A tiny outdoor space may seem impossible to decorate, but with the help of some outside-the-box small patio ideas, it’s clear that there’s actually plenty you can do to make the most of your small outdoor space. A patio makeover doesn’t have to be a challenge, or a competition with greenery; in fact, with the right design, it can bridge the gap between your interior and exterior living spaces. You already know that an outdoor living room is a savvy investment. “Patios should be outdoor rooms,” says New York architect Kevin Lichten. “So scale, as in an indoor room, is the critical feature, along with material choices.” Meaning: A petite patio will look nicer with small bricks or river-run pebbles. Save the bigger bluestone pavers for a grander outside space. Implementing decorating idea such as a bevy of string lights, sleek outdoor furniture, or bringing in a firepit or outdoor rug as a much needed focal point can truly make a statement. You might not want to go back indoors after you read about AD’s 47 small patio ideas that work equally well in the backyard as the front yard.
How do I make a small inviting patio?
To make a small patio into a coveted alcove, provide a visual focus, like a small statue in a niche of boxwood or a sculptural tree that adorns the space, Lichten recommends. Adding a fish pond with koi, a gurgling fountain, or even a wind chime can further play into the sense of sound. A firepit checks a lot of boxes on the quest to a more inviting small patio, offering a distinct smell, sight, and sound. Installing a pergola can also create much desired shade and privacy.
How do I make my small patio more comfortable?
Extending the conveniences of the indoors to the outside is essential when creating a comfortable small patio. “Covering a patio defines it as more of an outdoor living space, giving it structure as well as extending its use throughout the day and, often, into the evening,” New York architect Eric J. Smith advises. “People can sit, lounge, or dine underneath a covered patio with flexible furniture arrangements, and adding a fan and some discreet lighting enhances the enjoyment.” A small outdoor bar or mini fridge can reduce back-and-forth trips to the house, making everyone feel more at ease, Smith adds.
What can I put on a small patio?
Consider the typical elements of a living room when it comes to your patio design. A small outdoor coffee table offers a spot to place refreshments, though a side table can be used instead depending on your floor space. Think about how you plan to use the outdoor space—lounge chairs add a spot to enjoy the sunshine, while a bistro set is ideal if you envision enjoying a morning coffee alfresco. If the patio area is freestanding, building lattice panels on one side to use as a backdrop for the furniture is another solid option, Smith recommends. Alternatively, add a hammock for a bohemian makeover. Read on for more small patio ideas hand-picked from designers and architects who know how to have a good time in an outdoor space.
1. Weather teak deck
A weathered teak deck offers a warm yet contemporary spin, notes Ani Khachatryan, principal and interior designer at Ani K Interiors in New York. Along with its stylish visuals, a weathered teak deck, or other flooring material, defines your outdoor space and creates an even surface for furniture.
2. Create privacy
For DIY patio privacy, especially in a metropolitan area where space is prized, adding decorative black metal screens and lots of greenery can up the secret garden factor while still achieving an airy outdoor pocket, according to Khachatryan.
3. Embrace the patio shape
A gazebo-like patio makes for a perfect outdoor area. Anne Hepfer, Toronto-based interior designer and author of MOOD, used this octagonal covered screen porch as a setting for a custom round dining table with a built-in lazy Susan. She then surrounded the dining spot with curved-back chairs, and added a round wicker pendant light. “The space is cohesive, cozy, and aligned with the architecture,” she says.
4. Create a sunroom feel
“The shaded patio, hidden behind oversized barn doors, provides extra space for spectators next to the family’s indoor badminton court,” says Christie Tyreus, architect and designer of Tyreus Design Studio in Sausalito, California. The space manages to feel like an extension of the home because of its complementary design, with the added benefit of shade via the stylish painted wood slats.
5. Extend a small bedroom
When confronted with a room adjoining a small patio space, try combining them! The covered patio design should have the same clean lines and wood tones that are used throughout the interior, Tyreus suggests.
