How to Style a Small Outdoor Space

Getting outside in the summer months is one of life’s simplest and most rejuvenating pleasures, but what if the only personal outdoor space you have is a balcony, patio or tiny backyard? This predicament can plague single people at a higher percentage because we’re more likely to live in a downtown apartment, suburban townhome, or smaller single-family home without a sprawling backyard. You’d like to spruce up the outdoor space you do have, though, and make it your own.

Where to begin, especially if you feel like your space is too small to do anything with or your budget is even smaller. Well, you’re in luck. As a former interior (and exterior) designer, I have all the tips and tricks to help you create an outdoor oasis for yourself, no matter how small the space or budget. The secret is to have a well thought out design and plan in place so you can make the most of your space.

What type of space do you want?

The first thing you need to do, before you start scouring Wayfair for indoor/outdoor poofs, is decide what activity or activities you’d like to do most in your outdoor space. With a small space you may have to decide what’s most important to you.

  • Are you the type of person who likes to spend the summer cooking and eating al fresco?
  • Or is hanging out and listening to the birds, reading, or taking a nap more your style?
  • Do you want to have friends/family over a lot or will this be a space mainly just for you?

Answering these questions will help you decide what type of “room” you want to create – kitchen/dining, living/entertaining, or relaxation, how much seating you’ll need, and what types of furniture/fixtures you’ll need.

If you choose to create an outdoor kitchen/dining space, a simple grill with a side prep table is all you need. A rolling cabinet with drawers or shelves works well for storing the utensils and seasonings you’ll use outdoors, and the top can provide your prep space. No space for a fridge? A galvanized bucket with ice is a good substitute. For dining you’ll want to store an extra set of dishes and silverware in your rolling cabinet. And your table can be a simple cafe table and chairs or bar-height table for unobstructed balcony views.

If you decide to create a living/entertaining area instead, how many people do you plan to entertain, how much seating will you need and will you want any “special” additions, such as a fountain?  Stackable chairs are a good idea for extra guests.

If your space is really limited or you want to keep it just for you, then a relaxation area may be your best bet. A chaise, daybed or futon can triple as seating, reading and napping areas. Lots of pillows will make it feel luxurious. No matter the type of space you choose, you’ll want to make sure you set it up for success.

What style will your space be and what do you need?

The next step is of course to determine what you need to get it all set up for yourself. Determine what style you want your outdoor space to be. It can reflect the style of your home or you can go in a totally different direction to express your creativity.

Color pallets can also be borrowed from your indoor spaces or you can go wild with color outdoors.  Warm, vibrant colors work well for high-energy spaces and cool, calming colors for relaxing spaces.  Neutrals always work well in outdoor spaces, especially white. If you don’t like color (or your HOA doesn’t), natural textures work well in place of color outdoors.

Outfitting your space doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. Old, indoor wood pieces can be painted, repurposed and used outside. Old silverware, dishes and dishtowels can move outside, as well. Some good places to find what you don’t have are thrift shops, yard sales, flea markets and consignment shops.

You may want to create some privacy for your outdoor space, as well. Tall plants in tall planters work well for this. You can also hang sheer curtains from a pergola, cabana, or string them between posts. In addition to privacy, you may decide that you need some shade. Umbrellas, canopies, sails, and awnings are all good choices for this and will depend on the size of your space and your budget. Finally, you’ll want to make sure your outdoor room is comfortable. You can do this by purchasing comfy furnishings, of course, but pillows, blankets, and even a heater or mister really seal the deal and extend the season.

The finishing touches

Now that you’ve decided what type of space you want, what you’ll need in it, and what style and colors you’ll have, it’s time to focus on the little details that are going to make your outdoor room smash! Weather-resistant materials allow you to have virtually the same spaces outdoors as indoors.

  • Woods – teak, cedar, redwood, Douglas fir
  • Fabrics – cotton-canvas, denim, twill, sailcloth, terry cloth (all washable)
  • Natural materials – wicker, sisal, seagrass
  • Accessories – treated/painted metals, acrylic, enameled metal (enamelware)  

Washable slipcovers allow for easy cleaning and removable cushions allow for easy storage. Functional accessories include plants that can accessorize your outdoor space as they do your indoor. Potted herbs can be used for outdoor cooking and pergola vines provide natural shade. Candles provide a warm glow for an outdoor evening and can be used for bug control, as well. Rugs really tie the outdoor room together (if you’re a Big Lebowski fan, you feel me :-). Sisal, seagrass, and heavy cotton work best. Look for rugs labeled indoor/outdoor. And last but certainly not least is lighting. Overhead lighting can consist of light fixtures in a covered area, or strings of lights or lanterns anywhere. Ground lighting can be a fire pit or fireplace, candles or lanterns set on the ground, tables, or railings, and solar garden or path lights.  Your outdoor accessories function as the jewelry of your outdoor space and truly make it yours.

Designing and planning an outdoor oasis for yourself doesn’t have to be intimidating or costly, and you don’t have to have a huge area to have a functional, luxurious space. With some planning and shopping around, you’ll have the space of your dreams in no time. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to enjoy whatever outdoor space you have. Google “small outdoor spaces” and see the number of amazing, space-limited outdoor rooms that have been created. Using the tips and tricks I’ve just given, you, too, can create an amazing outdoor oasis for yourself. Happy summer!

Leslie Kaz, coach for single women

I help single women get from where they are to where they want to be by overcoming their sadness and starting to live their best lives through mindset and lifestyle changes. Contact me to learn how it’s possible to live a single, blissful life.

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