DIY Design Tips for Backyard Entertaining

How one couple turned their downtown backyard into entertainment central, complete with a hand-built pizza oven. And their tips for how you can too.

Just northeast of downtown Colorado Springs sits a modest Tudor home with a backyard entertainment wonderland, complete with a hot tub, fire pit, fountain and, no joke, a full-sized, hand-built pizza oven. The homeowners, Tom Kimmell and Leslie Klein, are a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and former Olympic kayak racer, respectively. They have also have made a name for themselves in their neighborhood for their parties, both for the space they DIY’d and the welcoming attitude they exude.

Springs asked Kimmell and Klein for some of their tips when it comes to “doing it yourself”—both for building an inviting outdoor environment and taking advantage of that space.

homeowners in backyard
Tom Kimmell and Leslie Klein. Photo by Bryan Oller

1. Put a plan on paper.

Lay it out. That’s what we did,” Kimmell says. “I drew it to scale, and I figured out where everything was going to go. Then you get a vision of your yard.

2. Think of your backyard as an extension of your house.

In other words, picture different sections of the yard as different rooms. “Make little areas … ‘this is going to be where seating is,’ ‘this is where you eat,’ so there are different places to go,” Kimmell says.

“A game place, some fun for kids,” Klein adds. “When you have functions, parties, whatever, it allows people to use the different ‘rooms’ for different purposes, and it makes it really conducive to entertaining.”

3. Envision traffic flow.

How will people move between those different areas? “We were really restricted by where mature trees were,” Klein says. The arrangement can result in occasional bottlenecks for large groups. As much as possible, try to envision how even young vegetation will grow as it ages.

4. Don’t forget the lighting.

“The thing that Tom is really good at—that I’m not, and that people would forget—is lighting,” Klein says. “In the day it doesn’t matter, but at night it makes all the difference in the world.”

That includes planning for the layout of wiring, which might include burying electrical boxes, conduit or outlets and plugs. All are much easier to do in the early stages of landscaping.

backyard design for entertaining
Photo by Tom Kimmell

“We buried an electrical box under our table, which allows us to have lights under the umbrella and an outlet, so you can sit out there and work on your computer and plug it in,” Klein says. “I wouldn’t have thought of that.”

5. Consider the boundaries.

Balancing privacy and views may be a balancing act—and one that is different based on setting. Klein and Kimmell opted for a solid fence for their downtown location to enclose their space from neighboring yards and alley. “Your eye stops at the fence, and it makes it much more feng shui. It’s much more of an inward focus and inviting,” Klein says. “Of course, it kind of depends on where you live. If you live up on the side of the mountain, you may want to see through. But if you live in the suburbs or downtown like we do, I think it really enhances your space by defining the boundaries and stopping your eye, and it makes it much more intimate.

6. Explore creative options.

There’s always more than one way to get the style you want. Kimmell recommends saving money through internet research and some DIY effort. “Don’t limit yourself to just one way of doing things,” he says. “We saw $4-, $5-, $6,000 table sets that were beautiful. We ended up with World Market and [some] do it yourself … , and it’s a nicer table and beautiful chairs. Just figure out what style you want, and stick to that kind of look and feel.”

7. Go 2.0.

Don’t be afraid of some trial and error. Kimmell and Klein say their yard progressed naturally. “We kept working on things and doing things,” Kimmell says. “We’d be sitting in the hot tub in the morning, and I’d go, ‘Oh, I figured out what we can do for that!’ And then we’d talk about it. We’ve obviously fixed a few things. There are a couple 2.0 things back there.”

8. Bring on the guests!

And get them involved. For larger groups, Klein recommends having a potluck with a theme—or assigning items to different guests.

“I think in general most people don’t feel put out, and if they do, they can just bring a bag of chips or a bottle of wine,” she says. “But some people love to create something. I don’t think people feel bad when they’re tagged to help. Also, so many people are really doers—I don’t think it’s just our friends. When they offer to clean up, say—

Yes!” the couple says in unison.

”I’ve had some of my absolute best friends staying late and helping wash wine glasses, so the next morning you don’t have to wake up to a disaster,” Klein says. “I always say yes for the evening cleanup crew. It ends up being a really fun social time in the kitchen with usually your best friends or people that can still function.”

Read and see more about Kimmell and Klein’s backyard in our summer feature “Take It Outside.”

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