10 Ways to Make the Most of Your Tiny Outdoor Space
Turn that once wasted patio into the outdoor retreat you've always dreamed of.
We still have a few more months left on the calendar before we can start dreaming about summer barbecues, but that doesn’t mean we can’t jump straight into planning mode, right?
For those of us with a tiny patio or balcony, our outdoor design options might seem more limited. But the truth is, with a bit of scheming you can create an amazing outdoor oasis no matter how small your space is.
With spring and summer on the brain, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite ideas for making the most of your (tiny!) outdoor space.
If you own your home and have a bit more flexibility with your budget, you might want to consider some built-in options. A built-in bench made from either concrete or wood would be the perfect solution for a tight spot, as you could build it to perfectly fit in your space. Combining a built-in bench with a table could create the perfect outdoor dining spot or simply work as a fun gathering space for you and your friends and family.
Another smart way to maximize your small outdoor space is with hidden storage. This is an especially great option if you want to keep pillows, throws or entertaining necessities on hand but need a spot to stash them. Even if you live in a warmer climate, it's not a bad idea to keep your outdoor goodies out of the elements when you’re not using them. A storage bench is a great idea (and would provide a decent amount of space), but you could also try a storage ottoman or side table.
Hide and Go Teak
This teak outdoor storage shed has enough room for bicycles and lawn and garden tools. It blends in nicely with wooden fences. Available through Overstock.com, this shed has double doors that make it easy to conceal large items.
The Ultimate Garden Shed
This stunningly crafted tool shed serves as a pump house for a water feature that trickles into a Koi-filled moat that surrounds the garden patio. Designed by Art Harrison Interiors in Franklin, Mich., this ultimate garden shed complements the architectural details of the home.
Coiled in Copper
Reel in an unruly garden hose in this Patina Copper Hose Pot from Frontgate.com. The hand-applied patina finish gives this copper pot an aged look. Its weather worn appearance blends with any outdoor decor.
What looks like an ornamental stone accessory is actually a waste bin. Made from a blend of crushed stone, resin, styrene and fiberglass, this lightweight, weather resistant trash holder from Horchow can be placed anywhere.
Keep extra firewood dry and clutter free in this cute English Garden Firewood Storage Shed from Overstock.com. Made from pressure-treated timber, the unit features a top shelf for sticks or wood chips.
Tucked Away Trash
Made from weather-resistant cypress wood, this Horizontal Refuse Storage Shed from Overstock.com opens from the front and top. Trash cans and recycling bins are as easily made invisible as they are accessible.
Outdoor Table With Beverage Storage
Keep what you need for entertaining on your deck or patio handy with this White Outdoor Beverage Table from Horchow. Handcrafted of a lightweight concrete/resin mix, it gives you a place to rest a tray of drinks and includes a rounded indent that can hold fruit, river stones or beverages on ice.
For small-space living, my favorite go-to solution is double-duty furniture (and this goes for both indoor and outdoor small-space challenges). A storage bench is a great example of this, but you can really think outside the box when it comes to outfitting your space. You can use a small coffee table for extra seating, a stool that doubles as a side table or larger throw pillows (made from weatherproof fabric) that also works as floor cushions.
Vibrant Outdoor Space With Hanging Daybed and Draperies
Quick and easy updates brought springtime charm to the covered deck of the 2015 HGTV Spring House. From grommeted outdoor drapery to an upcycled swing chair, here's a closer look at the outdoor space's high-energy accents.
Flynnside Out Productions
Outdoor rugs are an amazing solution for a space that needs a bit more color or pizazz. They also do a wonderful job of defining the perimeter of a space, which is especially helpful if you have a small footprint. Make sure to choose a rug that is designed to remain outside, as it will be made with much heartier materials than a typical indoor rug. If you happen to find an outdoor rug that you love at a good price, you may want to buy two. I find that outdoor rugs tend to endure much more wear and tear, so it’s not a bad idea to keep a backup on hand if you can.
MORE: 9 Stylish Outdoor Rugs
There are some pretty strong opinions on both sides as to whether or not to go faux with plants or grass. I’m firmly in the “pro faux” camp as long as it’s done right. Faux grass is a great option for an urban patio or balcony to help add the feeling of an actual lawn. To create a more realistic look, make sure you're putting the grass down across an entire defined area. You'll want to eliminate any harsh edges that would immediately indicate that your grass is faux.
City Garden With Salvaged Wood Wall and Potting Table
In this small urban outdoor patio, a salvaged wood wall and potting table satisfy the city gardener. Climbing vines and potted plants, including a terrarium, create a lush space, while a candelabra adds ambiance for outdoor dining.
Even with a limited amount of space, you can still create a beautiful, vibrant outdoor garden. For a balcony, you might find it easier to stick to a container garden, which basically means that you will keep all of your plants and flowers in containers or pots. This gives you quite a bit of flexibility, as it allows you to easily move things around to change up your space. Flowers, plants and vegetables can all be successfully grown in small-space gardens.
