, so they are very good to incorporate into your structure. These cinder blocks are used as a transition block when only a little bit of height is needed as they are only 4” tall.  These blocks also have voids.

 

 

 

4x8x16 block

4" block used for your outdoor fireplace
4x8x16

Occasionally, you will need a cinder block that is only 4” in depth.  These cinder blocks are measured 4x8x16. They have much smaller voids in them which makes them harder to fill with concrete.

A lot of cinder block walls are constructed using these blocks.

 

 

 

8x2x16 cap block

Use these cinder blocks for finish work and solid surfaces.
8x2x16 cap block

One of the last widely used cinder blocks is an 8x2x16 cap block.  When you only need to add a couple inches to your structure or to close off a section, you will use these blocks. These cinder blocks are solid and are also used when a flat surface is needed for finish work.

If you are interested in building an outdoor fireplace or kitchen there are great ways of building them.  Cinder blocks are just one way of constructing them, but it’s a fantastic way to build a structure with great integrity and strength.  Visit www.backyardflare.com for great outdoor fireplace designs, ideas, and DIY construction plans.

 

 

Build a Stunning Outdoor Living Area

Build Your Stunning Outdoor Living Area

This week’s backyard profile goes out to Adam in the great state of Washington.  What a great job Adam did, building his stunning outdoor living area, with the help of Backyard Flare and their design team.  But… Adam went the extra mile and he constructed an outdoor destination complete with a fireplace, outdoor kitchen, and patio cover on steroids.

Wood framing of patio cover
Patio cover is framed

The blank slate started with the building of the wood framed pergola.  A pitched roof with a decorative underbelly and drop lights covered a large footprint.  This cover offered the living area with a respite from the sun or the probable Washington State rainfall.  The support beams of the patio cover were stained darker than the wood slats.  What a great look.

Pitched roof patio cover
Patio cover with pitched roof

Finishing the Patio Cover

Brilliant white trim accented the beautiful gray tone siding and then fantastic light sconces were set on the vertical corner sections.  These lights provided ample light and amazing ambiance for the outside of the patio cover.  A rugged transition to the ground was accomplished by covering the bottoms of the corner pillars a great faux stone veneer.

Outdoor Living Area
Great looking flagstone walkway
Outdoor Living Area
Lighting always makes the structure look elegant

Flagstone was laid in an erratic pattern to form the approach to the covered patio.  The earth tone colored stone was broken into large sections and then placed into the soil.

Outdoor Kitchen Construction

One corner of the structure was used as a partial wall for a very large outdoor kitchen.  The structure was then equipped with a stainless-steel drop in barbecue grill, stainless access door, and several linear feet of counter top for cooking preparation.

Outdoor kitchen
Outdoor kitchen with barbecue, stainless doors

Outdoor Fireplace Construction

Afterward, lots of cinder block was delivered for the Backyard Flare designed fireplace.  Adam used the construction plan from Backyard Flare to build his fireplace structure with ground level storage voids.  Subsequently, these storage voids worked well aesthetically on each side.

 

 

After the cinder block rough build was completed to the top of the two-tiered chimney stack, the veneer was then applied. This veneer matched the veneer used on the outdoor kitchen and the bottoms of the patio pillars which added a great overall look.  The horizontal surfaces of the fireplace were covered with a dark stone, complimenting the veneer perfectly.

Outdoor fireplace design
Backyard Flare designed fireplace

Outdoor fireplace plan

A mantel was added to the front width of the fireplace and then veneer was added to the structure.  Adam took a blank section of his yard and then transformed it into a very welcoming outdoor living area.  I’m sure he and his family and friends have spent many days and nights making great memories.

If you would like to build an outdoor structure such as a fireplace or outdoor kitchen visit us at www.backyardflare.com.  We will help you with all your design needs and can take most of the guess work out of it.  Thanks for reading and we hope to hear from you.  Happy building!

DIY Outdoor Fireplace – Build Review

DIY Outdoor Fireplace Inspiration

Each week we are going to pick a Backyard Flare designed fireplace built by a DIY homeowner enthusiast.  We will then give you a DIY outdoor fireplace build review to dissect it regarding the construction and finish work.  We hope you are inspired and that you realize that you too can complete this type of backyard project.

DIY fireplace building is achievable for even the average homeowner and the materials are readily available at retailers in your area.  The knowledge of how to “put it all together” is accessible if you know where to look.  Some of these amazing structures look as if they should only belong at a fine 5-star resort, but that’s not so.

DIY Outdoor fireplace built by homeowner
Deck level outdoor fireplace in Maryland

Our featured fireplace, built by Gene, is located in the great state of Maryland.  Gene approached Backyard Flare with a design idea and fireplace concept that became known as the Prescott Fireplace.  Gene wanted his fireplace to be raised to the level of his deck, which was approximately 3 feet.  A wide firebox and matching wide chimney was desired.

Prepping the Space for Construction

Ground prep for concrete pour
Ground prep and formation with rebar is ready for concrete

After getting the construction plans, Gene started building.  He first cut a section of the railing and deck out so the fireplace could be built into the deck.  This would make it appear that the deck surrounded the base of the fireplace.  Gene then excavated a bit of ground just outside the perimeter of his deck posts.  Height concerns were taken into consideration while pouring the foundation slab so the mortared blocks would reach the level of the deck perfectly.  At no time was the fireplace structure to support the deck or come in contact with it.

Gene made sure to use rebar in a grid pattern to pour his needed thickness of concrete taking into consideration factors such as frost line, ground prep, runoff, soil type, and undermining.  This will be different for different geographical areas.

Premixed concrete brought in on a trailer was used to pour the slab resulting in a beautiful foundation.  Not much finishing needed to be done because the block work would be covering the newly poured pavement.

Concrete pad poured
Finished concrete is ready for block work

Work was done on the edge of the deck to perfect it.  The gaps around the slab would ultimately be filled in with dirt once the first few rows of block were mortared in place.

Cinder block construction of outdoor fireplace
Gene reached the level of his deck

With the block work started, Gene quickly built upward until he reached the height of the deck.  The structure was set back a couple inches so the veneer could be applied down the front face of the fireplace.

 

Time to Finish the Fireplace

Once the structure was completed in rough form with the appropriate chimney measurements and dimensions, the finish work was planned. Lots of possibilities were posed and a few were chosen.

DIY Outdoor fireplace built by homeowner
Veneer was added to the structure

The structure’s vertical surfaces were covered in a beautiful faux veneer which looked great with the accented dark pieces.  The horizontal surfaces were covered with a thin earth tone colored flagstone that worked well with the color of the veneer.  Mortar was used between these stone pieces thus giving it a nice finished look.

DIY Outdoor fireplace built by homeowner
Finished outdoor fireplace landscaping

Landscape was completed around the finished structure which gave this space an amazing final look.  An elevated fire grate was added to the firebox and fireplace tools were bought to manage the fire.  Gene did a great job on his outdoor fireplace and made us here at Backyard Flare, LLC very proud.

We’re hoping this DIY outdoor fireplace build review inspired you and that you consider this type of outdoor project. Visit us at www.backyardflare.com if you would like to build your own outdoor fireplace and would like more information about how it’s done.

DIY Outdoor fireplace built by homeowner - build review
First fire in the newly completed fireplace