23 Budget-Friendly Ideas for Small Outdoor Spaces

Design experts share inventive ideas for even the smallest of outdoor spaces.

Keep in mind: Price and stock could change after publish date, and we may make money from these links.
July 13, 2016

Photo By: Lowe's

Photo By: Lowe's

Photo By: DesignFix

Photo By: Wake + Loom Design

Photo By: Cultivators Design and Landscape

Photo By: Mosaic Group Architects and Remodelers

Photo By: Dwell with Dignity

Photo By: Thomas S. England/Dwell With Dignity Atlanta

Photo By: Thomas S. England/Dwell With Dignity Atlanta

Photo By: Lowe's

Photo By: WAKE + LOOM Design

Photo By: Terracotta Design Build

Photo By: Terracotta Design Build

Photo By: King Landscaping

Photo By: DesignFix

Photo By: Black Southern Belle/Sean Money & Elizabeth Fay

Photo By: Black Southern Belle/Sean Money & Elizabeth Fay

Photo By: Ashton Woods

Photo By: Ashton Woods

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: DesignFix

Screen It

Frame a small patio with a bright lattice grill screen, which enhances privacy and gives a room-like feel to an outdoor space. This screen project uses 4x4-foot posts to serve as an outdoor wall, define patio space and help hide plastic storage bins.

Turn a Tray into a Tabletop

Use a metal tray to turn a cheap stool into an inexpensive side table, or make the stand yourself as a DIY project. You can use the tray for holding drinks or even potting supplies.

Build in a Bar

Take a corner of your patio and put it to use as an entertaining space. A bar is built in under the kitchen window in this outdoor space with a fire pit by DesignFix, a California interior design company. The bar, which has a red acrylic top, is supported by decorative wood roofing brackets. Rope lighting underneath makes the bar look cool at night, says designer Amanda Giles.

Snag a Striped Piece

This striking striped table was actually snagged on Craigslist for a condo balcony by WAKE + LOOM Design. Designers Gabriela Eisenhart and Holly Conlan often hunt at second-hand stores and on Craigslist to find one-of-a-kind pieces for less. To make the folding wood and metal chairs more cozy, the designers added a Mexican throw and patterned pillow.

Think Tall

With small spaces, sometimes the sky is the limit. "Add verticality. Small spaces need an element to draw your eye up," says Derrick Lepard, founder of Cultivators Design and Landscape. When you add height, such as the bamboo in a container in this Atlanta courtyard, you don't need to spend money on plants to fill every space across the fence or wall.

Find a Fountain for You

The contained nature of a small urban courtyard gives you a huge opportunity to bring in a cool feature. Cultivators Design and Landscape purchased the orange container and retro-fitted a fountain for a custom industrial water feature. A fountain also can be cheaper than a waterfall. You can recreate the look as a DIY project using a garden pot you already own or by hunting at yard sales.

Use Slimming Black

Using a black railing can fit with traditional or modern architecture of a patio or porch, and it can help the railing or a fence seem to fade away when you're trying to relax and enjoy the view. This black railing uses steel cables, but Mosaic Group Architects and Remodelers also has recreated the look on a lower budget. Mosaic spray-painted a chain link fence black and found the result is far less obvious and the fence more likely to fade into the background than with a silver chain link fence.

Brighten Up the Bland

This patio features a new table and containers with a colorful patina. Buy cheap containers on closeout at a local home and garden store and then take thinned latex paint and do a wash for an aged/weathered look, says Atlanta interior designer Steve McKenzie.

Shop End-of-Season Sales

In a small space, you are already saving money by not buying a big outdoor furniture set, but cut your costs even more by visiting home decor and garden stores after Labor Day for end-of-season deals on items such as chairs. If you find a used set of chairs instead, you can spray paint the metal to freshen the finish, says designer Julie Montgomery.

Splash on Color

Recover wood or metal chairs in a fun fabric, to add panache to a bistro set.

