Entries Tagged as 'Home projects'

A Little Mulch Goes a Long Way



After we finished our new little garden we quickly realized that it wasn’t going to stay looking footloose and weed free for very long.

Within a matter of weeks it quickly went downhill from looking like this all neat and tidy with freshly raked dirt and our cute new plants.

To this hot mess full of crab grass and other unnameable things with roots reaching so deep you envision someone in China pulling on the very same weed.


We were losing the weed battle, definitely not the look we were going for. We knew it was about time to get our mulch on. I’ve always loved mulch since I was a kid…yeah I’m weird like that. I also loved watching This Old House with my Dad on Saturday afternoons when I was little,  go figure.

We went off to Home Depot and got a bunch of bags of black mulch, and gathered newspapers from the recycling pile. A long time ago we read somewhere that newspapers make a fantastic weed barrier instead of the usual black plastic.  We’ve used it as our go-to weed barrier in planting beds for years. It withholds light stopping the weeds from growing while allowing moisture to penetrate to the soil.

The newspaper holds up surprisingly well with mulch on top which is also a natural weed barrier giving you an added layer of protection in garden beds while being completely biodegradable and the best part is it’s absolutely free since we just save a bunch of Sunday newspapers as we go and use them when we’re about to mulch the gardens.

I basically worked my way around the garden laying out the newspaper 2 to 3 sheets thick overlapping the edges to ensure full coverage, luckily this day it wasn’t windy so there was no running around like a crazy person holding the edges of the paper down. A smarter person on a windy day may want to dampen the newspaper slightly to keep it from flying about. But that’s just if you’re smarter than I am.

Once the newspaper weed barrier was in place we began spreading the mulch in around the garden in sections about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep.

Making sure to wear gloves since the dye used in black mulch tends to rub off of the mulch but sticks to your hands permanently, so unless you’re going for the black dye covered hands look gloves are probably your best option.

After a quick couple hours the garden was in tip top shape again. We’re really happy with how this little project turned out.

We went from this

To this.

I’m really liking how neat and tidy it all looks again and how much more vibrant to colors of the flowers are against the black background of the mulch.  We’re totally please with house this turned out and it was super cheap too. The mulch was around $3.50 a bag and we used about 6 bags for this little garden. The newspaper was free since we saved it from the recycling bin. So we brought about this dramatic change and time saving weed control not too mention our plants love the added moisture for around a whopping $21.00.

Oh happy day!



Yippee! It’s finally finished! Yup, the biggest project we’ve tackled thus far is finally complete. We’ve officially completed the cornerstone of our entire backyard overhaul. We planned, we prepped, we dug, plotted and finally finished a project that took the majority of the summer. It feels good to have a completed deck. So I’m finally back to tell you the end of the tale of the deck.

Let’s start at the very beginning shall we. Almost 2 years ago when we first decided to purchase the house. We knew right from the beginning that a pool in the back yard would be oh so awesome for hot summer afternoon’s gazing from the comfort  of the raft overlooking the lake. Bryan and I both grew up with pools and had always talked about having a pool someday. What didn’t know was that someday was going to come quicker than we’d hoped.

While we loved the idea of having a pool in the backyard what we didn’t love was the giant saucer of a pool floating out in the middle of the yard with a WAAAAY too small platform that made it impossible for sitting. The way it was you were either in or out no lounging on that platform was going to happen EVER. Artificial grass does not exactly say “hey come and sit down on my synthetic grassiness”. Totally not the look or “feel” we were going for. We felt there there were some area there for improvement.

After some deliberation and hours of debating with my father Tony the mastermind behind every major building project that goes on around here we came up with a plan.

Click on the image above to see it super-sized.

With his plan we were aiming to address a few issues that we felt were going on. First the new deck would solve the lack of lounging area that we feel is definitely imperative to a truly relaxing pool experience. Second it would bridge the much higher grassy area of the yard with the much lower rocky area you can see in the first picture. As it was it felt a little bit disconnected from each other and we really wanted the whole yard to flow from the house right on down to the lake front which of course is the main attraction.

Once the plan was laid out the guys got to work digging and setting posts and starting the general construction. You can read all about the progress in these posts here  and here where we first introduced you to our total vision.

