Before & After: Bobcats, Beats, Backyard Garages

August 21, 2011 | by Ethan (email) |

If you enjoy watching The Office, I hope you got my “Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica” reference. A more accurate title would be something like “Holy Crap That Looks Like a Lot of Work” or “I Want To Trade Backyards.” Anywho, this week’s Before & After comes from Big Sky Country- Butte, Montana where David (author of The Quivering Pen) pulled off a very impressive backyard makeover. Just reading through all the heavy labor makes me feel exhausted.

For all his back-breaking labor, David wins a $50 gift card from OPC, and we’re make a $100 donation to Habitat for Humanity in his honor. If you want in on the action, click that link above to find out how to enter you own Before & After project.

A Backyard Built From Scratch

The garage had to go.

The garage was attached to our 1920’s Craftsman home in Butte, Montana and like a playground bully it dominated our back yard. It extended all the way to the alley, rudely dividing the lawn into two halves: right off our back door, a postage-stamp-size square of grass (which we never used because, frankly, who wants to sit on a yard no bigger than a sheet of toilet paper?) and another nicer, larger stretch of lawn on the other side (which we never used because, frankly, we didn’t want to take the long walk all the way around the house just to sit in that isolated spot of grass, either). So, down it had to come.

One morning in June, we took a deep breath, crossed our fingers, then plunged forward with the Bobcat—mangling and chewing and crushing the old wooden structure. The garage had stood for 40 years but it came down in less than 40 minutes.


Then my wife Jean, our daughter’s boyfriend Dave, and I really set to work. We hauled away scrap, jackhammered the concrete floor, and smoothed a layer of dirt over the blank space in the yard which now felt so wide and empty.

Dave had some experience building decks, but Jean and I had never so much as poured a footing in our lives. Over the course of the next three weeks, we not only poured footings, we framed, we hammered, and we bolted. We squared-up composite-material boards, we measured equal distances between balusters, we cut boards for steps, and we made sure we cut a new hole for the gutter’s drainpipe along one wall.

We bought piping and valves and laid out an automatic sprinkler system all across what would eventually be the yard. We bought what seemed like half a ton of sod and, one mosquito-laden evening, we rolled it into place, neatly kissing the squares of dirt against each other.

We built a privacy fence along the alley and we built (from scratch) a storage shed for all the lawn-and-garden tools.

We bought deck chairs, end tables, and a table for four with an umbrella sprouting from the middle. As a final touch, we bought half a dozen solar-powered lanterns and placed them around the railing, imagining how they would glow at night as we sat out on the lounge chairs sipping our wine under a sky of dazzling stars.

When the deck was finished and the lawn was coming in thick and green, we wiped the sweat from our brows and surveyed all we had done. It was finished and it was good. And we have never once missed that old backyard bully, the garage.

Thanks David!

The backyard turned out terrific, and it’s got to be very satisfying to sit on your deck and enjoy the pay-off. I’m really impressed with your hard work and tackling a very challenging DIY project!

Habitat for Humanity Factoid

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that engage more than 75,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. AmeriCorps is not a job; it is a service opportunity. In large and small communities, AmeriCorps members are taking responsibility, learning valuable skills and fulfilling their pledge to serve their communities and their nation.

The AmeriCorps Build-a-Thon is an annual event that brings together AmeriCorps members and alumni in a weeklong blitz build to provide Habitat affiliates with the capacity and resource-building help to aid in their mission to eliminate substandard housing. The event highlights local community needs for affordable housing while celebrating AmeriCorps members’ service with Habitat.

Click here to learn more or apply to join the Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps National Direct Program.

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9 Responses
  1. David Abrams says:

    Thanks, guys! But, really, I want to make it clear that Jean and Dave (“the Other Dave”) did most of the work on this project. It was their sweat and muscle that made this backyard and deck such a beautiful success.

  2. paintergal says:

    Beautiful! Do you miss the storage space with the garage gone? Or does the shed-made-from scratch (nice job, by the way!) suffice?

    • Beautiful indeed!! I have the same question as paintergal… Where did you put all your crap that was in the garage? The shed seems at least a quarter (or less) the space of the garage.

  3. Jean Abrams says:

    Yes, the storage shed suffices because we have another detached garage. The garage we kept was the garage original to the house. The second garage was built to house a former owner’s car collection. Prior to the tear-down, it housed my small business.

  4. MissFixIt says:

    ^^ well in that case looks like you gained one gorgeous backyard. Looks like a huge job but the outcome was worth it. Congrats on the new space.

  5. Lauren says:

    Wow! Looks great – and such a nice “after” shot of the deck with chairs & cushions. Really impressed you tackled the whole thing DIY-stylie.

  6. Jean Abrams says:

    Thank you. DIY is the only way we could afford to do it. We had just completed remodeling two bathrooms and installing a banquette in our butler’s pantry! When our wallet recovers, we’ll start on a kitchen remodel!

  7. MelissaT says:

    Wow. This makes me want a yard. And I’m allergic to grass.

  8. smyley says:

    Amazing how different it looks. Great job!

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