Patrice and Richard Ellis sleep in their home, but they live in their backyard.

Theirs is anything but a normal backyard with a 16-foot-by-40-foot porch, a patio, a pond with a fountain, an outdoor kitchen, a gazebo and several planted areas, all designed and built by the Ellises. 

But it wasn't always like that.

"When we bought the house in Broussard Oaks in 1978, you came out the back door to a little glass porch," Richard Ellis says. "The whole backyard was nothing but St. Augustine grass, three inches thick, up to the house."

While their two children, Emily and Dawson, were young, the Ellises did nothing to the yard except build a tree house in the back corner.

"The yard was all for the kids," Richard Ellis says. "They just lived in that tree house."

When Dawson made the golf team at Catholic High, he converted part of the yard into a putting green. 

In 1981, when St. Joseph's Academy was demolishing its old parking lot, the Ellises asked if they could have the concrete slab. They hauled the pieces of concrete to their backyard, dug out an area on the south side, added a layer of sand and set the pieces of concrete in the sand to make a patio. Several years later, they built a trellis for a swing and a small deck from the house. And, when Richard Ellis' brother decided to give away a fireplace, they took that, too. 

The backyard was nice but inefficient with two small patio areas at different ends.

"The area was just not big enough for entertaining, which we love to do," Patrice Ellis said. "We had two entertaining areas that did not work."

In 2010, while Patrice was out of town, Richard Ellis took down the trellised area. And, as they often do, one thing lead to another, and so started the process of redesigning the backyard with the large porch attached to the house.

The Ellises hired someone to frame up the big porch and put in the rafters.

"We did the posts and everything else," Patrice Ellis said. "We painted, did the tile work and moved the fireplace."

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With its seating and dining areas, the porch functions like a large den with wooden shades that can be pulled down in cold weather. Dawson Ellis made the Adirondack-style outdoor furniture. 

As part of their improvements, the couple added a work area with a kiln for Patrice Ellis to make pottery, a potting area for gardening and a kitchen. One Christmas, Richard Ellis gave Patrice a book on gazebos and told her to pick one out. They built it together.

Years before, the Ellises had built a pond and landscaped the area around it in a formal English style.

"We got tired of it," Patrice Ellis said, "so one Mother's Day, I got 2,000 pounds of river rock, and Dawson and his wife, Madeline, came and pulled out the old pond. The original liner was there, so they opened it out to make the pond a little bigger and a little less formal."

At the center of the backyard is a water oak planted from a seedling by the Ellises' daughter, Emily Ellis Welch, when she was about 6. She lives in Shreveport with her husband, Johnny, and their two children.

The water oak, along with four live oaks, completely shades the yard, which is lined with masses of aspidistra interspersed with ligularia, nandina, crepe myrtles, caladiums and coleus. There are two main planted areas and a small serenity area around a statue of St. Francis. Connecting the areas are gravel paths laid out and maintained by Richard Ellis. 

The last addition is a cottage garden on the street side of the house by the entrance to the backyard. It's the one sunny spot in the yard. They also added an attractive garden shed copied from one they saw in Southern Living magazine. "We built that, too," Richard Ellis said.

Both Richard and Patrice Ellis are from large families, and they are always getting together with family members and friends. They continue the tradition of a Christmas Eve party started by Richard Ellis' mother many years ago. They have New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day and often Mardi Gras parties. 

"All of our friends know we are going to be in the backyard," Patrice Ellis said.

"We don't use our front door," Richard Ellis added. "You have to come to the side."