6. Create a sound barrier
If your patio is in a noisy location, hamper the noise by incorporating plants or a water feature and creating a sound barrier, recommends David Charette, cofounder of Britto Charette in Miami. An outdoor speaker playing your favorite tunes can also phase out annoying racket.
7. Cozy rustic
Instead of fighting against the limitations of your patio size, try playing into it with a cozy rustic design. Certain styles readily lend themselves to small spaces, and with a rustic edge guests will end up feeling cozy instead of cramped!
8. Embrace lighting
Don’t forget that lighting extends the functionality of a small deck. “Whether you hang pendant lights or even a battery-operated exterior lighting, the glow can work equally well for morning coffee or an evening cocktail,” says Mark Cutler, cofounder of CutlerSchulze in Los Angeles. Light can dramatically alter the mood of a space, so adding proper lighting could leave you with a brand-new atmosphere.
9. Create a natural nook
Boxwood hedges make it simple to define an outdoor space without the need of inorganic elements. If you’re aiming for nature to stay at the forefront of your patio, consider putting plants to work.
10. Square firepit
“Paired with a square firepit, this small patio offers a clean, modern look that’s also fully functional,” says Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard. Square firepits add a more buttoned-up look, as opposed to circular firepits, so they’re a perfect choice if your furniture taste skews modern.
11. Built-in benches
If you’re adding a wood deck to your patio space, adding a built-in wood bench will add a cohesive feeling and bring the space to a new level. “For a truly built-in feel, keep the decking and seating materials consistent,” Tyreus says.
12. Let plants hug the patio
An asymmetrical patio zigzags to create platforms like a designated dining area with a bistro set, or a place for a storage bench that doubles as a quiet spot.
13. Play up the elevation
Think outside the box to take advantage of breathtaking views on your property. While a small, steep yard can be hard to landscape, a little creativity goes a long way, advises Jamie Melton, owner of Laurel Crest Landscapes in Sylva, North Carolina, who devised a secluded firepit hideaway.
14. Fence in the front yard
Front yards used to be reserved for planting and not much else. But according to Kevin Lenhart, design director at Yardzen, an online landscape design service, as people spend more time at home, they’re using any and all of the outdoor space they have–including the front yard. “Requests for functional front yards are up 150% at Yardzen,” he says. “Small yards are included in this phenomenon, offering just as much function as larger spaces when designed with care.”
15. Avoid clutter
The best way to avoid a cramped patio is to be thoughtful about what really needs to be located on it. “Well-scaled items to match the proportions of a small space will always look appropriate,” says Summer Jensen, CEO and principal of Hawk + Co in Los Angeles. “When at all possible, I dislike seeing the back of a sofa so I look at the door openings and keep those paths clear of blocky elements. I’ll use two chairs with a side table or opposing conversational sofas to keep sight lines clear and welcoming.”
16. Make it a patio for two
“A patio can be designed for just two people,” Lichten notes. “Make the petite enclave cozy with two chairs and a table to put down your libation of choice.” Small size doesn’t have to be a limitation—setting up your space for just two people can help create a feeling of intimacy.
17. Carve out a BBQ spot
18. Circular firepits
When space is particularly limited, a circular firepit can help fit more seating than a square firepit. Plus, it adds to an air of coziness by fueling the small patio with the ambience of togetherness.
19. Focus on styled decor
Tailor your outdoor decor to your personal style. Rather than rely on items that are more neutral, a kaleidoscopic palette heightens the personality of your space. When there’s not much room for small accents this is especially important.
20. Wow with an outdoor rug
Oftentimes making any big changes to an outdoor space comes with an equally big price tag, but the addition of an outdoor rug can level up any area—whether you want to cover existing hardscaping or just add a pop of color. A bright blue rug echoes the soothing aqua of the pool. “The client wanted a quiet, shaded outdoor room for napping, relaxing, and watching sports,” says architect Christopher Sanders of Sanders Architecture in Austin.
