New front walk and porch gable updates our house

After 3-1/2 years of dreaming and planning and 3 months of sporadic construction, the front of my house has a fresh, more contemporary look thanks to a small but detailed remodeling project—adding a gable roof to the front porch—and new landscaping. I’m delighted with the new look, which opens up the entry and gives it more prominence, adds dimension to the roofline, updates the front walk and solves a drainage problem, and turns a traditional foundation planting into a xeric courtyard with sculptural accents.

BEFORE: Here’s how it looked last winter—sad and bedraggled. The previous owners took much better care of this area than we did, and it looked pretty nice when we moved in (before we stopped edging and watering the lawn sufficiently, and let the liriope border die out). But the traditional look just wasn’t my style, and I felt the space could be more interesting—more inviting—as a courtyard-style garden with just a few striking plants.

BEFORE: Here’s another view of the entry soon after we bought the house, before I removed the nonfunctional shutters, painted the door green, and ripped out the overcrowded dwarf nandinas on either side of the step. The biggest problem, which I couldn’t solve with a simple cosmetic fix, was the crumbling Saltillo tile walk, which sloped down from the driveway to the front steps, delivering a pool of rainwater to the base of the steps every time it rained. Plus the elevation change just felt wrong: you walked down the sloping path and then had to step up to reach the door. The whole space felt cramped as well.

AFTER: For the new walk, I envisioned floating concrete pads for a more-contemporary look. Poured in place, they span the sloping space between driveway and house, eliminating the downward ramp and allowing just one step up to reach the porch. Gravel-filled spaces between the pads allow water to flow through from the courtyard to the new dry stream on the right, which leads around to the side yard. Originally I thought to replace all the Saltillo tile and resurface the porch, but there was zero clearance for any replacement material thicker than tile, and the Saltillo continues inside the house, so ultimately it seemed appropriate (and cheaper) to leave this portion.

BEFORE: I removed the ‘Will Fleming’ yaupons but transplanted the remaining foundation plants to other places in my garden. All that thirsty, patchy grass on the left? Gone! And see those dinky, builder-grade exterior lights?

AFTER: They’re gone!—replaced with boxy, contemporary lights I ordered online. For those interested in the other materials: the wood is stained cedar, the roof is bronze standing-seam metal, and the concrete pads have a mirror finish. I obtained design help from Robert McKay, and the builder was Archadeck of Austin. The plants on the left include ‘Jaws’ agave in the low planter, toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) in the vertical steel pipe, and Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), and ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo planted in the ground. I will probably add a few softening Mexican feathergrass behind the agave this fall.

AFTER: A new dry stream will help funnel water off the driveway and around to the side of the house.

AFTER: New porch decor, gleaned from elsewhere in the garden

Now if we could just get a good, long rain to test out the drainage pattern and deliver some relief to the parched garden.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

50 Responses

  1. I like that. It really gives an updated appearance to your house. I have been thinking of a similar gable extension at my front door.

    Michael, the best thing about this sort of remodel is it occurs outside your home, not inside. —Pam

  2. Randy says:

    Everything looks fabulous. My Lord, I can’t believe you’ve been in that house for 3-1/2 years already. Where has the time gone? It seems like you were just moving in about a year ago and planning the garden in the back yard.

    I know, Randy. Time flies swiftly. —Pam

  3. Gail says:

    I like it, too. A lot! On the whole a simple design that makes a huge impact! Was the concrete poured in place? gail

    Gail, yes, the concrete was poured in place. —Pam

  4. Wonderful contemporary update very appropriate to Austin. Looks like the roof line changes were a lot of work but the results are awesome.

    Solving the drainage problems is going to pay off in the long run as well.

    I’d wondered why we never saw your front door, now I know. This looks beautiful and welcoming now.

    Thanks, Shirley. Actually, I have shown my front door before. But the landscaping was never worth showing. —Pam

  5. Sara Malone says:

    Nice work! So clean and calm. Great fung-shui for the entrance to a home – simple, contemporary but warm and inviting as well.

    Thanks, Sara. I think so too! —Pam

  6. Mary gray says:


    Thanks, Mary. We like it. —Pam

  7. Brenda says:

    What a transformation!!

    Thanks, Brenda. —Pam

  8. Yolanda says:

    A great change! Congratulations!
    The big steps give strength to the wooden porch and certainly very contemporary!
    We also expect some rain here …

    I’m loving those wide concrete slabs. They really give a sense of openness to the entry. —Pam

  9. Holy cow! Holy cow! Holy cow! This looks AMAZING! What great ideas you have Pam! And also, happy to see you have a Mexican bush sage again too :)

    Thanks, Heather. I’m happy to have more Mexican bush sage too. I’ve had some in the back garden, but it hasn’t done very well for some reason. —Pam

  10. So, that’s what how you finished out that front and concrete work you showed me back in May! (see, I didn’t post my pics on it:-) Any plans for plantings in the gravel or within the concrete sections?

    I’m going to add some Mexican feathergrass to the left of the pads, I think, but nothing between them. —Pam

  11. Alison says:

    This looks so wonderful! I’ve been wondering what else you planted in that courtyard. Need more pictures of the plants, please.