Microgardens can be created on roofs, balconies, small patios, fire escapes and small landscaped areas, using edibles as decorative and ornamental features instead of strictly edible plants, says urban gardener Melinda Myers.
San Francisco Deck
Built-in planter boxes made of redwood give a young family easy access to vegetable and herbs in their backyard, surrounded by two- and three-story apartment buildings in San Francisco. The project by St. John Landscapes won a 2015 award from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.
Big Brooklyn Makeover
A once-bare, tiny yard behind a row house in Brooklyn, N.Y., now features a canopy of plants, such as crape myrtles and camellias. Landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh planted trees that naturally cool the garden terrace and house and created a bird habitat. The new paving is mica schist, which is arranged in a pattern that mimics logs flowing down a river. The garden was a 2015 ASLA award winner.
The small space behind a Brooklyn, N.Y., row house was enclosed on two sides by a 12-foot brick wall and was bare with no plants. To create the illusion of a bigger space, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, added ivy to the walls and brought in plants such as camellias and crape myrtles. The project was an 2015 American Society of Landscape Architects award winner.
Microgardens vary in size, including as tiny as a few square inches in a container or several square feet in a garden bed, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. Here, a small raised garden bed is intensively planted with edibles.
All in a Bowl
Try a "Pick ‘n’ Pluck Salad Bar": Loose leaf cut-and-come-again lettuce varieties can be planted as seeds or seedlings in a container for a quick pick salad. Choose salad ingredients with different leaf textures and colors for a vibrant and healthy salad, says microgardener Anne Gibson. Alternate these around the container and when the lettuces have at least eight leaves, you can start harvesting as you rotate around the pot.
Microgardens can be started in even the tiniest of containers and spaces. You can make miniature greenhouses for seed raising and microgreens by upcycling plastic food-grade punnets and bottles, suggests Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com.
Position microgardens on balconies where there is structural strength. Moist soil gets very heavy, so consider the total weight (soil + pot + plants + water) of each container, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. You may need to consult an engineer to find out if the structural capacity can handle the additional weight. It is wise to position heavy pots close to the strength of the structural wall or around the perimeter.
Mod and Small
This contemporary patio in a coastal California home uses concrete pads surrounded by colored gravel and massed succulents, which can be a low-maintenance microgarden option. Grounded Modern Landscape Architecture designed the award-winning space.
When space is tight, you can use old items, such as a wheelbarrow to display and grow plants. Portable gardens are a creative solution for those who need to move plants into sun or shade during the day, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. Wheels allow heavy planters to be moved easily.
Winds tunneling through high rises and neighborhoods can be damaging and drying. Adjust watering as needed and provide supports for tall plants or decorative fencing/screening as a wind break, says Melinda Myers, an urban gardener.
For You, or Someone Else
Culinary and medicinal herbs look fabulous in upcycled containers, baskets and containers such as small boots. Group herbs with similar water and sun needs together, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. For example, drought-tolerant Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and chives are perfect bed partners. These attractive planters also make edible gifts.
Vertical stackable planters are one way to have a microgarden and suit shallow-rooted edibles like lettuces, flowers, strawberries and herbs, says Anne Gibson, known as The Micro Gardener. This setup also minimizes moisture loss when watering from the top. Group plants with the same water needs together on each tier and add a saucer at the base to collect any water or nutrients.
Regular harvesting will keep plants, such as these in containers along a walkway, producing. You also will get even more produce from your small space, says Melinda Myers, an urban gardener. For example, she suggests picking outer leaves of lettuce and other greens when they are 4 to 6 inches tall.
Privacy screening around and on top create a private urban rooftop garden designed by Topiarius. Plants include bonsai, such as Scots pine and boxwoods.
Making Room for Greenery
The courtyard of a Boston townhouse is bordered with hosta 'Center of Attention' and 'Green Mountain' boxwood in front of horizontal wooden fencing. The project, by A Blade of Grass, was a 2015 Association of Professional Landscape Designers award winner.
Roof gardens are a great way to grow in urban spaces, but Anne Gibson of The Micro Gardener.com says it's important to consider drainage and local weather conditions. If exposed to winds or strong sun without protection, plants tend to dry out more quickly. This rooftop garden is in a mixed-use development in Athens, Ga.
Planters in Urban Microgarden
To create a small garden on an Atlanta condo terrace, Cameron Watkins of C. Watkins Garden Co. designed the low-maintenance landscaping to have natural elements in the urban environment.
Vegetables, herbs and greens are grown around the deck of a San Francisco garden that slopes 8 feet from the back door and is bordered by apartments. St. John Landscapes used succulents, variegated plants, burgundy cordyline, evergreen vines that contrast with the ground cover border and evergreen grasses, for the APLD award-winning project.
There are a variety of microgardening techniques to maximize your harvest, including utilizing space wisely with vertical garden solutions, and efficient water management and nutrient cycling, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. This vertical garden has lemon thyme, peppers, tomatoes and other plants.
