15 Ways to Dress Up Your Apartment Deck or Patio

Small space, picky landlord, limited budget — no problem! Creating a private, stylish and inviting outdoor space is easy with these fast and affordable designer tricks.

By: Amanda Lecky

Photo By: Michael Hunter

Photo By: Adam Butler; Design By: Trevor Lahiff Architects

Photo By: CB2

Photo By: Patrick Oberem, Blue Fish Imaging; Design By: Annastasia Mitchell, Rubykite Interiors

Photo By: Shelley Gardea; Design By: Erin Benedict, Benedict August

Photo By: Grandin Road

Photo By: Brandon Barré; Design By: Terra Firma Design

Photo By: Tom Crane Photography; Design By: Barbara Eberlein, ASID, Eberlein Design Consultants Ltd

Photo By: Grandin Road

Photo By: Elizabeth S. Vaughan, In-Site Interior Design, Inc.

Photo By: Megan Martin; Design By: Elizabeth S. Vaughan, In-Site Interior Design, Inc.

Photo By: Jeffrey Erb, Erb Landscape

Photo By: Jeeheon Cho; Design By: Guido Keller, Lotus Gardenscapes

Photo By: Plough & Hearth

Photo By: Jeff Cate; Design By: Magdalena Keck Interior Design

Less Is More

No need for multiple plantings, an outdoor rug, lighting and full furniture plan — just pick one eye-catching piece, like this low-slung white-upholstered sofa, and make it the “hero” of the space. Hint: Scour garage sales and flea markets for quirky, inexpensive showstoppers. Then, add a few simple accents, and your job is done. That’s exactly the approach architect Jerry Hooker took on this terrace, letting the brickwork and city setting do most of the work. “The long sofa and topiary planters accentuate the symmetry and structure of the architecture,” he says.

Hedge Your Bets

Limit your exposure to nosy neighbors by getting creative with privacy provisions. Shrubs in planters (that you can take with you when you move) are a smart solution that architect Carolyn Trevor used in this lovely dining deck. “The formal evergreen topiary softens the edges and creates a pleasing backdrop whilst affording some privacy for the occupants. It’s an efficient way of enclosing the deck and also providing a natural balustrade — without losing entertainment space. The architectural quality of the planting is also greatly enhanced when lit up at night,” she says.

Grow Where You’re Planted

There’s no shortage of planters available, in just about any size and style you might need. But if you’re working in a contemporary or urban setting, or if you want to create your own “wall” of privacy plantings, simple, rectilinear styles may work best. These rectangular charcoal planters are made of matte-finished galvanized steel, for a sleek but industrial look.

Floor Show

In a small outdoor space, an outdoor rug can play multiple roles, creating a seating “island” as it does here, adding color and style, and making the area appear larger thanks to the introduction of an overall pattern. Designer Annastasia Mitchell chose this rug carefully for its seafoam blue color, which repeats the apartment’s interior color palette, “providing a sense of visual flow,” she says, and to repeat the horizontal pattern of the louvered windows.

Petite Retreat

All it takes to create an outdoor getaway is a comfortable chair or two. Here, designer Erin Benedict chose a pair of Adirondack chairs softened by large cushy pillows. And, note the pulled-back curtain to one side: If you have a place to hang a curtain rod or wire, an outdoor curtain adds softness and privacy. “Elegant black and gold striped drapes perfectly frame the Adirondack chairs, adding a contemporary element while complementing the timeless architectural details of the early 1920s structure,” Benedict says.

Easiest Update Ever

When outdoor seating has seen better days, or if you’re no longer in love with the style, redirect attention elsewhere, say, to a perky throw pillow. Choose an outdoor pillow like this eye-catching black-and-white one, which will stand up to the elements — it dries in just 24 hours and the cover is removable for easy cleaning.

Fit for Fun

You don’t need a lot of space to create a multifunctional outdoor living area. Here, designer Lisa Aiken packed a pair of lounge chairs with quick-dry seats, and a high-top bistro table with stool seating for four onto a compact rooftop terrace. “The high table lets diners overlook the beach,” says Aiken.

City Serenity

“To create this peaceful retreat above bustling Center City Philadelphia, we selected natural materials and finishes to bring softness and comfort to what had been a barren rooftop,” says designer Barbara Eberlein. “Teak furniture does not need to be stored indoors during the winter,” she notes, and “direct sunlight is mitigated with enormous cantilever umbrellas.” Get the same effect in your own city sanctuary with a single umbrella and a cushy all-weather armchair.

Take Shelter

You’ve seen regular outdoor umbrellas no doubt, but here’s a clever solution for tiny spaces. This outdoor half umbrella with pole is the perfect shade over a door, on a balcony or along walls or windows. You won’t have to mount it, as it comes with a sturdy base that keeps the half-umbrella tightly against any flat surface.

Compact Comfort

Even on a tiny terrace, designer Elizabeth S. Vaughan takes care to add luxurious amenities. “When we finish setting up a terrace, we love to drape a towel and provide a pillow on the cushioned chaise lounges for comfort. Small tables provide a convenient place for drinks or books,” she says. And, don’t forget to add a bright spot: “Colorful plants in boxes are a must to bring in a pop of color,” she says.

Urban Oasis

In the backyard of a garden apartment, designer Elizabeth S. Vaughan worked to add personality, using items that are easy to take along in in a move. “Clients love when we add garden oddities like the bronze rabbit lantern on the steps,” she says. Note, also, the varied container plantings and color-coordinated chair cushions and umbrella.

Calming Contrast

Container-grown plantings are your friend when adding greenery to a terrace or balcony. “When you use typical landscape plants in pots or containers you’ll see them very differently than when they are planted in the ground,” says landscape designer Jeffery Erb. “You’ll see all the details up close and notice textures, vein patterns, the colors on the undersides of the leaves and more. So I like to use a minimal selection of plants in a small terrace or patio because it creates a more calm and serene environment — just what we need in the chaos of a city.” Erb advises choosing slow-growing cultivars that won’t outgrow their pots too quickly.

Go Vertical

When you’re dreaming of green acres but living with the reality of a small terrace, consider using vertical spaces like walls or railings for plantings. Here, Guido Keller of Lotus Gardenscapes used a custom-made wall planter by Ore to create a vertical garden. The client chose a brightly patterned rug and simple furnishings to complete inviting effect.

Punch Up Color and Pattern

Add energy to your outdoor space with an all-season rug designed to stand up to the elements. Inspired by the bright geometric motifs of traditional Mexican tiles, this indoor/outdoor rug is made from tough polyester and designed to resist mildew and fading. No need to worry about outdoor traffic: just hose the rug down to clean it.

Private Dining

Even on an open terrace in a city setting, it’s possible to create a feeling of intimacy. Here, designer Magdalena Keck used perimeter plantings — a combination of evergreens and climbers in simple wood boxes — to soften the edges of the space and block exterior views. “We chose glass and steel for the furnishings to echo the city structures,” she says, “and to connect the inside of the apartment with the urban landscape outside.”