Apartments and townhouses are not renowned for their spacious outdoor areas, but having a patio or courtyard that’s less than palatial doesn’t have to be a drawback.
In fact, with the right treatment, a small outdoor area can be made to feel more like the great outdoors and can become not only a peaceful refuge from the world, but a valuable property feature as well. So, what’s needed to give a small outdoor space the illusion of something grander? These 5 simple tips can help.
1. Divide your space
You would think that doing this would make a small space seem cluttered but actually, dividing your outdoor area into several different zones can make it look and feel like a much larger space. Having different areas to focus on keeps the eye roving and if each area has its own purpose (i.e. sunbaking, dining, jacuzzi etc), then over time, you will experience the area from a variety of different viewpoints, which will also contribute to the illusion of space.
While creating zones in your outdoor space is a good idea, you need to connect them as well. Just as you would use hall runners to connect indoor zones such as lounge, kitchen and dining in an open plan house, you should also tie your outdoor zones together with some hardscaping such as pavers, stepping stones, gravel or pebbles. This weaves a unifying thread throughout the whole space and provides a visual cue that the various zones are all connected by more than just their proximity to one another.
2. Choose the right plants
The scale is important in a small area and you should choose plants that don’t overpower the space or reduce the light. Instead, choose plants that do well in small spaces (i.e. Japanese maple, patio roses, climbing vines, cacti etc). Some plants could also be better served in pots, jars or troughs, which can be moved easily to fit your tastes and become a feature of your outdoor space.
To enjoy your outdoor space all year round, it’s also a good idea to choose hard-working plants that offer interest for the eye in several different seasons (i.e. spring flowers, summer fruit and autumn colours). Plants that offer visual interest all year round include viburnum shrubs, hydrangeas, crab apple and evergreens.
3. Choose the right furniture
Scale is also important in the furniture and fixtures that inhabit your outdoor space. Lightweight collapsible furniture is always a good option, as it can be folded away when not in use to provide additional space and taken indoors in winter to avoid weather damage.
Your furniture should suit the style of your outdoor space; sleek and slim if your courtyard is narrow or high-set and chunky if it’s more on the square side and the best furniture is always multi-purpose, such as the wall of a raised garden bed doubling as a bench seat. Light furniture with clean lines also helps to create an illusion of space in a small area (i.e. a glass topped table and open backed or slatted chairs).
4. Create an illusion
A space is what it is in physical terms, but it’s possible to trick the eye into thinking it is actually much bigger. It’s partly to do with perspective and simply by adding some long, straight lines through your space that meet in the distance at a focal point (i.e. a sculpture or water feature) will make your space seem larger than it really is. You can easily achieve this effect using pavers, fencing, small walls and even garden beds.
Another way to trick the eye is to draw it upwards. The sky is an infinite space and if you can bring it into your outdoor area as much as possible, it cannot help but seem bigger. Ways to do this can include vertical planting, creepers and vines, long stemmed trees and shrubs such as bamboo and reflective surfaces such as a pond or water feature.
5. Bring the indoors outdoors
Another excellent way to create a feeling of space in a small outdoor area is to bring the indoors outdoors. If your patio, courtyard or garden is in close proximity to your house, then opening up the doors, extending the decking, putting down some indoor/outdoor rugs and generally connecting the two areas together will virtually double the space you have available and make the outdoor portion seem much larger than it really is.
Small can be beautiful
Clearly, a small outdoor space doesn’t have to feel that way and with a few simple props and an eye for what works, you can soon turn it into an area where you will probably spend more time than you do indoors. The secret is to keep it simple, clean and in proportion and to make it work much harder for you than a larger space would ever need to.