Backyard Makeover: This Overgrown Yard Gets a Contemporary Refresh

A contemporary backyard design makes a once-neglected Paul Thiry home shine

“Have you seen Grey Gardens?” It’s the first thing Seattle magazine arts and culture editor Brangien Davis says when describing the grounds that once surrounded her Denny Blaine dwelling. The reference to the famous documentary set in a decaying manse with an overgrown garden is spot on. When Davis and her husband, Daniel Spils, bought the house, designed by Seattle’s renowned modernist architect Paul Thiry, the 1939 home and its yard had suffered years of neglect. “We did an initial whacking back of the brambles,” she says, “and when that revealed how much yard we had, we realized we needed help figuring out what to do with it.”

Prentis Hale, principal of Shed Architecture & Design (206.320.8700;, presented the couple with a contemporary design, one that played off of the home’s International Style—simple form, clean lines and a flat roof—and gave them everything they had sought in a backyard, including a grassy area for games (they’re badminton fans), a small garden bed, plenty of patio space for outdoor dining and a fire pit. “We wanted to both contrast and cozy up to the existing house,” Hale says. The long concrete wall on the south edge affords ample privacy—not to mention a perfect perch for the two felines of the house—yet is short enough for chats with neighbors. “My favorite part,” Davis says, “is that it basically doubles our living space in the summer. The house is small, but the wraparound patio and floating bench at the far corner of the yard make it feel expansive.”

After: “Concrete was used to create a strong and smooth wall that defined the south edge of the yard while setting off the brick of the house,” architect Prentis Hale says. Garden design by Susan Papanikolas, of How Does Your Garden Grow. 


Above: The contemporary backyard has ample patio space for outdoor dining and grassy areas made for lawn games


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