21. Define the patio with a trellis
“Small outdoor spaces provide ideal settings for more intimate spaces, like dining areas,” explains Tyreus. “Adding a trellis with heating elements and pendant lighting allows the space to be used throughout the evenings, even into the winter months.”
22. Hang a hammock
Even the smallest patio spaces often fit hammocks, but they’re no consolation prize. As anyone who’s ever taken a hammock nap, or spent an afternoon reading while wrapped up in one, hammocks are worth, well, much more than their weight in gold.
23. Decorate with plants
The best way to bring color into an outdoor space is with plants. Whichever plants you prefer, make sure you consider how much sunlight your space gets before selecting the blooms.
24. Create verticality with a bar table
A bar table and a few stools generally have a smaller footprint than your typical set of table and chairs, making them an ideal selection for a small patio. An added bonus is that their atypical height will make this space feel especially distinct from an indoor dining area.
25. Simplify with concrete
Low-maintenance and stylish? Yep. “For design consistency with modern interiors, you want a patio surface that doesn’t weather, so a solid surface material like concrete is a good choice,” Tyreus says.
26. Charm with bistro chairs
To make your space more flexible, employ folding bistro chairs as extra seating should unexpected guests join your backyard soiree. These helpers are especially useful on a small deck that may seem too crowded if you go crazy with too many permanent pieces.
27. Wrap around with steel cable railing
Bringing the illusion of less confinement, steel cable railing helps a small outdoor space feel less cavernous and add a modern flair. “We use steel cable railing systems when we want the railing to be less visible, less of a separation between spaces, and low-maintenance,” Tyreus says.
28. Employ mod elements
Midcentury-modern furnishings tend to have a lot of attitude, and a chiminea with a sleek design is absolutely perfect for making a stylish statement in an outdoor space without requiring a big footprint to accommodate.
29. Shade with an outside umbrella
Something about a classy umbrella can give any space a resort-like air. Beyond the mood-booster, an umbrella makes it easier to enjoy your patio no matter how strong the sun beams down.
30. Use tall plants for privacy
Slim tall plants can be used to add privacy to an outdoor area without making it feel cave-like, which you can sometimes run the risk of with man-made implements. If you live in a less nature-infused space, adding tall plants can also help the space feel refreshing. “The vertical planter and plant materials add life while creating visual separation between the outdoor patio on this penthouse condo from the neighboring office building,” Sanders says.
31. Built-in fireplace
“Elevate your own private urban retreat by creating smaller intentional zones dedicated to dining alfresco or lounging fireside with a glass of wine,” says Candace Rimes, designer director of Atlanta’s Fogarty Finger. “Be sure to layer in outdoor pillows and throws to achieve a luxurious feel and a seamless connection to the indoors.”
32. An oasis for one
“Especially in cities, where we’re often craving reminders of the natural world, potted plants and shrubs are an essential addition to any terrace or patio, even a small one,” says Ximena Rodriguez, principal and director of interior design of CetraRuddy in New York. “A little green can go a long way in creating a sense of exclusivity on a terrace.” Even if you don’t have enough space to place seating for a group, an outdoor patio can easily be dressed up to provide relaxation for one.
33. Channel a beach theme
Happily distressed furniture and a blue-and-white palette do wonders to unify a space and provide a casual atmosphere. Whether you’re on the waterfront or hours from a coast, channeling a beach theme can give an outdoor space a sense of direction.
34. Adorn with an arbor
When covered in vines and surrounded by plants, a simple wood arbor can infuse an outdoor space with a magical quality.
35. Grow bamboo
In a tight space that can’t accommodate privacy hedges or other typical greenery, growing bamboo can offer privacy and separation between the patio and nosy neighbors.
36. Insert feng shui elements
“This fantastic patio is located on the property flanked by water on one side and a vineyard on the other,” says architect Cathy Purple Cherry of Maryland-based Purple Cherry Architects. The cozy little three-step-down patio, which was mathematically proportioned to specific furniture, incorporates a contemporary gas firepit utilizing an abstract steel art piece as well as a recirculating water element spilling from a metal spout into a rock cistern, all tied together within the stone-walled space. The goal of this small patio design was to experience all five elements of feng shui.