Add Mesh Details

Bring texture into outdoor spaces with materials, such as these mesh hanging screens made with a roll of chicken wire and wood, or search for old chicken wire or mesh doors at building material salvage centers that are run by charitable organizations.

Update a Table With Glass

A matching patio set can be a splurge, but you can draw inspiration from the table top. To glam up a wicker table you own or a yard sale item, add a mirror or a piece of glass to the top.

Find a Cool Architectural Item

Designer and architect Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson with Terracotta Design Build in Atlanta found five brackets stacked up at a little store on the side of the road. They were pieces of houses that had been demolished, but she loved the gray-blue patina and their scale. "Even if you have a brand new home, accessorizing with found objects is a great way to impart texture and character and charm without spending an arm and leg," she says.

Class It Up with Copper Lighting

Add a shine to your porch or patio with copper lighting. To get this look on a budget, you can take copper buckets, tubs or big bowls, which you can find new for less than $50, and drill a hole in the bottom, says designer Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson with Terracotta Design Build in Atlanta. Add a light kit, which are sold from $5-$20, depending on the finish, and you have one-of-a-kind outdoor lighting.

Shield Unused Spaces with Screens

Spaces underneath the deck can be unsightly, so screen the view under the deck with vines or hanging screens, says Holly Brooks of King Landscaping in Atlanta. If you enjoy gardening, animal troughs also can serve as planters, instead of traditional raised garden beds.

Bring in a High-Top Table

A bar table can provide a cool space to have a drink without taking up too much room in a small space. This DIY outdoor bar table is made of 2-by-4s that are cut into same-size blocks and glued together, then attached to a stand made of metal pipes and fittings, says Amanda Giles with DesignFix, a California interior design company. The table is accessorized with inexpensive metal stools.

Gather Around a Glass Table

A round glass table is an ideal choice for small spaces because of its compact shape and its barely-there appearance. You can find them at yard sales and repaint the legs, or pair together legs from another table with a piece of glass, instead of buying a new piece. If you are looking for glassware, you often can find pieces at thrift shops run by charitable organizations says Michiel Perry, founder and curator of Black Southern Belle.

New Use for Champagne Buckets

A semi-tarnished champagne bucket or used water pitcher can make a chic and unique flower vase, says Michiel Perry, founder of Black Southern Belle. If you have a covered porch or patio, don't be afraid to buy indoor pieces and spray paint them with outdoor protectant, she adds. Also, you can create a bar cart by buying an existing side table or thrift store steal and gluing a tray you already own to the top. Then paint it or stamp it with your initials or a welcome message for guests.

Pick Out a Cute Pedestal

Prop up container plants on unexpected items, such as an old three-legged stool, to add height to a tabletop display, as seen here.

Opt for an Outdoor Shower

Depending on the layout of your patio, an outdoor shower could be part of your design and create an interesting focal point. If you have outdoor plumbing, you are on your way to making this possible, says Leigh Spicher, Ashton Woods’ national director of design studios. Frame a small enclosure and treat with a teak accent. This one by Ashton Woods designers extends above the wall, but yours would be less detailed and require fewer materials. You also can use the shower to water your container plants. Or find instructions to build your own DIY outdoor shower here.

Bring New Look and Purpose to a Cart

Refresh an indoor bar cart to make it outdoor-ready. Design blogger Alaya Sheardon spent $20 on a bar cart from a thrift store and sprayed it with slate gray rust-preventative paint. She then painted the shelves with a stencil and covered it in white paint for a textured look. Now it holds container plants and supplies on the patio.

Design a Vertical Garden

A small space is a great place for a vertical garden, and this one cost less than $10. Design blogger Alaya Sheardon used a crib frame that was headed for the dumpster. She found pails for $1 each and poked holes into the bottom to help drain water. She hung the cans from shower curtain hooks and spray painted the frame bright white.

Bench a Bench

This side table is actually a vintage painters' bench, which is low enough to the ground to work with the low-slung red Adirondack chairs. California-based DesignFix also used recycled rock gravel and string lights when designing this small side yard.

Shop This Look