    I’ll do a post about the plants in a couple of months, Alison, after I give them a little more time to fill in. —Pam

  12. katina says:

    Wow, that looks wonderful – hopefully the live oak seedlings will be easy to remove from the dry river bed.

    A thick layer of weedblock fabric lies beneath the river stones, but I don’t expect it to fully keep out those tenacious oak sprouts. But maybe they’ll only pop up around the edges. Or so I can hope. —Pam

  13. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Pam, that definitely ups the WOW factor in front! Love it!

    Thanks, Cindy. —Pam

  14. Gibson Girl says:

    What a beautiful renovation and very Firewise!

    Thanks, Gibson Girl. I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right! —Pam

  15. louis says:

    That is a fabulous transformation. The traditional look was nice but now its EPIC! That is an inspiration to all I’m sure. thanks for sharing this lovely update with everyone! I’m sure you just inspired fellow texans to rip out the lawn! I think my favourite is how you managed to bring a somewhat contemporary yet warm and rustic feel to the redo. That’s my all time favourite combo. Cheers to you!!!

    Why, thanks, Louis. I feel just as enthusiastic about the change! —Pam

  16. Very nice! And inspirational–I need to make some similar changes to areas that don’t get rain under the eaves. It looks great!

    I’m glad you think so, PP. :-) —Pam

  17. Jean says:

    Really nice! Reminds me of my front entry (poured-in-place pads and gravel) but I much prefer your gable roof! :-) Those lights are nice too.

    I need to see another picture of your entry, Jean. I’d forgotten that you had concrete slabs for a front walk too. Great minds think alike. ;-) —Pam

  18. That looks great. Doesn’t it feel good, when plans come together so well?
    Good job.

    Yes, it does! And thanks. —Pam

  19. Nice job Pam! What a difference, hopefully your neighbors are all stopping you to say how good it looks!

    The neighbors have been following the progress with interest for some months. They are probably as relieved as we are that it’s finally over and the construction mess is cleaned up. —Pam

  20. Amy says:

    Love it! That’s exactly the sort of gabled entry I want to replace our current (rotting) one!

    It’s pretty simple and straightforward, Amy. I didn’t want a lot of fussy details, just clean lines. —Pam

  21. I like this redo so much, Pam. You’ve updated and regionalized (is that even a word?) the garden and the house without destroying its attractive features. I so love to see plants used appropriately for their climate. I love the steel pipe for the sotol.

    This is one for your portfolio!

    What a nice compliment, Jane. Thanks! —Pam

  22. Melia says:


    This is lovely! I really wish I didn’t live in an HOA that didn’t have such crazy restrictions on landscaping, or else I’d copy your floating concrete entry.

    Ah well, there are so many nice kinds of paths to make, of all sorts of materials. I’m sure you’ll find something that will pass muster with your HOA. —Pam

  23. Frances says:

    It’s perfect, Pam, well done! I love everything about this, the roof material, the lights, the gravel, it is wonderful. You must be so happy to see this new entrance to the front when you arrive home. I sure would be. You have transformed it with magic!

    Thanks, Frances. I am delighted with it—and right now, mostly delighted simply because it’s done. —Pam

  24. Scott Weber says:

    Oh Pam, it just looks fabulous…the wider path is so much more welcoming. The gabled porch is tops…so perfect.

    Thanks, Scott. It really lives much larger than before, and the porch dimensions have not changed at all. —Pam

  25. It is so much fun to watch as step-by-step the New House has become Your House, Pam! I love the gable porch roof. But it would be nice if when you test out the drainage capabilities of the new dry creek, the rainfall is shared with the rest of Austin ;-)


    It’s a deal, Annie. —Pam

  26. It looks incredible!! WOW! It looks like a designer house from a magazine. :o)

    Kind of you to say so, CM, but the old ranch is a long way from that. Replacing the original shabby windows is next on the list. —Pam

  27. Pam says:

    Pam,this is so striking and contemporary! I bet it wasn’t cheap. It sure looks like a million bucks too! But then you are saving on water now. How deep is the steel planter? Could you explain how you did that? It’s wonderful.

    The steel pipe is six feet long and very heavy; it’s sunk two feet in the ground for stability. I wrote a post about planting up the steel pipe—and my goof in the process—earlier this year. —Pam

  28. Lori says:

    Love it! It’s a much more welcoming entryway, and I love those poured concrete pads. It also looks super low maintenance, other than needing a leafblower to get dropped leaves out of the gravel every now and then.

    Yes, I hope it will prove quite low maintenance, Lori. —Pam

  29. Splendid transformation. I really like it.

    Thanks, Janet. —Pam

  30. This is absolutely awesome. Much more interesting and welcoming than the grass, and somehow it seems to lower the temperature just on viewing it.

    Does it? I always find grass visually cooling, but then our grass was getting pretty crispy from lack of water, so this definitely is an aesthetic improvement. —Pam

  31. Ruth says:

    I love the floating concrete. Such an elegant solution.

    Thank you, Ruth. —Pam

  32. Candy Suter says:

    Wow it looks amazing! Great job! I bet you are so happy.

