These 3 Couples Used More Time at Home to Create Enviable Backyards

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By Hannah Lee and Amanda MacLaren
Photography by Beth Mann

Beautiful Backyards
Jessalyn Stull built her own privacy screen and planter box and hired a landscaper to plant a coral bark Japanese maple tree to create a sense of separation between her and the neighbors.

DIY PARADISE

 After three years of cramped apartment living, all Merrick Moore Elementary School teacher Jessalyn Stull wanted was some space. For her and her husband, O’Bryan, but also as a way to get back in touch with her roots.

 “When I was growing up, my grandma, my mom and my dad always did renovations at our house and were really good at being creative,” Jessalyn says. “I would see them use power tools, and I’d be like, ‘Well, I really want to do that, too.’” 

Beautiful Backyards
O’Bryan and Jessalyn enjoy the patio life on an outdoor sofa that Jessalyn built last year. They spend many evenings stargazing and warming up beside the fire pit.

The housing market was still competitive three years ago when the couple was searching for their first home, so they were open to whatever they could find in their price range. They got lucky: A brand new house became available in Sherron Farms. They pounced, even if it wasn’t quite the dream property they envisioned.

 “It was already built, so we didn’t get to choose anything,” Jessalyn says, “and I would’ve liked it to back up to the woods, but [otherwise], this house is too perfect.”

To remedy her concerns about the cookie-cutter design and lack of privacy, Jessalyn got out her power tools and headed to Lowe’s for supplies. For hours, Jessalyn watched YouTube tutorials on how to use an impact driver or a circular saw, or how to caulk. Whatever it was – except for pouring a concrete patio, which DecorCrete Inc. took care of in May 2019 – she taught herself to do it.

That included two hand built chairs and a sofa, all three filled with black cushions. The setting lends itself perfectly to parties, and she even built a privacy screen with a planter box to create separation between her and her neighbors. It doubles as a way to string lights over the space, which is a bonus.

 “That’s why I wanted a space that’s really big,” Jessalyn says. “We can have people over – we have a lot of friends around here now. It’s been nice to have this area to escape to.”

Beautiful Backyards
The chairs Jessalyn built for her patio.

 Jessalyn and O’Bryan spend plenty of evenings under the stars, warming up beside their fire pit. During the extra time at home, Jessalyn hired a landscaper, Agape Lawn Company, to install mulch beds around the patio and put in a coral bark Japanese maple, pink knockout roses and emerald arborvitae shrubs 

Jessalyn recently created her own DIY Instagram account – @stayhomewithstull – to document her projects. She admits that as an introverted person, it hasn’t been the easiest to show off her work, but her followers’ positive feedback continues to encourage her. “I started out not knowing a lot and teaching myself through YouTube and my family,” Jessalyn says. “I want to empower other people and show them that they can do it, [too].” – Hannah Lee

HIT THE DECK

In the seven years that Cecily and Brian Jobe have lived in their house off of Carver Street, they’ve tried to power wash, stain and reconstruct their deck just once before. Cecily, the dean of students at Club Boulevard Magnet Elementary School and a lead tutor at the Emily K Center, planned to complete the project during spring break last year. (She only got to the power washing.)

 A year later, with the pandemic keeping them at home for weeks, the pair hit the ground running with house project after house project. More specifically, one long-awaited project: the deck. 

With power washing out of the way, Cecily stained the deck a chestnut brown and the wraparound bench a shade darker to give the  elevated seat a pop. She found the latter stain from Home Depot for $10 on the discount rack. 

Beautiful Backyards
After being at home for weeks, Cecily Jobe wanted a space where she could work and get fresh air. This recently power washed and painted corner on her deck became the perfect spot.

As for the rest of the furniture on the deck, most was given to them and repurposed for a new use. Brian’s mom gave them a patio set while she was redoing her deck about two years ago. “We had junk everywhere off of the deck, and we left the table off to the side,” Cecily says. “I never did anything with it because we didn’t really know what to do.” 

Finally, Cecily decided to spray paint the set, giving it a major facelift to fit the space they wanted. Her mom also gave them a broken red umbrella, which Brian, who’s “good at putting things together,” fixed.

