You may be looking forward to summer in a new home, condo or apartment, and find yourself wondering how you will manage with the confined space you have – be it a tiny backyard, courtyard, patio, or balcony.  What appears to be a challenge may very well turn out to be a blessing in disguise, because smaller spaces are far less expensive to decorate, and can afford every bit as much enjoyment as the expansive yard you might have enjoyed as a child!

Define Your Desires

A common error that can wreak havoc on a design plan – particularly in a limited amount of space – is the failure to clearly identify what you most want to accomplish.  So try to sort through the variety of activities an outdoor space might provide, and choose which one, or perhaps two, are at the top of your wish list.  Attempting to make a small space into an entertainment area, a gardening venue, dining/relaxing area, and a kids’ play area all at one time will be nearly impossible, and will likely lead to plenty of frustration.

Entertaining: If your space will accommodate a small group of friends (and if your landlord/property manager/neighbors allow), determine how many people you can realistically anticipate using the area at one time.  If a balcony is in the mix, make very certain that it will support the weight of both people and furniture safely.  Now, set about selecting small-scale furniture.  Look for clean lines, armless chairs, and low profile pieces.  Benches are also a great idea to line the perimeter of your space and offer extra seating.

Acrylic furniture that is transparent gives the illusion of more space.  Avoid overstuffed pillows (where will they go in bad weather and during the winter?).  If you plan to incorporate a grill, scale it down in size, as well.  It’s easy to grill more food as needed and save the square footage that a huge grill requires.

Gardening: You may be aware of the recent trend in roof gardening and wall gardening. Wall mounted gardens of all sorts and sizes are easily found on the Internet.  These are small enough for herb gardens, and also large enough for growing various greens and vegetables.  Likewise, small, attractive rubber planter bins come in many shapes and sizes and fit easily into patio or balcony corners.  Familiar strawberry planters are also useful for herb gardens and allow a variety of plants to be in a single container.

Choose containers carefully, considering weight and drainage.  Ask your nursery proprietor to help you select appropriate containers, potting material, and plants that will adapt to container growing. Succulents, plants that thrive in rock gardens, and low water requiring plants are best bets. Once again, if you are planting on a balcony, be certain that the balcony will support the additional weight, and consider how the watering will impact neighbors below.  Look ahead, as well, to  what you will need to do at the end of the growing season.  How will you discard the plant material and its soil?  Will you put the cleaned containers in your offsite storage unit for next season?  Your best bet is to start small, and to see what is manageable before launching into major (costly) gardening ideas.

Dining/relaxing area:  The key here is to scale to square footage size both for furniture and outdoor mats or rugs to decorate your outdoor space.  A small bistro set can easily accommodate a couple, so why scale up if 90% of the time that is who will be using the space?  Additional inexpensive seating can be available as needed (for instance, folding canvas chairs that take up next to no space in a corner or closet).  A chaise longue or two may max out your square footage, so be sure before you buy that your space will serve you in the best way possible.  If permitted, hanging baskets are great, and add decorative color and variety without taking up floor space.

Kids’ play area:  First and foremost: make absolutely certain that every inch of your outdoor space is kid safe and friendly!  Once you are confident about that, all you need is to furnish the area with the fun toys that your kids most enjoy.  Try to find tables, chairs, easels that are durable and washable, and be sure you have a method to keep things clean so you are not infested with ants or other creepy crawlies.  Take time to select a comfortable chair for yourself or whoever will be watching the kiddos.  Having an outdoor area for crafts and art projects is a huge plus, and takes a lot of wear and tear off the interior of your home, and the summer months make it all the more fun!

Whatever your space may be, and however you choose to configure it, merely having some outdoor area that you can use and enjoy is a big plus.  Take a little time to plan carefully, and you will be glad you did!