Across Southwest Minneapolis, residents waiting out the pandemic are getting creative with backyard projects and renovations. They are installing outdoor kitchens, getting new chairs for social distance hangouts, laying down paving and thinking generally about the outdoors as a safe place to socialize.
Jason Rexine, the general manager of Patio Town, which has outlets in three suburban locations and serves many clients in Southwest Minneapolis, said he’s seen people invest in their patios what they would have spent on a vacation and use money refunded from canceled trips on their “staycations,” which often include upgrades of their backyard living spaces.
“Instead of going out for dinner or on vacation, they are creating experiences at home, like outdoor pizza night,” he said.
Rexine said he has seen customers add fire pits, water features, grills and outdoor kitchens in order to better enjoy their own backyards. Projects include everything from landscape spruce-ups with rock, mulch and edging to more extensive endeavors like adding a patio, or an oven to an outdoor living space.
“Anything to make their outdoor spaces more enjoyable,” he said.
Lonny Sekeres, a landscape designer from Villa Landscapes, said workers at the firm have had to pay extra attention to safety to finish the projects.
“We social distance and wear masks when meeting with clients — plus we are doing a lot more teleconferencing,” he said.
Demand is up this year, he said, as homeowners want to make their yards places to cook, serve food and enjoy company.
“Because people are at home so much more, this has given people the motivation to get done the projects they have always wanted,” he said.
Steve Werle, a Villa Landscapes customer who lives in the Hale neighborhood, said now that his kids are older, he and his wife, Colleen, decided to invest in a transformation of their yard from a children’s play space into a more adult-friendly spot where they can relax and entertain friends.
“With all the time we spent in the house this spring, it was looking at us right in the face,” he said. “We decided to bite the bullet and do it.”
The space the Werles are working with is the side and back of the house, in areas not taken up by their two garages.
“It’s almost a side yard,” Werle said.
Their new patio will include a walkway and a dining area that links the front and back of the house, Werle said, while still leaving enough room for the yard’s signature cedar tree. They are laying down pavers and will put in a table, which will have quite a bit of privacy because of the two-car detached garage that hides the area from view. Werle said they wanted the project to be spacious so that guests, like his in-laws, could be socially distant. “We wanted it to be big enough,” he said.
As inspiration, they used a landscape design their friend had done for them 15 years before but which was never realized.
However, Sekeres, from Villa Landscapes, had new ideas. “Lonnie came in and had a different vision about how the sunlight would wrap things together,” Werle said.
Ariel Leaf of Lowry Hill East knew she needed water on her property this summer.
She decided to invest in a pool in the backyard of her four-unit condo building.
The pool was Leaf ’s purchase alone, but she first got her neighbors’ permission. “We work collectively and also independently,” she said.
Leaf said she didn’t feel safe going to the park and that the pool has brought joy to her 4-year-old daughter, Fiona.
“In my opinion, childhood has been canceled,” she said. “My immediate thoughts were with her more than me.”
Leaf bought the pool online and a separate ladder in order to climb into it.
Then she hired friends of hers, Corinna Troth and Scott Gilbert, set designers who have lots of free time with theaters on hold, to build a small deck.
“I wanted to put money into people’s hands,” she said.
At any other time, Leaf said, she would have considered the pool a luxury item, but not now.
“We have been more cautious than most people because my parents live here,” she said.
Before the pandemic, Longfellow resident Taylor Carik created a micro-cinema in his garage with old chairs from the Trylon movie theater for his friends.
“We called it the TRYLON micro-microcinema,” he said.
Since he couldn’t meet with his friends in the garage during the pandemic, Carik moved the arrangement outside, with plenty of distance between seats.
“I taped the seats off at 8 feet apart,” he said.
At first, Carik wasn’t sure if his friends would adhere to social distance guidelines, but he said they have been pretty vigilant about safety.
“People really do adhere to the distancing,” he said. “I think it’s because we want to keep having each other show up.”
The gatherings are BYOB, he said, which has “been essential to our mental health.”