7 Ways to Turn Your Outdoor Space into an Oasis, Even if It’s Teeny Tiny

updated Jul 15, 2020
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Credit: Carina Romano

This summer, outdoor spaces seem to be more valuable than ever. If you haven’t gotten around to giving yours the attention it deserves, it’s not too late. Furthermore, if you’re dealing with more of a petite urban patio than an a sprawling suburban backyard, not to worry. These designer-approved ideas will help you max out whatever square footage you do have in style, so you can soak up the sun for the rest of the season.

Credit: CB2

Blur the line between indoor and outdoor spaces

Your patio may be no bigger than a small square of concrete—or your yard no more than a little plot of grass—but treat whatever space you have as though it’s an extension of your living room. “Incorporate products that seamlessly integrate the aesthetic from inside your home to your outdoor space,” says Ryan Turf, president of CB2. Sticking to the same color scheme and style will make your square footage seem larger because your spaces will visually flow into one another, even if you don’t have fancy floor-to-ceiling glass doors or a retractable wall to visibly connect the inside and outside zones of your home.

Decorist designers Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters of Forbes + Masters agree—and suggest taking this idea even further than furniture. “Consider hanging art, mirrors, and curtains on any available wall space to create a true indoor-outdoor feel,” says the design duo. However you choose to furnish your space, it’s best to shop for weather resistant versions of your favorite items. That way, things will hold up to direct sunlight and rain.

Embrace functional decor to maximize your space

Unless something is multi-functional or takes up zero floorspace, it has no business being in a tiny outdoor area. “Have your stools/footrests double as accent tables and your benches with storage as a home for cushions,” says Forbes and Masters. Triple duty is the new double duty—think a concrete coffee table with a built-in compartment for ice and drinks (that could also be used as a planter) or a potting bench that can be used for tending plants, as a makeshift bar, and to stash gardening supplies and tools.

More importantly, don’t try to squeeze a sofa, dining table, and bar cart into your outdoor setup if they’re all just fitting within your parameters. It’ll feel far less cramped—and be cheaper—if you use an economy of furnishings.

Work your vertical space

Reach for the sky (literally!) in your outdoor space in any way you can. Try a vertical garden along a fence. Forbes and Masters have also used quite a bit of faux boxwood to soften up exterior walls, which adds a hit of greenery and a bit of privacy in the process, if you let it “climb” high. Hang open shelving for extra storage, display, and serving surfaces.

Even if you don’t have walls, per se, you can figure out some way to take advantage of vertical real estate with freestanding pieces that are built upward. Small spaces in particular benefit from flexibility, so if possible, don’t install permanent fixtures or features. That way, you can always switch up your setup without any trouble.

Mix textures to make your space unique but opt out of non-essentials

Turf suggests putting your style stamp on your outdoor space with textiles in particular. “Rugs, pillows, and upholstered items are unique touches that will show off your personal style and make your space feel both chic and warm,” he says. Forbes and Masters also love additional lighting for the same reason. Hanging bistro lights or a sculptural ceiling fan with lights (in lieu of a basic single porch light) can make your outdoor area really read as a “room”. 

All that aside, when space is at a premium, you have to be strategic about your choices in furnishings. “Opt out of having an outdoor rug if your space is really small, as it may create a visual boundary that could cause the space to look even smaller,” says Forbes and Masters. This doesn’t mean you need to loose all sense of texture though. Forbes and Masters actually love thinking of astroturf as outdoor “carpeting”. You can pick up astroturf at the hardware store and trim it to cover your outdoor space’s entire floor, no matter its size.

Credit: CB2

Limit yourself to one super trendy item

Turf, Forbes, and Masters are loving terrazzo for this summer, but that doesn’t mean your space should be covered in this material—or that terrazzo should be used in conjunction with every other on trend accent either. “This fun finish is a durable nod to the ’70s and can have some staying power, as long as it is not styled alongside other trendy motifs,” says Forbes and Masters. “We only recommend one terrazzo moment per space.”

Buy: Terrazzo Coffee Table, $549.00 $449.00 from CB2

Go for greenery, but simplify your selection

Your inclination may be to pile on all the plants, but in a small outdoor environment, it’s often best to show a little restraint, at least in terms of what you grow. Sticking to a few key plant varieties can actually trick the eye into a seeing a space as larger, so don’t go overboard with every species under the sun. Try to place pots and larger pieces of furniture along your outdoor area’s perimeter, so what space you do have feels open. If you want to sneak in a few hanging planters or plants on a tiered plant stand, go for it.

Credit: Fatboy USA

Don’t forget protection from the sun

For Forbes and Masters, comfortable seating is a must—along with something that provides shade from the sun. A pergola covered in greenery is one option if you have the space and budget, but an awning or patio umbrella will also do the trick. Working with a patio or a terrace that has an overhang? Consider hanging bamboo shades to filter out extra rays. If you have a tiny sliver of a lawn and nothing overhead, a portable, UV blocking sun shade like you’d use at the beach is great option for lounging or to protect kids while they’re playing.

Buy: Miasun Portable Sun Shade, $139 at Fatboy USA