Front-yard patios: Making neighborhoods more neighborly

  • People who have front-yard patios say they still have backyard decks where they do their grilling, but the front patio is for socializing with passersby, especially at the end of the work day. Jeff Wheeler

  • Bobbi Deeney, left, and Beth Gunderson of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, enjoy the patio in front of Deeney’s home. Many residents of their street have similar spaces where the neighbors congregate. Jeff Wheeler

  • Bobbi Deeney and her dog, Oliver, on the patio in front of her house. She and her neighbors have added patios in front of their St. Louis Park homes, encouraging spontaneous parties among the neighbors on their block. Jeff Wheeler

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Published: 7/20/2017 11:02:53 PM

Want to make your neighborhood friendlier? Consider adding a front-yard patio ... some pavers, a few plants, a couple of comfy chairs — and, voila! instant summer socializing.

That’s the way it seems to be working in one St. Louis Park, Minnesota neighborhood where front-yard patios have become contagious in recent years.

Beth and Gerry Gunderson added one in 2015, inspired by a neighbor’s new patio a block away. “We just loved it!” recalled Beth, whose enthusiasm for entertaining has earned the couple a nickname: the Fundersons. “I walked home and said, ‘Let’s do it here.’“

Last year, the Gundersons’ next-door neighbors, Bobbi and Mike Deeney, also added a front patio. “We used to have chairs on the grass,” said Bobbi, an avid gardener. “But it was hard to move them to mow. Now there’s less to mow — and more for me to plant.”

Just a few months later, Mary and Trent Steffy added their own front patio, inspired by the two across the street. “We needed to redo our front landscape anyway — it was overgrown,” said Mary. And as a teacher who relishes her summers off, she was eager to create another outdoor space to enjoy. “I try to spend as much time outside as possible — I literally bring my laundry out and fold it!”

Backyard patios — secluded and private — have long been the norm, but upfront patios are currently trending, according to Diana Grundeen, owner of Trio Landscaping, the Minneapolis firm that designed and installed both the Gundersons’ and Deeneys’ patios.

“We have been doing more front-yard projects. They’re more social,” she said.

That nostalgia for old-fashioned neighborliness also has fueled the revival of the front porch in recent years. “But not everybody’s architecture lends itself to a front porch,” Grundeen noted. (The Gundersons had talked about adding a front porch, Beth said, but were concerned it would make their living room too dark.)

The Deeneys, Gundersons and Steffys all had big backyard patios already. Their front-yard patios serve a different role. “It gives you options,” said Trent. The Steffys still grill in back, and hang out there when they’re in the mood for quiet relaxation. The front “is when we’re feeling more social.”

A front-yard patio creates an easy, natural way to mingle with neighbors, said Bobbi, who likes to spend time on hers at the end of the workday when people are coming home. “They walk down the street, sit on the wall, and we’ll chitchat.”

Some gatherings even migrate from one patio to another, picking up neighbors as the evening progresses. “My husband likes to start in front,” said Bobbi. “Depending how many people we accumulate, we’ll move to the back.”

This friendly block, lined with trees and sidewalks, has long been an unusually sociable one. In the mid-’80s, someone started a popular and enduring “flamingo night” tradition — posting a lawn ornament as an impromptu invitation to neighbors to pour a drink, grab a snack and wander over for a casual gathering. Flamingo nights still take place several times each summer. But the new front-yard patios have inspired more frequent, spontaneous get-togethers.

“We’ve always been social, but it transformed how we’re social,” said Beth Gunderson. “Out here, it’s much more inviting and easy for new neighbors. We wouldn’t see these people if we were in back.”

The Steffys’ “happy hour patio,” which catches the late-afternoon sun, unlike their backyard patio, is living up to its nickname. “People come out at happy hour,” Mary said. “My neighbors come over. Suddenly, it’s 10 or 11 at night.”


These patios may be contagious, but they’re far from cookie-cutter. The Deeneys and Gundersons chose very different looks — even though both couples used the same landscape designer.

The Gundersons’ paver patio includes a Chilton dry-stack wall with a capped bluestone top, wide enough to provide extra seating. The patio is rectangular in shape, and its clean lines and crisp corners complement their 1940s cottage-style house.

The Deeneys, who also wanted a seating wall, opted for a curved one made of brick, echoing the rounded lines and brick chimney of their English Tudor. “We wanted more traditional because our house is very traditional,” Bobbi said.

Bobbi, a retired interior designer with the time and talent to design an appealing garden, did her own plantings, after getting suggestions from her landscaper. Her patio is set off by coral bells, hostas, dark-leaved snakeroot and feather reed grass.

The Gundersons’ project was more extensive, including a water-management system that funnels runoff from their sloping lot into a new sunken rain garden planted with flag iris. “That’s a bonus for us, in winter,” said Bobbi, whose driveway used to collect the runoff.

The Steffys’ project didn’t include a wall for seating but they can still accommodate up to 10 people on their front patio, which is furnished like an outdoor living room with comfortable, cushioned furniture. “It’s a great space,” said Mary.

The cost of adding a front-yard patio can vary widely, depending on features included. The budget for the Deeneys’ patio, for example, was about $10,000, plus the cost of plants, which Bobbi bought herself. The Gundersons’ more extensive project, including the water-collection system and stone-framed rain garden, cost closer to $20,000.

They also added a sprinkler system. The Deeneys didn’t. ‘We’re old-school,” said Bobbi. “We move a sprinkler.”

The Gundersons’ front patio, now in its third season, gets a workout from May through October. “Once we got the patio, it became a great place for Halloween,” said Beth, who likes to celebrate the holiday with a blazing fire and a cooler of drinks for her trick-or-treating neighbors.

And with so many patios to choose from, new party traditions are being planned.

“We’re talking about having a progressive patio party,” said Trent, “hopping from patio to patio, throughout the neighborhood.”


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