Hard work to revamp their landscaping and patio has paid off for Marilyn Chiaramonte and Peter Bibbo.

Marilyn Chiaramonte and Peter Bibbo are proud of their backyard and outdoor living area, and for good reason: Peter has done most of the work on it himself.

“He deserves a lot of credit for this,” Marilyn says of her husband, and glances around their yard in Highland Lakes early one June morning, right as a cluster of pink purslane is opening in the warm sunshine. “He is unbelievably project-oriented.”

Peter often helped his father, a builder, on weekend jobs when he was growing up. “I was swinging a hammer at 5 years old,” he says, grinning. “Working with him is how I started.”

Peter worked as an engineer at Alabama Power’s E.C. Gaston Steam Plant in Wilsonville until he retired in 2014. His engineering expertise has also come in handy in the couple’s home projects.

Peter has built a grill island under a covered pavilion, redone all of the landscaping and designed a fire pit area and surrounding stonework. He says the overhaul of the backyard was “all motivated by erosion,” that he and Marilyn were seeking a long-term solution to the damage rainwater runoff was doing to their yard. It just so happens the solution doubled as a beautification project, turning their backyard into a beautiful oasis where they relax by themselves or entertain close friends.


The couple’s sunroom leads out onto a spacious deck. Marilyn often takes her morning coffee to the sitting area.


In the shade of the pavilion, Marilyn and Peter can mix and mingle with company as they grill. When the food is ready, they can sit at the table to eat.


No backyard retreat is complete without a fire pit. The stonework Peter designed provides plenty of space for the pit and surrounding seating.


Marilyn insisted on adding a water feature she found at Costco in the middle of the central flowerbed. “I really do love it,” she says.


Begonias, torenias and purslane dot the central flower bed, as limelight hydrangeas stand next to the back fence. Marilyn and Peter buy many of their flowers and plants from the Petals from the Past nursery in Jemison. “We’re learning,” Marilyn says of the landscaping. “Every year, we change a little bit.”


The couple’s sunroom is one of the best spots to enjoy the backyard views without braving the heat or insects. When they bought the house seven years ago, it was a screened porch. Peter built the floor up 3 feet to meet the house’s main level. Large windows—the installation of which was “no easy task,” according to Marilyn—on all three of the room’s exterior walls let in lots of natural light. Marilyn purchased the furniture from Encore Resales in Pelham. Her daughter’s painting of the Grand Canyon is displayed in one corner.


Although it’s not a part of the outdoor living area, Marilyn’s New York-themed room in the basement begs to be included. “I love New York,” she says. “My whole family is there.” She was a teacher in Brooklyn before she retired, married Peter and moved to Alabama in 2011. The room and its furnishings are primarily black, gray and red. A Statue of Liberty rug covers a portion of the floor near the wet bar, which is all black except for a red microwave. Framed Broadway playbills hang on one wall, and some of Peter’s baseball memorabilia is displayed near another. At Christmastime, Marilyn decorates a New York tree with small red apples (for the Big Apple) and other New York-inspired ornaments. She’s in the process of making stained glass doors for the cabinets.