Tips on Designing Small Outdoor Living Spaces

While you may find yourself envious of homes with expansive yards and large backyard patios, don’t let a small landscape get you down! Small landscapes offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in a totally intimate way. 

Here are a few ideas to help you transform your small space into a dreamy outdoor retreat you’ll love to enjoy!

Small dreamy outdoor living space with hanging lights
Small outdoor living area with hanging lights, ceiling fan, and seating area

1. Planning. When designing a smaller outdoor area, space is limited and it’s good practice to thoughtfully consider needs over wants. As you navigate this planning process, it is helpful to ask questions to determine what you hope to get out of the space. Is your plan to have a morning coffee spot? Host alfresco dinner parties? Entertain young kiddos? Keep these elements in mind, and try designating “zones”, prioritizing needs over wants. For example, is your main goal to have a lounge area? A space where you can unwind and enjoy a glass of wine in the evening? Or a spot where you can enjoy your morning cup of coffee? Perhaps, then your main focus will be on a cozy seating area. If your ultimate goal is hosting dinner parties with family and friends, then creating a magical outdoor dining space should be your priority. By being intentful through the planning process, you can ensure that the space you create best serves your needs and becomes a magical, well-loved element of your home. 

Small Grassy outdoor patio with stone steps and outdoor seating
Small outdoor garden with stone tiles and outdoor seating
small outdoor seating area with dining table and seating

2. Zones. Once you’ve determined the priorities for the space, identifying “zones” where each will happen is a helpful way of maximizing your property and transforming it into a backyard retreat. Creative ways to designate zones include the use of differing levels within the landscape, potted plants, lighting, well placed furniture, and differing materials underfoot – such as grass, pavers, gravel, outdoor rugs, etc.

small garden patio with outdoor seating and table
Small outdoor patio with seating
Small outdoor living area with furniture

3. Scale. Scale is another important element to consider when designing a small outdoor living space. If you have limited square footage, choosing plants and furniture that are appropriate in size will help you preserve that precious space and keep things from feeling heavy or overcrowded.

Rectangular wall fountain for small outdoor living spaces
Hanging plant fixture
outdoor patio furniture in front of garden

4. Go vertical. When space is at a premium, sometimes you have nowhere to go but up! Utilizing vertical wall space for decorative plants and installments, or even a vertical vegetable garden can add character and natural texture. Or if you are really pressed for space, try hanging a planter or two to break things up and draw sight lines upwards. 

outdoor plants and lighting
Graham's outdoor light hanging over four potted plants
Outdoor seating with light fixtures set on side tables

5. Utilize Plants to Your Advantage. Small backyards and patios often feature hard lines – fencing, hardscaping, walls, etc – that can make a small area feel even more boxed in. Utilizing plants and planters of different shades and textures to soften these edges, will help shift the feeling from claustrophobic and boxed in to cozy and bursting with character.

Small outdoor dreamy patio with hanging lights
Small outdoor patio with hanging lights
Small outdoor wooden patio with light hanging from stone wall

6. Lighting. Utilizing landscape lighting to highlight zones is a simple way to create depth and completely elevate your backyard in the evening hours. Bistro and string lights are another way to fully embrace and highlight the intimacy of a small space and add a little romance. 

Small outdoor living area with hanging lights
Small outdoor porch with patio furniture and hanging lights
Small outdoor living area patio furniture

7. Colors + Patterns. When designing a small outdoor area, choosing a color scheme will help you create a cohesive and cozy environment. However, try not to add too many different patterns and colors to keep your space from looking cluttered. 

Remember, having access to outdoor space at home is a luxury – regardless of your lot size! These outdoor extensions of our homes provide endless opportunity for enjoyment… from relaxing in the fresh air after a long work week to entertaining family and friends in the warm summer sun.

Small outdoor living area with umbrella and patio furniture
Small outdoor living area with couch seating and hanging light

For more information our selection of outdoor furniture and patio decor, please visit the showroom and chat with a design specialist.