Dwell's Favorite 179 Outdoor Back Yard Design Photos And Ideas

As the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day usually draws crowds to beaches, parks, and campgrounds—it goes without saying, however, that this year, things will look different. With stay-at-home orders just starting to loosen up in some parts of the country, this long weekend calls for some creativity, and offers a chance to cultivate a greater understanding and appreciation for the holiday’s true meaning. Below, you’ll find some ideas for spending this Memorial Day with family while staying at a safe social distance from others.
To most eyes, Ezequiel Farca’s 1970s-style concrete home in Mexico City looked like a teardown. Even the lot itself—shallow and crammed against a steep hillside—wasn’t particularly alluring. But Farca saw through all the restraints to create a spa-like refuge in one of the world’s most energetic cities. "It’s is such a hectic place. You’re bombarded by so much information the moment you step into the streets," says Farca, who first gained prominence as a furniture and interior designer. "So we envisioned this house as a retreat, a kind of a temple." The rooftop courtyard is lined with a verdant mix of indigenous plants, including banana trees, palm trees, lion’s claw, Mexican breadfruit, and native vines. The chaise longues were designed for Farca’s EF Collection.
The Plus House—named for the perpendicular trajectories of light and air that pass through on the top and bottom floors—is one in a series of architect-designed homes commissioned by Arkitekthus, a development company founded five years ago with a pledge to improve the quality of prefab architecture. The spruce panels that coat the second-floor exterior will fade in tandem with the zinc-coated steel that rims the glazed windows and doors. "They will go gray like we do," says architect Claesson Koivisto Rune.
An artist and an architect built their home, studios, and an exhibition space inside a lushly landscaped Antwerp warehouse.
In the backyard, there is a laneway structure that is partially clad in the same shingles as the main house. Brian and Karen rent the outbuilding to a tenant. Measured collaborated with Aloe Designs on the landscaping.
Cool air from the gardens flows into the rooms through sliding doors and windows.
A fully glazed wall—which incorporates both louvres and sliding doors—connects the dining room and kitchen to the deck and garden. The natural slope of the site replaces the need for a fence between the garden and the beach.
The Phoenix home of designers and builders Sarah Swartz Wessel and Ethan Wessel sits amid desert-friendly trees and plants. The couple bought the property in 1998 and worked on the house for a decade. Juxtaposed with limestone floors, wood-beamed ceilings, and walls of hand-troweled plaster and board-formed concrete, glass is strategically placed throughout the 4,000-square-foot expanse to frame slivers of landscape and sky or open wide to reveal gardens of various sizes, which the couple also designed.
A maple tree grows through an ipe deck in this garden that Mary Barensfeld designed for a family in Berkeley, California. A reflecting pool separates it from a granite patio, which is furnished with a Petal dining table by Richard Schultz and chairs by Mario Bellini. The 1,150-square-foot garden serves as an elegant transition from the couple’s 1964 Japanese-style town house to a small, elevated terrace with views of San Francisco Bay. Filigreed Cor-Ten steel fence screens—perforated with a water-jet cutter to cast dappled shadows on a bench and the ground below—and zigzagging board-formed concrete retaining walls are examples.
Luciano Kruk perforates a concrete volume with glass walls to fashion a simple yet elegant vacation home in the province of Buenos Aires. On a quiet lot populated with aged pinewood, Luciano Kruk designed a modest vacation home for three sisters and their families. The 807-square-foot, two-level home is ensconced in its forest setting. The firm employed board-formed concrete inside and out to connect the building with its environment. "Pine planks were used to set the formwork so that the partitions, as well as the slabs, would preserve the texture of the wood veins in an attempt to establish a harmonious dialogue with the bark of the local trees," said the firm.
The steel-framed doors fully open to the courtyard, maximizing indoor/outdoor living space on the small lot.
The home displays several applications of the same materials—metal, glass, and concrete—a key characteristic of most Ellwood homes.
“The steeply sloping site provides three unique spaces—the living attic, the pool deck, and the garden terrace.”
"A well-performing house extension facing south on a small inner-city block built in rammed earth is not easy to achieve," said Welsch. "However, in this challenge was our opportunity: We decided that our extension will curl around to capture the sun, creating a communal courtyard and allowing the occupants to look at their own house rather than a paling fence."
A steel-and-glass extension hosts the main living spaces and flows into the backyard.
The backyard is one of this home’s best features. With a lot that nearly equals the square footage of the home itself, there was plenty of room to play with landscaping.
The guesthouse hovers above the motor court. "The main area was broken up into four zones: the kids wing, the guest suite, the master suite, and the living-dining room and kitchen, which is a transition area, where public meets private," says Hawkins.
Like a lantern in the night, the cabin glows in its wooden setting once the sun goes down.
In the rear courtyard, Steve spent three days demolishing a rock grotto, which had been installed in the 1970s, with a jackhammer. Its boulders found new life as hardscaping near the pool. “I’m glad we could repurpose those boulders,” Jessy says, “I hate adding to landfill.”
