10 Tips: How to Style Small Outdoor Spaces from Balconies to Side Yards

Though the design world is awash with articles and resources regarding small-space decorating, styling small outdoor spaces often falls by the wayside.

While small-space outdoor decorating rarely receives the attention it deserves, many of us do indeed have tight balconies, miniature backyards and skinny side yards. Finding furniture, decor objects and storage for these cramped outdoor spaces can be incredibly difficult. Thankfully, there are a number of small-space products geared towards outdoor entertaining. These include everything from fold-down dining sets to hanging storage. Follow below for our ten tips on how to style small outdoor spaces — from balconies and side yards to patios and terraces.


Our Ten Tips for Styling Small Outdoor Spaces

#1 Swap Out Formal Seating for Cushions and Poufs in Your Outdoor Space

Howard Elliot Outdoor Patio Seascape Natural Fabric Cushion Ottoman and Seasonal Living Archipelago Nut Brown Aluminum Turku Square Crochet Pouf/Ottoman from PatioLiving

Not only can cushions and poufs be stacked and stored when not in use, but they offer a lovely addition to any design scheme and can often be used indoors as well. In her article “14 Clever Tricks to Make Your Small Backyard Live Large” for Better Homes & Gardens, Jessica Bennett writes that cozy elements like these can help “turn your yard into a personal retreat.” Bennett notes that you can further add to “the comforts of an indoor room with an arrangement of patio furniture, an outdoor rug, and accessories like pillows and decorative objects.” Choosing poufs instead of cushions will also add a fun Bohemian flair to your outdoor space that can either be kept casual and simple or updated to be a bit more elegant and sophisticated depending on textures and color palette.


#2 Think Vertically and Consider Mounted Outdoor Shelving Instead of a Stand-Alone Bar

Cane Line Outdoor Frame Aluminium Teak High Shelving System from PatioLiving

Mounted outdoor shelving and Murphy bars take pressure off the limited square footage of your small outdoor space. Fold-down bars, seating and tables allow for more walk-around space when you are by yourself and more entertainment space when you are serving guests. In her article “These 20 Balcony Ideas Prove This Often Overlooked Space Is Worth Decorating” for Apartment Therapy, Kelsey Mulvey writes that thinking vertically and “outside the box” is one of the best ways to maximize floor space and the number of activities your small outdoor space can handle. She notes that in addition to seating and bar service, “if you’re after plants, [you can] simply stack them and create a vertical garden rather than spreading planters out across the floor.”


#3 Tie Your Small Outdoor Space Together with an Outdoor Rug

Colonial Mills Crescent Linen Area Rug and Momeni Baja Navy Rectangular Area Rug from PatioLiving

In his article “Shopping for Outdoor Rugs” for The New York Times, Tim McKeough underlines the stylistic and functional significance of adding an outdoor rug to your small space. He writes that adding an outdoor rug has both practical and aesthetic purpose as it can be used to “create different zones” and make the space feel bigger. It can also “anchor a furnished lounge area as part of a larger design scheme.” Practical advantages of adding an outdoor rug include protecting feet — especially those of children — from “decks and stone patios [that] get really hot” during the summer. Perhaps best of all, writes McKeough, “a rug is the quickest fix for ugly or outdated pavers or decking.”


#4 Hang Plants and Furniture

Feruci Wicker Egg Chair with Stand and Lloyd Flanders Low Country Aluminum Porch Swing from PatioLiving

Just as you would hang pots in your kitchen, hanging plants along the fence of your backyard, over the railing of your balcony or from the built-in awning above your patio can add visual interest without taking up valuable floor space. Similarly, hanging furniture like ceiling-mounted swings and hanging hammocks provide extra seating without occupying square footage. Both classic Adirondack iterations and modern egg-shaped versions can be found online and in-stores. We love the Lloyd Flanders Low Country Aluminum Porch Swing and the Feruci Wicker Egg Chair with Stand. The latter is not technically hanging or ceiling-mounted but rather attached to a slender base, which takes up virtually no space on the ground.


#5 Add Extra Seating to Your Small Patio with Foldable Chairs and Tables

Royal Teak Collection Sailmate Navy Sling Folding Dining Arm Chair from PatioLiving

Though discomfort, hot metal and unsturdy construction might come to mind when imagining foldable outdoor furniture, folding patio furniture has come a long way since its inception. The 21Oak article “Folding patio tables can maximize your outdoor space. Here’s what to look for when you buy” notes that modern foldable furniture can “provide you with comfortable use and easy storage for when you need it.” Today, foldable chairs and tables are a great option for small outdoor spaces because they can be stacked and stored easily inside a closet or shed.

Nesting furniture is also a great option, writes Lauren Smith McDonough in her article “15 Smart Ways to Fit More Seating Into Your Small Home” for House Beautiful. She writes that stackable stools are some of the best small-space seating options one can come across. McDonough notes that stackable stools can be “used as a side table by day or three different seats by happy hour-filled nights.” She also supports adding folding chairs to your outdoor design scheme, noting that when you choose modern designs or “when you give metal chairs an adorable revamp...they're actually super chic.”


