Move over tiny houses, tiny yards are the latest thing.
With many of us staying home more than usual due to COVID-19, homeowners with small outdoor spaces are getting creative.
Even if you only have a patio or balcony, there are clever ways to make the most of your outdoor space. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, and you don’t need to hire a professional landscaper or designer. Determine a budget, however small, and let your ideas flow.
“When you’re working with a small backyard or side yard or patio, you want to create a focal point that reflects your own design style while also drawing your guests outside,” advises James Judge, an architect-turned-real estate agent in Phoenix.
In one recent project, where a client had a tiny outdoor patio and along with some open space, Judge created an outdoor fireplace using corrugated metal and an ethanol fireplace unit. He then placed small square pavers to extend the existing patio and create more usable space.
“Just like we hang art on the walls inside, I recommend doing the same thing outside,” Judge says.
Here are some more clever ideas for small (aka fun-sized!) outdoor spaces:
1. Bocce ball/corn hole courts
Do you have a passion for tossing things? Even a small side yard area can become a highly competitive bocce ball/corn hole court.
“So many homes have unused side and/or hillside space that’s long and narrow,” says Los Angeles-based interior designer Megan Dufresne. “Converting a side yard or using a level part of a hillside for an outdoor game court instantly makes a home feel more like a resort.”
Dufresne often creates courts for bocce ball, cornhole, horseshoes, and even ax throwing.
A DIY court can cost around $7 per square foot, depending on materials and how much site preparation is required.
2. Faux hedges
If your outside patio or side yard is hemmed in by something unsightly (think chain-link or cinder block wall or a planter box) consider installing a faux green hedge, advises Judge.
“This is the perfect solution when you want to hide something while also adding some vibrancy to a small space,” he says. “Plus, you can purchase a 24-pack of hedges on Amazon.com and have them shipped directly to your door.”
3. Vertical design
“In the city, every square foot of yard space counts, so one of my biggest suggestions in a small yard is to build a trellis and choose climbing plants like clematis or climbing roses,” says Rachel Street, an interior designer and TV host from the DIY Network show “Philly Revival.” “This provides a beautiful backdrop without taking up too much space and cost only about $75.”
If you have an all-concrete patio or deck, a great option is to build planters made from pressure-treated wood.
“The trick is to paint them so they will withstand the elements and line them with garden fabric to keep the dirt from coming through the cracks,” Street explains. “If they are deep and wide enough, your plants will also withstand the winter.”
4. Gather out front
Sure, backyards can offer privacy, but front porches deserve some love, too.
Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes with Belgard (a paver manufacturer), says front porches are re-emerging as a great gathering location for families: “We’re seeing the front of the home as a gathering and living space in addition to existing as a greeting area – making for Instagrammable curb appeal.”
The cost to give your porch a quick makeover, he adds — like a few hundred bucks for paint and furniture.
5. Flowers and greenery
Plants in pots or flower beds add greenery, color, and fragrance to your small yard or patio, and can make it feel more welcoming.
“We love bringing foliage to small spaces, particularly in times like these,” says Cassy Aoyagi, board member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LA Chapter and president of FormLA Landscaping.
She recommends foliage that attracts hummingbirds or butterflies, particularly California native edibles like white sage that can bring birds, butterflies, fragrance, and ingredients, can bring an expansive sense of delight to a tiny patio.
“A small trickle fountain, likewise, adds a feeling of serenity and attracts birds,” she adds.
6. Mood lighting
If a space is small, rather than fighting with its boundaries, use them as an opportunity for coziness with candles, string lights, or tiki lights.
“This can create soft, playful lighting that’s perfect for evening gatherings all year long,” says Liz Morgan, creative director for JHL Design, an interior design firm in Portland, Oregon.
Paper lanterns are another affordable solution to suspend them from your patio ceiling. And while having lights in them is pretty, even if they’re empty the adjacent outdoor lights will make them glow and cast shadows.
Lights can transform your patio for less than $50, Judge says: “For a small space, it’s all in the details and making every detail count.”
7. Flexible furniture
Changes to even the smallest balcony or yard can have a big impact, says Stacy Garcia, an interior designer in Nanuet, New York.
Before setting your plans in motion (and buying furniture that may not work), note that you want to make sure there is room to walk into and through the area. She recommends flex-furniture pieces that can be folded when not in use to keep the space from getting crowded.
Another idea: Place a tray on top of an ottoman to eat off of rather than adding a table to the area.
See below for more clever ideas for your home. We hope this post inspires you to enjoy the outdoors, no matter what size space you have!