37. Skip the hardscaping
Hardscaping isn’t always necessary and in fact, when you forego it, your space can end up all the more charming. If you tend to skew more English cottage a la Sienna Miller, grass is often the way to go.
38. Make it a quiet spot
As much as a barbecue station or an outdoor dining space can be exciting, sometimes outdoor spaces best lend themselves to quiet moments. “A rocking chair offers a reprieve from the quick pace of daily life and takes anyone lucky enough to find a seat in one back to simpler times,” says Richmond, Virginia–based Will Massie, founder and CEO of McKinnon and Harris. “Add an outdoor blanket for a morning coffee meditation on the porch or a throw pillow to serve as a cozy headrest for an afternoon nap.”
39. Use glass fencing
“Glass panels provide a visual experience that a conventional wood or iron railing doesn’t allow, offering a complete and unobstructed view of your pool or mountain surroundings while also giving the illusion of a larger, uninterrupted patio space,” says Cindy Rinfret, principal designer of Rinfret in Greenwich, Connecticut. “They also give shelter on a windy day.” The only downside: Someone will have to clean the glass every now and then.
40. Channel a cafe vibe
“No matter the size and scale, any outdoor space needs a purpose,” Massie says. A thoughtfully arranged cafe table and chairs makes the perfect place to enjoy an alfresco lunch. Something about a dining area outdoors beckons guests to linger.
41. Open up with a bistro style window
A bistro-style window makes it easier to transport refreshments from inside to the backyard patio while also adding a truly distinct charm. “Locating an outdoor space adjacent to an indoor bar or kitchen not only has obvious functional benefits but also allows life to bridge between indoors and outdoors,” Sanders says.
42. Extend the back porch
“We are big proponents of outdoor living and treat spaces like terraces and verandas as extensions of the home,” Massie says. “The real beauty of these areas is their role as a bridge between indoor and outdoor living. As such, finding a design thread that can be consistent throughout will create harmony in a home. This can be achieved through a selection of similar planting materials, a paint color, or decorative elements such as antique garden statues.”
43. See to skylights
“Adding skylights to an outdoor space is a great option for patios with high ceilings,” Hepfer says. “It makes the space look elevated and grand, while also providing a large amount of diffused light for spaces that don't have as much natural light.”
44. Seek a unique backdrop
A unique backdrop can drastically change a space, even if your furniture is much simpler. In the case of patios with fireplaces or pits, stacking firewood thoughtfully doubles as storage and display.
45. Relax by the reflecting pool
“The mirrored surface of the water may soften the boundary between inside and outside if there are sliding doors, as the vertical reflecting glass surfaces and the reflecting horizontal surface will bounce off one another,” says Nina Edwards Anker, founder of Nea Studio in Brooklyn. Incorporating a cistern or a reflecting pool to collect rainwater to be recycled and filtered for garden irrigation is another good small patio idea.
46. Style with hardscapes
Even with standard materials, thinking outside the box will serve you. “Regardless of the amount of space you have, you can create a gorgeous patio,” Raboine says. “A simple, small patio can be constructed with stylish hardscapes and add flair to any backyard.”
47. Use ornamental grasses
“Ornamental grasses work beautifully when encircling a small patio area because they provide a cozy emotional feeling of embrace, while at the same time maintaining sight lines above and through the blowing greenery,” Purple Cherry says. “Grasses can also bring a variety of colors to a tight space—beautiful tans, creams, greens, purples, and reds—without taking up too much space.” Todd Stewart, president and cochairman of Sam the Concrete Man, loves the movement of ornamental grasses which makes a patio feel like it’s nestled in the yard. Stewart recommends maximizing space by designing where the furniture will go before the patio is installed. “Keep it simple, since too much furniture will create a cramped space,” he says. This strategy will help you choose the best landscaping arrangements too.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest