The key is defining “zones” for activities.
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Outdoor seating area with wooden furniture with white cushions and pea gravel
Credit: Yardzen

Burcu Ercetin and Alper Ercetin lead busy lives as marketing and advertising professionals in Atlanta, which is why the prospect of a vacation home in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., was so appealing. They have two young kids who they wanted to spend uninterrupted time with, and they figured that the property could be rented out whenever they weren't there. The house they found was in a postcard-worthy location—near white sand beaches, nature preserves, and restaurants—but the existing outdoor space was far from picture-perfect. 

Grass yard on side of house before makeover by Yardzen
The backyard before the big makeover.
| Credit: Yardzen

"The backyard was pretty much a blank slate," says Kevin Lenhart, design director at Yardzen. "Lawn wrapped around three sides of the house, which was surviving without irrigation, and there was an existing mixed-forest area blanketed in pine straw further back."

In addition to these lackluster details, there was a tired concrete pad and a dearth of hardscapes, as well as no shade from the tropical sun. The couple imagined a backyard that would beckon them outside, and they aimed to renovate the space from a distance. Yardzen, which creates design plans digitally, was the natural next step in their plan. "With two young kids, they wanted to create a relaxing and serene oasis for both their family and guests," Lenhart continues. "As far as style goes, they wanted the space to feel modern and comfortable, with a coastal Mediterranean vibe. They requested native, tropical, and low-maintenance plants, and they craved distinct areas that allowed them to eat, drink, and enjoy the outdoors all day."

Dining table, pergola, and lounge chairs in backyard
Credit: Yardzen

Lenhart and his team decided to keep the lawn in the yard's northwest corner for the kids, and then designed an area immediately behind the house for hanging out. They chose pre-cast concrete pavers and laid them in a grid, and outfitted a shaded, scene-stealing dining area beneath a pergola where Bahama coral gravel satisfyingly crunches underfoot. Across the lawn, lounge chairs set the scene for adults to catch some rays (or a snooze) as kids play. 

white cushioned lounge chairs under umbrellas
Credit: Yardzen

"Planting beds line the rear walls of the house, and feature a blend of palms, strappy grasses, and leafy shrubs," Lenhart says. "On the whole, the planting palette expresses a lush but restrained character, heavy on texture and restrained with floral color. A few pops of lavender and purple add a kick of color here and there, but on the whole, the vibe is abundantly green."

The couple started the design process at the beginning of the year and completed the project in April—just in time for summer. Lenhart also incorporated their wish to one day have a pool by making it so the pavers are easy to remove when the time comes. Now they can simply enjoy being together in their Florida home, where a few clever upgrades gave them the vacation setting they had in mind. "Rather than dump a ton of new materials at the yard, the design used few materials in a very deliberate way, focusing on defining distinct zones while maintaining a very strong sense of openness," Lenhart says. "This kept costs under control, and kept the atmosphere calm and uncluttered."

Couple and their daughter pose in backyard with cushioned outdoor seating
Credit: Yardzen

Get the Look:

Target Open Weave Lantern
Credit: Target

The Right Lights

$40, target.com

To set the scene in the revamped backyard, open weave lanterns lend a modern look during the day and light up the backyard at night. 

CB2 White Outdoor Umbrella with pole
Credit: CB2

Create Some Shade

$255, CB2.com

Cue the vacation vibes with luxurious lounge chairs and a white umbrella shielding the sun overhead. Opt for an umbrella that matches your style—this one is contemporary, but one with fringe lends a boho look, while scalloped edges feel classic. 

White and Wood Outdoor Lounge Chairs on patio area
Credit: West Elm

Lounge Around

$745, westelm.com

The entire family will love these reclining chaise longues. The grownups might use them to bask in the sun or take a snooze, while the little ones will have fun sprawling out with a book or playing with their toys on the spacious surface. 

White Pergola in Backyard with pool
Credit: Amazon

Design an Outdoor Room

$880, amazon.com

The surefire way to make your backyard feel more like an extension of your living room? Set up a pergola. The structure helps to define the space, while providing a support for beautiful flowering vines that can also add shade and privacy to your outdoor oasis.