Design magazines and home-decorating catalogs tend to feature sprawling backyards with big wooden decks and room for everything from decorative fountains to artificial ponds.
But few of us have that much outdoor space.
Still, with a few strategic choices, you can create something truly special out of even the smallest yard or porch, says Los Angeles-based designer Brian Patrick Flynn.
Here, he and two other design experts — small-space specialist Kyle Schuneman and landscape designer Chris Lambton — offer advice for making the most of a small yard, modest deck or petite patio.
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Go flexible and mobile
“With a small outdoor space, I really like to think double-duty,” says Schuneman, author of “The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces” (Potter Style, 2012). Look for seating that has hidden storage space inside and tall planters that add privacy.
And choose items that can easily be moved, such as lightweight flowerpots or planters on wheels, says Lambton, host of the gardening design series “Going Yard” on HGTV. “It’s an easy DIY thing,” he says.
“The easiest way to make small outdoor spaces appear smaller is to fill them with lots of pieces,” says Flynn, founder of the design website decordemon.com.
“Instead, go big with sectionals, or flank perfectly square or rectangular areas with identical love seats or sofas. This not only maximizes the seating potential, but it also keeps the space from becoming too busy or even chopped up.”
When arranging furniture, consider the view: If the home’s exterior is more attractive than the outdoor view, Flynn says, consider positioning seats so that you’ll face your home rather than looking away from it.
All three designers say your choice of plants is especially important when space is limited.
Choose plants with a purpose: “Lavender’s great,” Lambton says, because it’s attractive, easy to grow and deters bugs. Marigolds will also help keep insects away.
Lambton suggests putting up a trellis as a privacy wall, and planting it with colorful wisteria or climbing hydrangea or tall holly. .
“Holly will be green all year round,” he says, and can transform an unappealing view.
If you love plants but have minimal space, add a wall-mounted garden filled with succulent plants to one wall, says Schuneman: “It’s a great way to add life and texture without actually taking any real estate up on your small balcony or patio.”
He also suggests using narrow planters to create “long, narrow, raised flower beds that go the length of the space.”
Flynn suggests playing up the height of your space by adding long outdoor curtains or hanging pendant lights.
Drench with color
“I usually paint concrete slabs (on the floor) a bold color or an accent color carried out from an adjacent room,” Flynn says. “This helps the patio feel like an extension when you look out to it through a door. On the flip side, when seated out in the patio looking inward, the consistent use of color flowing inside and outside makes the patio itself feel much more open.”
Flynn also suggests outdoor curtains for a burst of color and to block an unattractive view. “Outdoor draperies are, hands-down, the easiest way to soften an otherwise all-concrete and stucco space, while also being able to control how much or how little neighbors can see.”
Create your own art
“Most people don’t think of using art outside, but it can be done, especially in a DIY manner,” Flynn says. “My favorite trick is to use tent canvas and stretch it across a DIY frame made from pressure-treated lumber, and add some gesso to the surface for texture.”
You can make any outdoor space more beautiful, Lambton says, with just a few hours of effort and a small investment.
“If you get two or three pots and a couple of bags of planting mix,” he says, “it’s easy to do for a couple hours on a Saturday. … Just a little bit of color and life will really dress up your outdoor space.”