But I digress, the deck itself was a huge undertaking not only because it’s well, pretty darn big at almost 16 feet wide by 26 feet long but it also needed to float next to the pool, not attached to it and transition from the grass area to the height of the pool.

To make up the height difference we decided that a couple of different platforms and some steps would be needed to make a smooth transition.

The first steps start right as you make your way through the arched gates my father custom built. On either side they give weigh to two benches perfect for sitting and chatting or as we have found lately are also pretty handy for using as side tables to set a glass of perfectly summery homemade iced tea my mom is famous for.

As you make you way down the deck another two steps transition onto a second platform level with the pool. Where some day we plan to add some chaise lounge chairs and side tables but for now a little baby Adirondack chair set next to some of the most comfortable already owned aqua chairs.

A lot of the details in the deck were super time consuming. Each element took some thought and preparation. Not to mention what felt like 100 trips to Home Depot over the course of the summer.

The arched gate adds some height to break up the long expense of railing across the back yard. Giving it a bit more visual interest, as well as the varying widths on the rails. While on the custom bandwagon we played around with each handrail by hand router the edges for an added layer of detail.

And speaking of playing we’ve already been getting a ton of use out of the deck splashing and playing about. We absolutely plan to get a ton of years out of this baby watching Nik play and laugh by the pool.

So what about you guys, Anyone take on a giant deck project like us that took the majority of the summer? We’re so happy it’s done though!

Time for a yard update and a plan



Since summer is here and we’ve been working diligently in our yard I thought it was high time to stop take a look around and see where our yard is today, where it was and where it’s going.

I updated this cute little (not to scale) drawing of our backyard that represents some notes of where we’re thinking we are heading with our yard overhaul.

Click on the image above view larger

Here’s an overhead view of how the yard looked when we first bought the house on the day of our home inspection. We had so many ideas from the day we laid eyes on this view.

Here’s an in-progress shot from the same angle as it looks today. It’s been a little bit of a construction zone over the past couple weeks, we’re working towards making it a really inviting retreat after a hard day at the office. It’s super sunny and aitch-oh-tee-tee. HOTT down there when the temperature rises above 60 degrees. I’m not kidding, you could fry an egg on the stones on a hot summer day.

We’re updating the pool deck platform to make it a cool inviting area. One where you can relax, get your toes wet and watch the kids floating the days away in the pool. We’re thinking that will probably include some sort of shady, relaxing, lounge area.

The deck platform will have a couple of steps to gradually transition from the lawn level to the pool level, and a fence and gate to keep curious little children safe and sound.

The path to below is currently being updated to include some natural stone steps (you can read all about how this surprise project started here).

As you head down the stone steps you can see that you just can’t get away from all that white stone that we inherited, in small doses those stone may be attractive but it doesn’t exactly lend itself to kids playing barefoot in the sprinklers the way it is now.

As you come down to the water’s edge we think this is an ideal spot for a small patio and an area to sit and relax, some shade maybe in the form of shade sails or a pergola and if we get really spunky an outdoor bar would be totally cool after all this is the money spot right here.

And then is this corner we’re thinking some really fun (think sherbert colored with a punch) Adirondack chairs would be lovely instead of the extra row boats (which are soon to be on Craigslist) that we somehow acquired.

We’ll also add a garden in front of the pool side that faces the lake with some flowing ornamental grasses that rustle in the breeze contrasted by rose bushes, camouflaging the less than stellar above ground pool look we’ve got going on.

And if you didn’t get enough of the before shots  here’s a little video of the space as narrated by a 14 month old boy!

Needless to say we’ve been thinking about this for a little while and have come up with a preliminary collection of things we like.

Click on the image above view larger

The kind of things that are likely to change at least 1,000 times before we’re totally finished but for us part of the fun is in the journey, although the finish line is looking really good right now!

Psst: If you like any of the items in our inspiration board hop on over to our Our Lake Life’s Lakeside Inspiration Pinterest Board for all the details and sources along with tons more.



Raising a deck



Over the last couple weekends we’ve been making some real progress with our little deck building project. We began way back last fall with the adding some stone pillars and have continued to add on from there.

