Outdoor Oasis in Oakland
First-time homeowners hit pause on their backyard renovation to get a cohesive plan. The result? A lush space for relaxing, entertaining, and playing with their dog.
By Thad Orr
Homeowners Josh Saletnik and Jaron Vesely bid on nine properties before getting their current home in Oakland, California. “By the time we had the keys we were ready to start remodeling,” says Vesely. After doing some improvements inside the home, the couple began working on the landscape. “It needed help,” Vesely says. “Someone had started building things but never finished—there was a strange wood deck in the middle of the yard and an empty concrete slab where a shed should go. It was really run down.” Their first priority was fixing a patch of grass for their dog Jasmine.
As they started removing the old lawn, Saletnik and Vesely discovered it was infested with wasps. The couple immediately felt the urge to start removing everything in the backyard in order to start fresh. “In the midst of discussing what to do we both said, ‘We can’t start making random decisions and piecing the yard together. It will look like a hodgepodge mess,’” Vesely remembers. Instead of removing everything and proceeding without a plan, they decided to slow down and work on putting together a cohesive design.
Just days later, the two began searching for designers and contractors to redesign their backyard. “All the quotes were really expensive—thousands and thousands of dollars,” Vesely says. “So we kept searching and stumbled upon Yardzen.” At first skeptical about how customized the designs could be for the price, Saletnik and Vesely decided to set up a call to see if the service was a good fit. “We hopped on a call that didn’t cost anything and it turned out we were speaking with Adam Messner, one of the founders,” says Saletnik. “We were able to see other custom designs they’d done and ask questions about the entire process. It really assuaged our fears.”
The next day, the couple bought the design package for their complete yard. “We wanted to take the leap and knew the front and backyard should coordinate,” says Vesely. “It’s also easier because you only go through the design process once.” Six days after the initial call to Yardzen, Saletnik and Vesely were submitting their design background materials that included responses to a design questionnaire, Pinterest boards, a brief description of what they wanted and several short videos of their existing yard.
“We were amazed when we got the plans back roughly two weeks later,” says Vesely. “Using the basic information we sent, they were able to create a shockingly accurate rendering of the landscape we wanted.” The homeowners were especially impressed with the communication from their design concierge throughout the process. “We never wondered what was going on,” Saletnik says. “Paula Suda, our concierge was in regular communication. Then the plan showed up and we love it. It even includes a virtual fly-through of the final design.”
With the initial design in hand, there are still a few minor adjustments that Saletnik and Vesely are making with Kevin Lenhart, the design director at Yardzen. “We want to extend a gate across the driveway so they entire yard is fenced,” Vesely says. “We also want to remove some of the spikey plants that our dog might get poked on. But that’s it.” Saletnik and Vesely’s attention has shifted to the landscape installation. “From the start, we planned on installing the project in phases,” says Saletnik. “We’ll likely spend between $30,000 to $50,000 over five years, but we’re ready to start on it now. Our designer is going to help us decide what to do first, second, third and so on.”
At the recommendation of the Yardzen team, Saletnik and Vesely kept some of the existing landscape elements such as a concrete patio and patio cover at the back of the house. They are also going to build a new shed on the existing concrete slab in the corner of the property. “We really appreciated this thoughtful approach,” Vesely says. “The design is cost-effective when it comes to hardscapes and salvaging structures that still work. The plant selections are also water-conscious.”
Though the planting will use little water once established, the look is still very lush—something the couple insisted on. “We wanted to feel like we were stepping into a natural oasis, not an overly manicured, architectural space,” says Saletnik. “This is where we’ll play with our dog, have summer barbecues, have coffee in the morning or a glass of wine at night.” With a home that’s just under 1,000 square feet and a yard that’s around 5,000 square feet, the two wanted the landscape to be an extension of the home. “We knew what we wanted in the backyard, but not what to build,” says Vesely. They knew privacy was important, but not how to get it. They knew they wanted a calming water feature and a place to hang out at night, but the specifics were elusive. Vesely says, “The backyard felt like the Wild West, but the plan is now our roadmap and we’re ready to dig in.”
Homeowners Josh Saletnik and Jaron Vesely share a few tips for landscape design success.
1. Team Up: If you’re doing the design with a partner or spouse, make it a team effort. “We read each other’s design wish-list and sat on the couch together to edit each other’s Pinterest boards,” says Vesely. This helped tremendously because we gave Yardzen one clear, consistent message.
2. Know Your Budget: You don’t want to have a landscape design that you can’t build, so make sure your budget is clear upfront. Research and discuss with anyone your working with what various elements will cost to install.
3. Talk to Your Concierge & Designer: “Talking to the Yardzen team was important to us,” says Vesely. “It helped us affirm what we submitted in our design questionnaire and video to make sure the design team knew our top priorities and style.”
4. Look for Landscape Features to Keep: “You don’t have to rip everything out and start from scratch,” says Vesely. There are often ways to salvage and refurbish features such as concrete patios or shade structures that might be expensive to replace.
5. Keep an Open Mind: “There were elements in the design we didn’t even think of, but they fit the aesthetic,” says Saletnik. “We didn’t specifically request a wood spa in back or the hammock on the patio, but they are perfect for the mood of the backyard. Now I want both.”