Small Space Solutions
Ideas for Small Outdoor Spaces
It is possible to create a garden gem out of a small, awkward space. It takes imagination, planning, willingness to work with the conditions you have, and some constraint. Whether you want a space for entertaining, lounging, play, or all of the above, here are some examples of small space design and some guidelines and ideas for transforming small spaces.
- With usable area at a minimum in small spaces, how can there be enough room for seating, play spaces, and planting as well as amenities like an outdoor kitchen, storage, or fire and water features? Incorporate multi-purpose areas and multi-functional amenities into your garden. Seating can also be storage, and a patio can be a parking space.
- Don’t forget to use vertical spaces like walls and fences as part of the design. The smaller the space, the more important the vertical surfaces become.
Before: This outdoor garden patio is actually the residence’s driveway. The narrow space used to be filled with weedy concrete that lacked character and warmth.
After: Artistic decorative panels with lighting and greenery attached to the fence create an intimate atmosphere for dinner parties, and you can still park a car on the strong concrete paving strips.
- Often, small spaces have awkward angles, steep slopes, or seemingly unusable corners and pockets. To make the most of a garden like this, try getting creative with your use of space: divide the garden into different levels, tuck seating and elements into interesting spaces, and use plantings to soften edges or to highlight the space.
Before: This narrow backyard had a tall concrete wall that was a huge eyesore. The paving was a mix of lawn that didn’t grow due to shade and an old wood deck.
After: We decided to make the problem wall a feature. Instead of hiding it, we added a layer of bright red stucco and built-in elements such as a fountain. The edge of the fountain is wide enough to act as seating.
After: A beautiful concrete and wooden bench was built into a space between retaining walls that also double as planters. A simple striped paving pattern covers the whole area.
After: By adding a wooden lid, the fire feature becomes a table for food and drinks (and keeps it child safe)
- Small spaces can become cluttered and tight very quickly. Use a minimal design palette to create an ordered and spacious feeling! Pick one strong design idea, like a bold color or pattern choice, and keep the rest simple.
Above: To bring interest to this small space without overwhelming it, circular patterns and a bright orange color are repeated throughout the paving and furnishings. The remaining neutral colors and materials help the space feel clean and welcoming.
- Dividing up any yard or garden into well-designed and distinct spaces can be a challenge, and small spaces with elevation changes are even trickier! Think practically—make sure the spaces are the right size for their intended use and that there is enough room for circulation.
Before: This small backyard had planting, cooking, dining, and open play space all mixed together in a sloping, mulch-covered yard.
After: Leveling the new lawn and separating the outdoor dining space on its own deck helps both spaces feel distinct but connected. A limited color and materials palette and grid-like geometry repeated throughout the yard tie this family’s outdoor living space together.
- Small spaces are often also shaded spaces. Surrounding buildings, fences, and walls can cast hard shadows, so plants need to tolerate deep shade with short periods of glaring sun. When plant conditions are difficult, use “bulletproof” plants even if they are not your favorites. Healthy plants are prettier than struggling plants! Also use other features as your main attraction. Bold color, interesting furnishings or patterns, and creative lighting can all be used to create inviting and beautiful small spaces.
Above: To create the feeling of different spaces in this yard, paving and plantings were designed in a clean grid pattern. A water feature, fire pit, large seating area, lawn, and plantings all fit within this casual space that feels very spacious despite its small size.
Before: This super small balcony lacked any sense of space or style.
After: Thoughtful location of boldly colored furniture gives this long rectangle multiple zones for grilling, eating, and lounging by the fire. Materials of different textures, like the wood decking and decorative pebbles, provide warmth and character where there previously was none. Grouping similar pots adds more colorful accents without cluttering the space.
With these tips, you can transform your small outdoor yard, garden, patio, or even driveway into a beautiful and unique space!