 Brian, who works as a commercial property manager for Real Estate Associates, often has luck finding unwanted things in empty properties – like a fake bamboo plant and a black shelf. As the saying goes, the couple turned trash into treasure. 

Beautiful Backyards
Cecily brought this white chair from inside her house out to the patio. “It needed a new home,” she says.

Of the items the couple did purchase, they put money toward pieces that add pops of color amid the shades of brown. Cecily is particularly content with her rug. “I’ve never really had an outdoor rug before,” she says, “but I’ve always really liked them when I see them.” She also bought pillows that tie into the greens, blues and grays of the rug. 

The colorful rug sits below a table that features a built-in planter, which Cecily received from her mom’s boyfriend, who does woodwork in Shelby, North Carolina.

 “We plan on getting another insert [for the table] because you can also put ice in them with drinks,” Cecily says. “I’m super excited. We have all this stuff, and we’re ready to have people over but, we’re not quite there.” 

When Cecily walks from her bedroom to the living room every day, she peeks out through the window at the deck in amazement, and says to Brian: “Oh, my gosh, it looks so good out there.” “I’m just really happy with the transformation,” she says. “It’s almost like an extra room in the house.” – Hannah Lee

DOORS OF HOPE

 Line Gagnon and husband Steve Kaiser bought their house in the Chamberlynne neighborhood knowing that Line would be spending a lot of hours at her business, Atmosp’hair Salon

(Atmosp’hair also happens to be Readers’ Favorite Salon ) Line knew that her responsibilities at the salon would mean less time for traveling, so she brought the vacation to her backyard.

“When we get home, we just switch our clothes, and we feel like we are in a resort,” Line says. “You don’t feel like you are five minutes from Highway 54. At all.”

 And when you’re not spending money on flights and instead allocating it to landscaping, you can do some incredible things, Line says.

 “One day, Steve decided to spray the form of the pool on a window to know exactly where we wanted it,” Line says of her husband, who works for Turner Asphalt and has a keen eye for landscaping. “Slowly, we’ve added a little shed and little plants and the waterfall to the pool. Every year we invest a little bit of money into something that we want. Last year we did the pergola.”

Backyards
Line Gagnon relaxes next to her freshly painted shed doors with her little companion,Miss Zoie, who turns 11 this year. “She’s my greeter at Atmosp’hair and has worked with us since I opened,” Line says. “Everybody knows her, and she follows me everywhere.”

 Her latest project was painting the doors of her shed. “I always do something for my doors,” Line says. “I don’t know why. I like to give character and personality to the doors.” She realized that her backyard was filled with natural hues, but was missing a bold pop of color.

Beautiful Backyards
Line and Steve built the pergola on the patio last year. A mini outdoor fridge is conveniently positioned nearby so a cold beverage is always at hand.

Inspired by the blue doors of Santorini, Greece, Line painted three of the doors a lighter shade of blue mixed with a shadow of black. “That was my quarantine project for the backyard,” Line says. “Those are doors of hope. Hope for a more loving and caring world. And maybe we find a vaccine.” 

Line says she’s also been tending to the trees, shrubs and flowers in her garden, trimming them up and encouraging new growth. The climbing roses she just put in along the side of their bedroom window are now in bloom. “I don’t have a green thumb, believe it or not,” Line laughs. “I decided that there’s no such a thing as a green thumb, it’s just about having time and giving time to those plants. Two years ago, I discovered that if I cut my chives a little bit every four or five days, I have so much more, instead of just watering and forgetting about it.” 

Working in her garden has been therapeutic, especially during these uncertain times. “I always thought those people who were outside picking weeds were nuts, and now, I get it,” Line says. “You take off the little flowers that are dead, and slowly, you just go somewhere else. It’s a good thing, and so needed right now.”

 It took about five years for Line and Steve to get their backyard to its current picturesque state. Now it’s time to relax and enjoy what they have built. “Plus, I don’t have space for anything else!” Line laughs. – Amanda MacLaren

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Hannah Lee

Hannah Lee

Hannah Lee is the assistant editor at Durham Magazine. Born and raised in Winston-Salem, she attended UNC-Chapel Hill and double majored in broadcast journalism and German. She enjoys good beer, ice cream and morning runs.

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