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Before & After: A Garden Makeover in Michigan for Editor Michelle Adams

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Before & After: A Garden Makeover in Michigan for Editor Michelle Adams

April 16, 2020

After nearly a decade of editing shelter magazines, Michelle Adams left New York City to create her own version of paradise.

She ended up where she’d started, back home in Michigan—a few miles from her parents and a million miles away from her previous life as editor in chief of Domino magazine and co-founder of  Lonny. “Working around the clock for almost a decade granted me the ability to do what I wanted,” says Adams. “Now I sit in my house with the French doors open and think about how much my mortgage is—which is so much less than the rent on my 475-square-foot apartment in New York.”

After buying and remodeling a two-story colonial house in Ann Arbor (and adopting a dog), Adams turned to overhauling the garden. “Spending so much time outside with the puppy, I realized the backyard was full of dead stuff,” she says. “It didn’t look like anybody had ever properly gardened back there. I realized this is space that should be used like a living room or dining room.”

Here’s a look at her new garden:

Photography by Marta Xochilt Perez except where noted.

Says Adams, &#8
Above: Says Adams, “When I purchased my house, it was painted a bland beige color, which by contrast made the dark front door pediment look like an oversized nose on a small face.”

To camouflage the pediment against the facade, Adams chose Farrow & Ball’s Railings (“and had it color-matched at Home Depot so that it was more affordable”).

When Adams moved in, &#8
Above: When Adams moved in, “there was a very sad lean-to situation behind the house.” She replaced it with a new garage. A Tolson Wall Sconce available in five finishes is on sale for $143 from Rejuvenation.
The driveway’s cement pavers are permeable (“the city would not permit a paved driveway, which was a blessing in disguise since the pavers are much more attractive,” says Adams).

Simple wood slats hide the air conditioner.
Above: Simple wood slats hide the air conditioner.

“When I purchased my house, the air conditioner was exposed in the front yard, so initially I bought a plastic covering for it which was ‘cute’ (an adjective that I was not interested in having used to describe my house), so eventually I asked my dad if he could build a simple wooden cover with horizontal lines to mimic the siding on my house,” Adams says. “It worked! He’s pretty proud of it.”

Before

Photograph courtesy of Michelle Adams.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Michelle Adams.

A beige facade put the visual focus on the pediment above the front door. “I had to paint the house black to hide it,” says Adams.

In the backyard, &#8
Above: In the backyard, “I wanted to make sure of the space usable for probably the first time ever,” says Adams. “It was a bunch of weeds. It attracted scary animals.” Photograph courtesy of Michelle Adams.

Step one: Adams cleared the underbrush and weeds. “Then I looked at the space like you would look at the floor plan of a house—there was 12 feet over here, 36 feet over there,” she says. “Then I started to plot out seating, a shed, and everything else. “In my wildest dreams I wanted it to look like a mix of Brooklyn and Paris.”

Landscape contractor Burton Packard of KP Landscaping Solutions came up with a site design plan that included gravel patios, paths, a spot for a shed, and plantings that would take advantage of available sunlight.

After

At the back of the property, large pavers (measuring  by  inches) lead to a gravel patio and boxwood balls. Adams found the Slatestone Gray Concrete Stepping Stones ($7. apiece) at Home Depot.
Above: At the back of the property, large pavers (measuring 18 by 24 inches) lead to a gravel patio and boxwood balls. Adams found the Slatestone Gray Concrete Stepping Stones ($7.27 apiece) at Home Depot.
Packard sodded the backyard and created two patio areas paved in gravel. A clematis vine will eventually cover much of the fence. “The Fermob chairs (a longtime favorite of mine from trips to Paris) were investment pieces, so I wanted them to have a prominent place in my garden,” says Adams.

Rufus has a best friend who lives in the house behind Adams&#8
Above: Rufus has a best friend who lives in the house behind Adams’. The two dogs can run back and forth between the gardens, thanks to a custom dog door in the back fence. (Both yards are fenced, so it’s safe to let them play.)

Adams refers to this area of the garden as the trample zone. “You’ll notice that the edges of the door aren’t perfectly cut, and that’s because we made the mistake of not accounting for the wood inevitably swelling as moisture levels rise and fall,” says Adams. “A tip for anybody installing a doggy door is to be sure you cut the door with enough room for the wood to expand.”

 Commercial grade string lights from Terrain illuminate the seating area at night, &#8
Above: Commercial grade string lights from Terrain illuminate the seating area at night, “which provides a nice ambience and also helps me find my dog when it’s dark outside,” says Adams. A Stargazer Commercial Light String is $108.
“I leave the lights outdoor year-round,” says Adams. “In the dead of winter, it’s nice to have light back there.”

Contractor Packard came up with a landscape design that integrated turf grass (for the dogs to play), gravel (to edge pathways, and mulch (as ground cover beneath shrubs and other plants).
Above: Contractor Packard came up with a landscape design that integrated turf grass (for the dogs to play), gravel (to edge pathways, and mulch (as ground cover beneath shrubs and other plants).

“I also installed a sprinkler system, which is key to keeping plants alive if you’re not naturally a green thumb (which I’m not),” says Adams.

An overhead view of the garden, as seen from the house. In addition to two gravel patios, Adams has a dining terrace.
Above: An overhead view of the garden, as seen from the house. In addition to two gravel patios, Adams has a dining terrace.

“Three distinct seating areas expanded my living space and also allow for some pretty killer parties,” says Adams, who recently celebrated her 35th birthday with a party in her garden. “At one point the cops showed up since my music was too loud, and they were expecting to bust up a college party. Instead their jaws dropped when they saw my backyard and a bunch of adults. It was pretty funny. I had officers in uniform complimenting my gardening choices.”

Garden Shed

A shed tucked into the back corner of the garden is linked visually with a path of pavers set in gravel. Adams installed a customized Tuff Shed from Home Depot, matching the facade color to the exterior paint on her house.
Above: A shed tucked into the back corner of the garden is linked visually with a path of pavers set in gravel. Adams installed a customized Tuff Shed from Home Depot, matching the facade color to the exterior paint on her house.
In the shed, Adams created a command center with Ikea&#8
Above: In the shed, Adams created a command center with Ikea’s Linnmon tabletop and Finnvard trestles. A tall black Walnut Stool made by Sawkille Co. does double duty as a planter.
A wall of peg board keeps garden accessories and tools tidy. &#8
Above: A wall of peg board keeps garden accessories and tools tidy. “Once the shed was designed so beautifully, it made me rethink what I put in it (ugly brooms are not worthy),” says Adams.

Fire Pit

&#8
Above: “This spring my neighbor Walt Swanson, who is a phenomenal woodworker, made the bench,” says Adams. Made in the US, Stahl’s Wood-Burning Fire Pit is $950.

“I added the patio and extended the gravel far enough to capture any lingering ashes from the fire pit,” says Adams.

Adams stores Rufus&#8
Above: Adams stores Rufus’s toys in a terra cotta pot. Water can drain out the bottom after it rains, which prevents his toys from getting moldy.
&#8
Above: “I feel like at this point in my career I’m working for myself, which is great,” says Adams. “My family is here and I’ve carved out a nice life for myself.”

Outdoor Dining

On the dining table are a trio of Lucia Recycled-Glass Hurricanes .
Above: On the dining table are a trio of Lucia Recycled-Glass Hurricanes .

N.B.: See more of our favorite Before & After garden rehabs:

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