When 25-year-old Mik Zazon was looking to buy her first house last fall, there was one thing she knew she needed: outdoor living space.
“One of the main reasons I bought a house was to have a yard,” she said, who works as an online creator and founder of the #NormalizeNormalBodies (opens in new tab) movement, with over 918,000 followers on her Instagram. “I spend about 90 percent of my day outside, aside of winter.”
After closing on a home in downtown Columbus, Ohio, in October 2020, Zazon knew there would need to be a complete upheaval of the backyard space, noting that she’s unsure if the previous owners had done “anything in the last 50 years.”
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That’s when she brought on Matt Coultrip (opens in new tab), an entrepreneur landscape designer who previously worked as a Senior Director of Global Store Design for Abercrombie & Fitch.
For Coultrip, the yard was an open canvas for doing everything and anything he could to make his client satisfied with her outdoor space.
“From a design perspective, it’s the perfect way to start a project — you don’t have to worry about the distraction of what’s in front of you,” he said. “It’s just a clean slate.”
First, Coultrip worked to install a fence to enclose the backyard, both for Zazon’s privacy and safety and for that of her mini Bernedoodle pup, Blue. Soon thereafter, Zazon continued to reach out to Coultrip with questions about new projects, and the pair worked together to transform the space in Zazon’s vision.
“I had the impression of the space she wanted — knowing how much time she spends outside, I wanted to create a space for her,” Coultrip said. “We wanted something low maintenance that would be easy for Mik to maintain and easy for Blue to run around and have fun.”
Beginning in February 2021, the pair shared inspiration photos for the space via Pinterest, with either Zazon or Coultrip sometimes texting the other with images outdoor spaces around Columbus, Cincinnati and Lexington. Zazon had incorporated a lenient budget for her yard redesign when originally buying the home, so the two were able to keep those numbers in mind as they sorted through options for the space.
One major project was installing new grass sod, to limit the muddiness Zazon was directly dealing with in the form of continued doggie baths for Blue. Zazon and Coultrip assessed what would be a better option for the space — Astroturf or sod — and ultimately decided on the latter option, as the turf was nearly double the cost.
“Matt put it all out on a spreadsheet and listed the prices, and we just went from there,” Zazon said. “I think the outcome would have looked the exact same, so sharing inspiration photos helped so much in finding these different options.”
From there, Coultrip worked to install a pergola with outdoor seating, a back deck, stone walkways, and trees with stone enclosures. Some projects were delayed or impacted largely by the springtime rain, but the work ultimately stayed on track, with Zazon saying “we timed it out so perfectly.”
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The most expensive items the pair brought into the outdoor space were a Williams Sonoma Home couch and a Restoration Hardware chandelier for the pergola area— but even with those bigger ticket items, both Zazon and Coultrip are certain the investment is worth it.
“When it comes to cost, you have to pick what you want to spend your money on and what you don’t,” Coultrip said.
Zazon agreed, stating: “When you look at the big picture, you’ll spend less money in the long-run. These items are so beautiful and so high quality, and will be with me for the rest of my life.”
For other homeowners looking to take on their own backyard renovation, Coultrip hopes this project will remind them to focus on their ultimate vision.
“We were pretty aligned on the aesthetic of what we wanted it to be,” he said. “Once you have everything how you want it to look, it’s all about project management — there’s always a way to make a space unique and very special, and customized to each individual.”