A couple days ago I had some Photoshop fun creating a little drawing of how our vision is all going to come together for our yard. So you can get the lay of the land…more or less.

The guys started out by digging six holes to for the new support posts for the deck. We rented a power auger from the Home Depot but after about six seconds and that many rocks it was clear these lovelies were going to have to be dug the old fashioned way.

Once the business of hand digging the holes was finally out of the way they were able to start laying the posts into the freshly dug holes.

They started setting the posts in the holes and cutting the posts to height by calculating what we wanted the finished height to be minus the height of the joists and decking material. Ultimately it would sit flush with the pool rim, making it easy to sit relax and dip your toes in the water on a hot summer night.

Next came building the support beams for the perimeter by nailing two 2 x 8 pieces of lumber together to support the weight of the deck.

Then there was A LOT of leveling, measuring, nailing and leveling some more to build the outer frame that would support the entire structure.

After everything was perfectly in place and held up with some temporary braces to makes sure things stayed level and straight the guys mixed up a batch of concrete to pour into the post holes. The step is key because no one wants to stand on a wobbly deck and once dry this would secure the entire structure together.

Once the cement set in the post holes and it was good and strong they were able to take down the temporary supports and get to adding the deck joists. If you’ve ever seen a house being built it was just like the day when they raise the 2 x 4’s that will form the walls and finally you can really start to see how the space is going to take shape. It’s super exciting.

They placed the joists every 16 inches on center meaning that if you measure from joist to joist every 16 inches would be the center of the next joist. It’s standard code building measurements that’s helpful when you place your deck boards on top. With standard factory lumber the edge of each board will line up with the center of a joist if you use the 16 on center rule. It’s crazy how these things are all planned out.

As if there wasn’t enough fun digging the posts they also had to dig out where the steps would sit that will bring onto the deck from the lawn. Poor guys it was awfully hot and sunny that day. But they persevered with the help of their assistant in charge of coolness.

After all that hard we we have the making of a pretty awesome giant deck area for lounging around the pool. The dimensions are about 19 feet wide and about 26 feet deep spread out over two levels to make up for the height difference from the lawn to the height of the top of the pool.

Overall, we’re pretty please with how it’s shaping up. I can hardly wait till we’re swimming in the pool sitting on some lounge chairs.

Psst: If you would like to see how this all started out check it out here.

Let go back…



…waaaaay back to last fall when we began our last project of the season. That’s when we officially started to tackle a little great big project of extending the platform around our above ground pool.

If you take a look above at a shot of the backyard taken on the day of our final home inspection you can see the original platform that while perfectly usable for getting in and out of the pool did not really lend itself to lounging in the backyard sipping margaritas on a hot summer day. There was a sharp drop at the end of the grassy area to the lower level where the pool sits that was mostly getting overgrown with weeds. That combined with a semi narrow path over sharp white rocks didn’t really go with barefoot pool days or my margarita vision and was wasting some valuable space in our decent sized, but not huge yard.

So of course we had some bigger and better ideas in mind. Here’s a rough sketch of what the vision for our yard and more specifically the new platform deck for the pool.

Last fall we started with the business of building some new stone pillars that would act the entrance onto the deck. We thought it would draw you’re eye in and create a focal point entrance to the new platform , the pool and the view of the lake beyond.

We ordered up some brick and some “quarry process” base rock from the stoneyard to begin.

Then came digging out a trench where the stone pillars would sit and adding a couple of stairs to join the higher grassy area with the height of the top of the pool.

After that the stone was laid down to form two pillars with a connecting wall in the middle. These were built on each side to frame where the deck stairs would eventually sit.

After all that building and digging we had 2 identical pillars to frame the entrance.

That was last fall…and then it snowed and snowed and froze and snowed some more. But no one wants to remember that on this fine first day of June. I know I certainly don’t.

The guys have been hard at work around here raising a new pool platform. Here’s a sneak peak of how it looks today.

The pool is not uncovered yet. We’ll do that once the sawdust has settled. We’ll be back soon with all the nitty gritty details of our progress. Until then everyone stay cool. It’s going to be a hot one here in New Jersey!

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