HGTV Urban Oasis 2015 Backyard Deck
Meant to function as another room, the deck celebrates Asheville’s outdoor lifestyle with the modern Americana theme continued from the master bedroom and plenty of entertaining space.
Another great small-space trick is to add some outdoor drapery panels to your tiny patio or balcony. Curtains, in addition to creating some shade and privacy, can also make your space feel much more like a true outdoor living room. If you don’t already have an overhead option for attaching a curtain rod, consider using a very simple wood frame to hang them on.
Outdoor Dining Room Makeover: After
The outdoor space of this quaint Atlanta bungalow was updated with olive green paint and refreshed with neutral-toned drapery panels, low-maintenance furniture and splashes of spring hues.
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Although the outdoor dining area has limited square footage, it feels much more spacious than it actually is because of a simple trick. To take the focus off the lack of space and instead focus on the height, designer Dan Faires installed indoor-outdoor draperies on galvanized metal conduit along the pergola.
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As the afternoon sun slowly fades, hurricanes outfitted with pillar candles provide ambience into the night. While fragrant pillar candles add a welcoming aroma to indoor spaces, they lose their affect when used outdoors. It's best to choose unscented candles for outdoor entertaining.
When furnishing an outdoor dining space, it's smart to think of unexpected ways to add seating. Instead of using a matching set to host springtime soirees, weathered folding chairs were repurposed along one side of the table and a bench was placed along the other. Once guests have left and the space is no longer in use, the chairs can easily be folded and stored away.
Wooden outdoor furniture requires seasonal maintenance. If you're interested in much more practical furniture, you should consider metal outdoor tables and chairs with faux wood looks like the one used here. Although the table looks like weathered wood, its metal construction is much simpler to maintain, requiring only a quick spray with the hose to keep clean.
In addition to adding a one-of-a-kind look, mixed seating around an outdoor table can actually help maximize seating capacity. In this outdoor dining space, armchairs are placed at each end of the table and folding chairs are used along one side, so the addition of a bench allows up to four guests to sit comfortably along the opposite side.
For casual, unexpected flair on the tabletop, a collection of eclectic dinner plates, salad plates and chargers was used. To effectively arrange a mixed table setting, stick with elements featuring different textures and a range of scaled patterns.
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Add Privacy with Plants
Rail planters were installed and outfitted with spring plants and flowers to add an extra layer of privacy around the dining area. The more the plants grow, the more privacy and color you'll get.
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Stocking the Bar
When space is at a premium outdoors, consider using a mobile bar cart. Here, a faux bamboo cart is stocked with sparkling water and garnishes appropriate for alfresco entertaining. Mobile carts are also ideal for appetizer or dessert presentation.
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Stylish Deck With Sectional Seating
Cozy, transitional style is carried outdoors with this colorful sitting area designed by Brian Patrick Flynn. The deck rail is dressed up by several baskets of flowers, while a bright blue rug adds color and comfort beneath the upholstered sectional.
You may think you need to keep accessories to a minimum outdoors because it's ... outside. But it's actually quite the opposite! Take your favorite indoor items, like pillows and throws, and incorporate them outdoors, too. Use durable, mildew-resistant outdoor linens to infuse color and add a cozy, comfortable touch to your space.
Fire Pit Table
Fire pit tables have grown in popularity over the last few years, and they are a great option for a tight space. While not in use, you could easily cover the fire pit with an additional tabletop for some outdoor dining space (double-duty furniture!). When you’re done with your meal, remove the top, light up the fire and have some s'mores for dessert.
For those of you who are looking to go a bit more bold, painting your deck is a fun idea. You could really go for it by painting the entire deck in a chic pattern. Or if you'd prefer a safer look to start, try simply painting a "rug" to define your space.
Designer Cortney Bishop perked up her outdoor room with a blue flat finish paint that she splashed on both the floors and ceiling for a bold update. See the full transformation from HGTV Magazine.
Located in Jacksonville, Fla., HGTV Smart Home 2013 is a colorful, shingle-style vacation spot surrounded by lush landscaping. The often-used wraparound porch ceiling is even painted in a semigloss shade of beachy blue. See more deck pictures from HGTV Smart Home 2013.
Outdoor area rugs are best when they can be swept or even hosed off before company arrives. Simply use painter's tape to tape off a rectangular design, then apply exterior paint in colors of your choice. Follow the step-by-step instructions.
Instead of staining deck boards, use paint in a variety of colors to create stripes. Here, an entry deck was added to a kids' playhouse and painted in alternating black and white stripes to continue the color scheme. See the complete playhouse makeover.
Feeling bold? Use painter’s tape to create an expansive geometric pattern in a variety of colors. Designer Brian Patrick Flynn taped off large hexagons and used a palette of fuchsia, turquoise and white to bring color to a worn outdoor space. Follow the step-by-step instructions.