More than seven years ago when Shira Gill and her family purchased a 1916 bungalow in Berkeley, Calif., they were so grateful to have finally scored a home in the notoriously stretched market that they forgave its seemingly hopeless outdoor space.
With two young daughters, Shira and her husband Jordan focused their efforts inside instead, maximizing the 1,200 square-foot-home, with only two closets, sans a garage and an attic. So, over the years, Shira, an organizer and lifestyle expert, perfected the art cozy minimalism inside, with her signature pared-down palette of crisp white and gray tones and textures.
Over the years, the lack of space inside made it even more essential to reexamine the possibilities outside, consisting of a fenced-in front patio, a rear patio off the kitchen with a small deck and a few small dirt plots along the side yards. As time and budget allowed, they worked their way around the perimeter, removing a tangle of overgrown bamboo then replacing wood and chain link fences. With no real landscaping plan or vision, occasionally they’d plant a tree or a shrub that they couldn’t keep alive. “It was like a sea of brown, concrete and dead plants,” recalls Shira.
Despite adding long built-in bench, dining tables and café lights, the space felt like a patchwork of brown fences with no real unity except for pavers and concrete. “Really, I felt like there was potential in both spaces,” said Shira, “but I couldn’t get a landscape designer to return my call.” Just when Shira gave up on her vision for an urban oasis, she discovered Yardzen. “We said we wanted the space to feel more cozy, more inviting and less neglected. We also wanted more privacy, or at least the illusion of it,” noting the surrounding businesses. “A sense of enclosure or a visual distraction from the buildings.”
The vision? Paint the bench white, the fences and deck in a cohesive shade of pale gray, pot a handful of olive trees to break up the concrete, pavers and stucco exterior and finally, fill dirt patches with low-water natives, succulents and pea gravel. The guidance was rather simple and yet, admittedly, she hadn’t thought of it herself. “I’m very good at visualizing potential and I couldn’t see it.”
To find those idyllic shades of paint, Shira tapped her friend and color consultant Angelisse Karol Color & Design. With her help, Shira avoided some initial paint choices for the fence with blue and lavender undertones. Together, they landed on a soft, warm shades of gray and off-white that don’t reflect the sunlight yet feel consistent in bright and shaded areas of the yard.
What she wasn’t anticipating is how well outdoor spaces could reflect her aesthetic inside their home. Now, Shira and her family are outside daily, making them feel as if they’ve gained two new rooms. At her family’s request, Shira added a standing hammock in the back, which is a favorite spot for enjoying popsicles, reading and stargazing. They warmed up the space with a new rug under their existing Hay Dining Table that prior to the makeover was collecting cobwebs. Now it’s a regular designation for games, dinners and even the occasional Zoom call.
Out front, the finishing touches included a jute rug under a CB2 table and umbrella, a beanbag toss, new charcoal gray cushions and cozy throw pillows along the bench.
“When we saw that Yardzen recommended painting the bench and the fences, it was truly a lightbulb moment for me. I could truly like my outdoors,” says Shira. “It felt very easy and accessible, the whole thing, even from a budget perspective. It’s all these little detail that add up to a big impact. Outdoor landscaping can feel overwhelming and intimidating, but between paint and plants and styling it can completely transform how your space feels and functions.”