Maximizing the minimum–welcome to small space outdoor living. Currently, we are experiencing a trend toward living in smaller houses, whether attached, as in a condo or town home, or in small clusters of narrow to zero lot line communities. You may find yourself in a place where downsizing is your goal, or you may, like many younger Americans, find that you prefer an urban environment where walkability to dining, shopping, and services is the lifestyle goal. Either way, smaller living means outside as well as inside, and, for many, less yard is one of the main goals of this lifestyle.
Despite one’s desire for less house and yard to maintain, the desire for outdoor living space is strong and remains high on the list of, if not must-haves, then, at least, want-to-have features in your new, smaller, home. With a small, and typically singular, outdoor space, it is important to create a multi-functional area that will serve all of your needs. Thoughtfully assessing your outdoor living needs and goals is crucial to successful small-space planning.
1) Assess Your Needs
Be realistic about how your outdoor space will be used and by whom. When entertaining, you may not be able to have all of your guests on the terrace at one time. So, it is better to consider your outdoor space as 1) a cozy private area for one or two people regularly and 2) overflow space for your living room. The reality is, in your new downsized space, the terrace is never going to have as much importance as it did in the family home. But, it is entirely possible to create big drama in your new outdoor space and make it your preferred “room” in your home.
Your outdoor space will expand your interior living space and provide a view. Make it pretty! The space is small and it may be crowded but crowded does not mean junk-filled. Don’t make your outdoor space a mash-up of things that do not go together. Since the space is small, splurge a little bit to have pieces that co-ordinate together and look planned.
2) Select Your Furniture
Plan for comfortable seating for 2-4 people. Unless you are a hermit without friends, it is essential to plan for two couples–you and your besties, at least.
Multi functional furniture is ideal in a small space. A chair and ottoman will provide a comfortable reading spot for one person, but that ottoman can be pulled away and used as a seat for a second person, or, with a tray on top as a table. A sectional is compact yet provides seating for several people. And, pieces that stack, fold, or nest together are invaluable in a small space.
3) Include Plants
Your outdoor space must include greenery. If you have found that you do not have a green thumb, do not want to be responsible or any living thing, or that the position of your balcony or patio is such that your plants would need to be hearty in a Saharan desert, then cheat. Use life-like artificial plants to achieve the warm and inviting natural allure that greenery provides. Add pots of varying sizes and place them on the floor, table tops, walls, or from the ceiling. Plants can help define a space, soften hard edges, and provide a screen for privacy. The trick with plants is to choose those which thrive in the environment you have and remember that the larger the pot, the less frequently watering is required.
4) Add Lighting:
Don’t forget to utilize walls and space above. String lights can create a ceiling of sorts and provide both a useful source of light and romantic ambiance. Lighting (either electric or candle) attached to walls adds functionality without taking up valuable space on tabletops or the floor. Add a mysterious glow at night by attaching under rail lighting or placing uplights in or behind pots.
Wall decor and shelves add interest and your personality to your small outdoor space. Taking advantage of vertical space is a smart way to add to the ambiance and to creatively create more space. A current trend is to create vertical gardens either by attaching a wall pocket or other container to the wall or by creating a free-standing unit which will accommodate plants. Such a unit can be set in front of a wall or used as a screen to divide the space up.
Adding a rug and outdoor drapery panels adds warmth, softness, texture, and the potential for color and pattern, as well as helping to define the space. It may be advantageous to delineate a space into separate areas, such as dining, seating, or cooking. Tie-back curtains may be used to create a sense of walking between “rooms” in a long narrow space and work to visually change the shape of the space.
6) Get creative…
If you are handy, or know someone who is, have them build a fold-out table that can be used with folding chairs–or design it lower to the floor so that it can be used with a lower lounge seating. Consider building seating that incorporates a storage component, with a lift-up top and seat for access for storage of plant supplies, folding chairs, or accessories in bad weather.
Go for a theme. Perhaps you dream of a Parisian atelier, Tuscan farmhouse, or island oasis. Select pieces and colors which support this design theme and be focused on your design goal as you shop.
For most small space dwellers, it is not a question of how to fill up the allocated space but, rather, how to maximize the little space one has. Every foot you can use for living is of great value. Don’t leave your balcony or patio vacant, or worse, a home to your unused belongings. By creating a cozy outdoor living room, you will find that you have increased your living space and your joy in your home.