    Thanks, Candy. Yep, we’re happy with the result. —Pam

  33. Cheryl says:

    It looks wonderful! Congratulations!

    Thanks, Cheryl. —Pam

  34. Denise says:

    Love it, Pam. So satisfying to see someone ripping out the foundation shrubs!

    Ha! Yeah, straight-line foundation plantings don’t do anything for me either. —Pam

  35. Laura says:

    Love the new porch gable and the porch lights really are in proportion now. What a nice new look!!!! I have a question. I’ve thought of replacing a large area of grass with granite sand but hesitated for fear of weeds/grass growth through. What did you do to keep the weeds/grass from growing through the gravelled areas?

    In this case, I used heavy-duty weedblock beneath the gravel because I have live oaks nearby that send up a lot of oak sprouts. I hope the weedblock will help keep them at bay. But in most circumstances, when I lay a decomposed granite (or granite sand) path or patio, I don’t feel weedblock is necessary. The main thing is you need to completely remove all the grass and weeds BEFORE you lay the gravel. If you have St. Augustine grass, it’s easy to remove by simply digging it out. Bermuda can be dug out but comes back from any roots left behind, so you may need to resort to Roundup to completely get it. Then excavate 3 to 4 inches, lay your granite sand, compact it, and stay on top of any weeds that blow in and find the gravel conducive for sprouting. —Pam

  36. Wow. Great job. I love how you used the contemporary design to update the architecture of the house – it looks like fab. You’ll be glad to have that rock when the pouring rains come. (when, not if!)

    Yes, when! Thanks, Diana. —Pam

  37. Richard and I think it looks fabulous! We’re huge fans of gravel, whether contemporary or European-inspired. It’s amazing to compare your before and after photos. I know you’re thrilled!

    Thanks, Freda. Yes, your own gravel garden has been inspiring to me. —Pam

  38. Shyrlene says:

    I am so in love with your new entrance! What a beautiful and elegant design!!

    Thanks so much, Shyrlene. —Pam

  39. Laura says:

    It looks great Pam. You did a great job of bringing in the contemporary look and blending in with the original house at the same time. I really love the stain color too.

    Thanks, Laura! —Pam

  40. Cat says:

    Your ideas became reality and they look great! The transformation is gorgeous and so welcoming. Nice job!

    Thanks, Cat. :-) Now on to the next project, right? —Pam

  41. Debbie says:

    What a transformation! I love it…all of it!! Wonderful job on your new ‘curb appeal’.

    Thank you, Debbie. It does add curb appeal to what was a ho-hum entry. —Pam

  42. ryan says:

    It looks great. I remember the drawing you had posted, it’s nice to see the final results. It always feels like such a long process to do a project like this on your own place, but it’s so satisfying. Great work.

    Thanks, Ryan. Yes, it’s been a while since I posted that sketch (you have a good memory), and it’s good to see it become reality. —Pam

  43. ryan says:

    I don’t think I knew you were writing a book about lawn conversions. Congratulations. This will be a great project to include. I really like the before and after, and how it shows that taking out a lawn is an opportunity to update the whole feeling of the space and fix design issues and drainage and all that. Really great.

    Ryan, you are right that taking out a lawn opens up opportunities to fix other problems, just as I did with this project. Thanks for your interest in my book, by the way! If you’d like more info about it—or lawn alternatives in general—you might be interested in “liking” my Facebook page: —Pam

  44. Layanee says:

    Pam: Fabulous. I love the contemporary lines and plantings. It just says ‘Welcome’ in an updated way.

    Why, thanks, Layanee. That is just what I’d hoped to hear. —Pam

  45. Pam — it’s beyond stunning! I love the fact that you solved critical problems while adding visual appeal to your house and landscape. And it is so much more appealing and contemporary. I have been trying to figure out how to do something with our front entrance but it is pretty impossible with 1950s split levels. Congrats — and having been working on our house and garden for almost 20 years, that was also quick work on your part!

    Thanks, Linda. :-) —Pam

  46. Wow, this looks magazine-worthy! The change is dramatic.

    Thanks, Jan. We’re enjoying it. —Pam

  47. ChrisG says:

    Pam – wow – just LOVE this! You’ve hit a home run! Very nice updates and as always, I’m with you on getting rid of grass. Can’t wait to see it in person.

    I think I’m scheduled for an Austin blogger get-together this fall, ChrisG. :-) —Pam

  48. ann says:

    You have dramatically changed the look of your home. It has just the right appeal!
    Also love the cactus pictures just having driven through Sedona.

    Thanks a bunch, Ann! —Pam

  49. jenny says:

    Just perfect, Pam. As you know I love the dry creek look and it is the answer to drainage. How did it fare during yesterday’s rain? Small changes but big impact.

    We just got home from Colorado, Jenny, so I missed the rain. But I sure was glad to see that we got 3 inches here. —Pam

  50. […] proportioned and liveable on the inside, but the exterior is, well, homely, so we gave it a brow-lift earlier this year with a gabled porch roof. Also, the areas of wood siding were in desperate need of a fresh paint job (and repair of rotten […]