Edward Ogosta Architecture renovates and extends a Californian dwelling, creating a breezy, light-filled home for a family of five.
An outdoor patio area sits under a covered area looking out onto the private courtyard.
The VDL Pavilion is open to nature, with no glass walls. Vertical fins provide shading along one wall.
The view from Longchamp Outdoor Living's ipe pool deck. Clark Richardson Architects designed the multi-use space to be perfect all year long.
Perched on a 5,556-square-foot lot, the home offers a multitude of outdoor seating areas amongst a number of mature trees, providing a serene escape from the city.
A wooden picnic table is located off one end of the living room, creating a tranquil setting to enjoy alfresco dining while soaking up the sunshine.
This world-class wellness destination resort is tucked within the Philippines’ Batangas hinterland. For those wishing to indulge in jungle nirvana, this is the place. The Farm also boasts the best gourmet vegan cuisine in Asia Pacific.
Inspired by the surrounding landscape of chestnut trees, rocky hillside, and bubbling stream, Portuguese architecture firm 3r Ernesto Pereira chose to blend into, and take advantage of, the local geography rather than fight against it at this sleek, modern home near the coastal city of Porto. At a cost of €100,000 (approximately $125,000) and measuring about 140 square meters, this stunning, wood-and-glass retreat took about four months to construct.
A 26-foot-wide, 3-ton airport glass hangar door opens the living room to the Atlantic Ocean. The enormous structure was custom-made for the home, designed to raise at the touch of a button to let the ocean breeze permeate every corner of the home.
The asymmetrical, angular forms of the roofs create a dramatic interior filled with light from clerestory windows and high ceilings.
Throughout the day, light animates the limestone walls to various effects. “As the sun rotates around and is more oblique to the texture of the stone, it casts these wonderful shadows on it,” says Raike. “And you just get a real appreciation for the texture of the stone and the richness of the colors in it.”
All doors open up to the central courtyard of this single-story home.
Glass doors open the home to an expansive wooden deck overlooking gorgeous Alpine views.
Stone stairs on the perimeter of a main courtyard ascend to a rooftop garden. Large windows on the other side of the living area overlook an enclosed water feature with a statue of a monk.
Water features pepper the gardens throughout.
A private terrace is an extension of the interior living spaces. A canopy provides protection while not interrupting the surrounding vistas.
The living room takes advantage of the Californian climate, opening completely to the deck adjoining two indoor/outdoor wings.
Taking cues from this home's Japanese-influenced slatted screen, Hufft Projects applied a ring of ipe wood around the perimeter of this outdoor fire pit.
A cement slab and wood deck offer space for meals and stargazing. Sam built the furniture himself.
The minimalist exterior is defined by the flat roof, overhanging eaves, a and ribbon-like band of glass windows.
The 1908 greenhouse from the Lyndsay Mansion has been repurposed into a dining pavilion. During the restoration, it was revealed that Soriano had perfectly arranged the home to line up with the original greenhouse.
The rear of the house continues the same mix of materials as the front facade and includes a long, narrow pool.
"The brief was to efficiently and cost effectively transform a light-starved weatherboard into an open and modern home with a good connection to the rear garden and a relaxed yet refined feel," says the firm. The owner charred and oiled the shiplapped cypress siding himself.
"After photographing the house, we all sat down around the servery over a glass (or two) of wine and shared travel experiences, building industry war stories, and discussed the renovation," says the firm. "It was very gratifying to hear and see that the space really fit the clients well. The space was comfortable, laid-back, and yet worldly, just like the clients themselves."
A 3,000-liter rainwater harvesting tank is located beneath the rear deck, which is made from spotted gum with an oiled finish.
Back into the forest, the Pool House is oriented for panoramic views of the valley floor.
The Pool House seen at night.
In the snug rear lounge, the banquettes are fitted with upholstery made by local artisans.
Architecture firm Bromley Caldari transformed a cramped beach house into a spacious vacation getaway filled with natural light and views.
This 3,200-square-foot structure was assembled with a prefabricated foundation, concrete panel siding, and efficient built-ins, minimizing construction debris and toxins—such as concrete foundation tar—on the site.
Melanie Maher sunbathes beneath the lattice of a pool house, which is clad in Cor-Ten steel.
Kay’s timeless, Scandinavian-style teak frame gives a nod to the classic French cane wicker—making it at home in both traditional and contemporary settings.
The linear swimming pool hovers above the hillside, disappearing into the tropical foliage.
The three attached structures house an office, guest suite, and game room, used by the family to watch football games.

Whether it's a backyard patio, an infinity pool, or a rooftop terrace, these modern outdoor spaces add to the richness of daily life. Escape into nature, or get lost in city views. Wherever you are, let these outdoor photos take you somewhere new with inspirational ideas for yards, gardens, outdoor tubs and showers, patios, porches, and decks.