The Christensens' first budget-conscious decision was the house itself. "We looked for the least expensive house in the very best neighborhood we could find," Brigitte explains. They settled on a foreclosed 1970s Cape Cod-style home with stained carpets, kicked-out balusters, and a yard that consisted mostly of sorry-looking lawn and some half-dead rosebushes. But the property was in a cute town—San Clemente—and located just a quarter mile from the beach, and the house's issues were mostly cosmetic. The large, wedge-shaped yard was full of possibilities. "To me it was a clean slate," Brigitte says.
Shown: For entertaining, the Christensens use the dining area on this paver patio, just steps from the kitchen and overlooking the gardens.