When my husband, John, and I built our five-bedroom home in El Dorado, California, we loved how it turned out. There was just one exception: the backyard, which wasn’t landscaped. Rather than just put in grass, we treated it like a blank slate to create our dream backyard — a place where we could create lasting family memories that we would treasure for years to come.

We love entertaining our family and friends, so we wanted to include things that would appeal to all our loved ones — whether they were 2 years old or 90. This type of project didn’t feel daunting to us because home renovating is our passion: We're the founders of an app called HomeZada, which we used to help us create a realistic budget and manage costs related to the project. Deciding what to add to the backyard was actually the hardest part. We knew we wanted a pool for those hot summer nights. We also wanted a bar area with a grill. After that, we got creative to really elevate our backyard experience and use our space as a backdrop to spend more time with our loved ones.

We realized we could make our space fun for everyone by adding a bocce court and horseshoe pit. After all, what’s better for bringing people closer than some playful competition? We also added four seating areas throughout, which can accommodate up to 50 people. Our whole home is built for entertaining, which is why we wanted to maximize sitting areas and useable space.

We couldn't be more thrilled with the results.

Elizabeth and John Dodson's backyard pool area
Elizabeth and John Dodson designed their backyard oasis to entertain friends and family year-round. Courtesy of Elizabeth Dodson


We’ve been able to make some truly amazing memories in our dream backyard. At my father-in-law’s recent birthday, the bocce court was in full swing the entire day. The family enjoyed it so much that I even had to set some rules around how long people could use it!

It makes us happy that people love coming to our place, and we like being able to host family gatherings. For instance, when my nephew graduated high school, we threw the party at our home. My nephew and his mom and dad were thrilled. The teenagers who came loved the pool and barely left it all night long. 

We’ve also hosted themed gatherings, like a gourmet s'mores party, to make coming over extra special for our guests. We have a small firepit in one of our seating areas, where we set up a buffet with all sorts of s’mores options, allowing guests to create a twist on the classic treat. Their creations were extremely tasty and a creative way to try something new.

Once the project is done, make sure to spend your time enjoying it with the people you care about.


We're so glad we decided to go ahead with our backyard project, but we knew it was going to be expensive.

Mapping out the costs made us realize we should space the projects over three years in order to pay for it without having to take on loans. My husband and I began saving a portion of our income straight into a dedicated renovation fund. Throughout the year, the money would grow in our account, and when we had enough for the next project, we would start work on it.

When it comes to making your dream space a reality, I think it helps to do your homework. Know what you want. If you have to hire a designer, do that. This will help you figure out what you can afford. 

I also think it helps to be clear about your budget with contractors and designers. Stay on top of any overages by continually checking in with your contractor. That way you won't get blindsided by extra costs. 

Perhaps most importantly, once the project is done, make sure to spend your time enjoying it with the people you care about. We certainly do. I cherish every memory that we've created there. 

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