#6 Opt for a Counter and Stools Instead of a Dining Set

Lloyd Flanders All Seasons Wicker Swivel Bar Stool and POLYWOOD® Contempo Recycled Plastic 29.75'' Saddle Bar Stool from PatioLiving

Turn your balcony into a counter or mount a butcher block to an adjoining wall in your backyard to create minimalist seating and dining space without taking up too much space. Bar stools are slimmer and taller than traditional chairs, making them perfect for small spaces and for counter-height seating. Furthermore, bar stools add to the escapist atmosphere many look to create in their outdoor spaces at home by evoking thoughts of travel to tropical destinations.


#7 Hang String Lights if There is No Space for a Pergola

Framing your backyard, sideyard or terrace with a pergola is one of the go-to ways in which designers make a tight space short on square footage feel expansive and homey at the same time. In his article “9 Optical Tricks that Really Make Your Small Backyard Look Bigger” for Australian Outdoor Living, Alex Kuchel writes that drawing the eye upwards instantly expands the space. Kuchel notes that “framing your garden with a larger structure” is another way to make the space seem bigger. He writes that “any big structure in your garden can be used to frame the space,” but pergolas are often most effective. However, if you do not have space for a pergola or awning to draw eyes upward, string lights will work just as well.

As Monique Valeris and Amanda Garrity write in their article “20 Easy Decor Tricks to Elevate Any Small Patio” for Good Housekeeping, you don’t have to “skimp on style because you have a petite space.” One of their recommendations for small spaces is to invest in bistro lights that add a bit of twinkle. Valeris and Garrity note that “the warm glow [of string lights] instantly turns a cramped patio into a cozy one.” To expand upon the enlarging and cozying effect of string lights, consider adding a couple mirrors to bounce the light around your balcony or backyard.


#8 Choose Seating with Built-in Storage

Lloyd Flanders Low Country Antique Black Aluminum Dining Bench from PatioLiving

In their article “20 Genius Storage Ideas for Small Spaces — Or for big spaces when you just need that extra bit of storage” for Clever, Amanda Sims and Gabriela Ulloa offer a number of space-saving solutions. In addition to recommending Murphy-style tables and bars, they also suggest opting for “furniture that can convert easily for use in another way” or which is equipped with built-in storage. Sims and Ulloa write that “nothing is more satisfying than layering storage with, you guessed it, more storage.” They recommend getting creative with seating, layering baskets underneath bench or banquette seating if it does not come with under-seat storage from the get-go. If you cannot find seating with built-in storage that you enjoy, consider purchasing a dining set with benches that can easily slide under the table and out of the way when not in use. For instance, the Lloyd Flanders Low Country Antique Black Aluminum Dining Bench would look stunning with a set of wicker or canvas baskets placed beneath its seat. It can also conveniently slip under the table when not in use.


#9 Carry Over the Theme of Your Home to Your Backyard or Balcony

Small outdoor spaces should both transport you when you step outside and continue the aesthetic of your home’s interior. Continuing an existing aesthetic is important to expanding indoor space in a way that feels natural and makes the outdoor space feel larger. Indoor-outdoor living is also incredibly popular and on-trend right now, especially as mid-century modern design continues to hold the attention of designers and homeowners across the country. In their article “Indoor outdoor living spaces: 11 clever ways to link your indoor and outdoor rooms” for Real Homes, Greg Toon and Sarah Warwick explain how to create this indoor-outdoor feel.

How to Link Indoor and Outdoor Spaces

Toon and Warwick write that “linking indoor and outdoor spaces – even if it’s only a tiny garden or terrace – can help an interior feel larger [because] with the exterior connected to the house your eye sees further and a garden-facing room appears larger.” Occupants of small spaces can achieve this enlarging effect by choosing similar flooring for both indoor and outdoor spaces — whether that flooring is an outdoor rug that resembles indoor carpeting or outdoor tiling that resembles indoor linoleum. Designing both spaces at the same time, replicating indoor lighting outdoors and including plants both within the interior of the home and throughout the exterior both help to carry the interior theme outdoors into the garden, balcony or backyard.


#10 Make Use of Your Fence or Railing

If your small backyard is encircled by a fence — whether it be wooden picket, aluminum or wrought iron — consider transforming it into extra storage, a space for hanging planters, space-saving lighting or a counter. You might choose to hang low-temperature string lights along the fence, fit hook-on or wall-mounted planters in between the fence posts or augment the fence with a makeshift counter or fold-down dining area. If your fence is tall and dark enough, it can even double as a surface upon which to project outdoor movies for summer evenings spent outdoors with family and friends. If your apartment is outfitted with a balcony — even a tiny Juliet balcony — you might hook on a few hanging rail planters with herbs or flowers. This adds a bit of extra privacy while also sprucing up and making the most of minimal outdoor space.