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Make the most of a small outdoor area

From the Resene decorating blog

How do you get the most from your outdoor area if it’s less of a sweeping compound and more of a compact courtyard?

A lofty, shaded pergola over a sprawling deck complete with large BBQ area, overlooking a vast lawn and an abundant vege garden. Lovely if you have the space. But how do you get the most from your outdoor area if it’s less of a sweeping compound and more of a compact courtyard?

A small painted patio

If your patio is small, taking the same paint effect across all the major surfaces – the wall, patio surface and planters – can help make the space feel bigger than if each of these surfaces were broken up by a different colour.

Wall, floor and planter box painted in Resene Half Tapa with weathered concrete effect in Resene FX Paint Effects Medium mixed with Resene Half Atmosphere and round plinth table in Resene Half Blanc. Umbrella, umbrella stand, outdoor rug and mirror from Briscoes, grasses and garden lights from Mitre 10, chair, bottle and glasses from 10 Curated, outdoor floor cushions from Freedom, outdoor speaker from Allium, faux plant from Adairs, watering can and black lantern from H&M Home, shoes from Gathered & Co, sunglasses from Cotton On. Project by Melle van Sambeek, image by Bryce Carleton.

A small and fun outdoor area

Fresh foliage, inexpensive furniture and a lick of paint makes this small outdoor area fresh, fun and functional.

This simple setting even includes a car tyre recycled as an ottoman and painted in Resene Double Pravda. Walls painted in Resene Half Villa White, side table in Resene Double Pravda, tray in Resene Peace, vase and small pot in Resene Bi Hoki and larger plant pot in Resene Kandinsky. Chair from Johnston Imports, cushion (with painted plus in Resene Kandinsky) from The Warehouse. Project by Laura Lynn Johnston, image by Bryce Carleton.

The trick is to make every bit of space count, and approach your small patio, balcony or lawn the same way you might approach a small room or even a tiny house. Constraint breeds creativity! Here’s a few ideas to get you started.

Start at the end

Like you would with an interior space, when planning how to make best use of your outdoors it’s a good idea to think about its primary use, and base your plan on that.

As a small outdoor space you might need it to fulfil multiple roles – as a garden, an entertaining area and a storage area but identify the one that is most important to you, and make everything else work around that. If you try to make your small space meet all your needs all the time, it’s going to end up a bit cluttered and disorganised.

On the other hand if you decide your patio or small backyard is primarily going to be a vege garden, then get your veggie garden sorted first, and figure out how to work the rest into that design.

Another helpful approach is to think about your outdoor area as a room, and design accordingly. Choose a key feature – maybe a great table or planter, and build the space out from there, looking for ways for different elements to be multi-functional so every bit of space is useful.

A small outdoor dining area

Commit your small outdoor space to a main use, such as this one where it’s all about entertaining. Back wall painted in Resene Triple White Pointer, side wall in Resene Half Friar Greystone with Resene FX Paint Effects Medium mixed with Resene Quarter Friar Greystone applied with a large brush to create a marble effect, rear screen stained in Resene Whitewash, wood pallet bar in Resene Ironsand with a wood top in Resene Friar Greystone, large tree pot in Resene All Black, smaller pot in Resene Tapa, tealight holder in Resene Biscotti, lantern in Resene Ironsand, small footed planter in Resene All Black and small vase in Resene Tapa. Sofa from Early Settler, grey checked wool blanket from The Warehouse, grey checked cushions (made by stylist using wool blanket) from The Warehouse, black cushion cover from H&M Home, fur cushion from Adairs. Project by Vanessa Nouwens, image by Wendy Fenwick.

Fun with furniture

Built-in furniture, just as benches and tables can save you floor space in your outdoor area. It also means you can customise it to the size and shape that suits your space.

A long bench seat, built against your house, or a fence can also double as a storage unit, if you build out the base, add a hinged lid as the seat, and top with all-weather covered cushions. A fold-down table, similar to those you might find in a caravan, is another practical addition.

To maintain the illusion of space, paint or stain any built-in furniture either the same shade as your house, or the fence it’s against. Alternatively blend your colour scheme into the surrounding natural environment so it all comes together into a cohesive, calming space. Add bursts of brighter contrast with a mix of potted flowers, as well as cushions and throws.

The other furniture trick you could try on hard patio or decking surfaces is storage boxes on wheels, that do double duty as storage units as well as seating you can shift into the right shady or sheltered nook, when you need to. Just take care not to make them too heavy, and keep in mind they’re not going to roll too well on soft lawn.

If you want your space to have more of a garden focus, you could add wider wrap-around edges to raised beds for casual seating, or add a couple of pavers through the middle of your garden to a small round table or park bench.

A fresh green outdoor area

A fresh approach to decorating and seating have made this a unique and appealing outdoor retreat area.

Upper wall painted in Resene Eagle, lower wall in Resene Waiouru, planters in Resene Cut Glass, round rattan tops of cushion seats in Resene Eagle and paper lantern bottoms painted in Resene Sweet Corn. Pouf from Nood, rug from The Ivy House, paper lanterns from Trade Aid, teapot from Everyday Needs, artwork by Rakai Karaitiana from endemicworld, mugs and Wabi Sabi book from An Astute Assembly. Project by Kate Alexander, image by Bryce Carleton.

An outdoor dining area - warm tropical tones

Warm tropical tones lend a bold theme to this compact dining area.

Rear wall painted in Resene Rumour Has It, dining table in Resene Sambuca with stools painted in Resene Aloha (back), Resene Malarkey (right) and Resene Celebrate (left and front), basket platter in Resene Ruby Tuesday, food cover in Resene Celebrate and deck stained in Resene Waterborne Woodsman Banjul. Project by Claudia Kozub, image by Wendy Fenwick.

Don’t be too orderly

The temptation with a small outdoor area is to have areas that are very clearly defined, but actually a bit of overlap here and there will help the space seem bigger.

Add things like leafy shrubs, and wooden slatted or fabric screens to help break up the view of your space with softer edges and blurred lines. Pavers or paths (even if they’re only short), lined with fairy lights that disappear behind a screen or tree, all hint at extra space and unexplored garden zones.

Anything that means you don’t see the whole space in one glimpse, helps create the illusion of more space, and hidden garden treasures.

Make good use of colour

Not every approach in designing a fun and functional small outdoor space needs to be about making it seem bigger. Embrace the small size and go for high impact instead with a bold use of colours on your surfaces, but also in garden art, furnishings, and lights.

Just as you might when decorating a small room, come up with a theme for your outdoor space and choose your colours to suit. Maybe it’s beachy style with a soft white like Resene Half Sea Fog, with muted grey blue Resene Dusted Blue and moody Resene Atomic. Opt for parched sunset tones with Resene Bitter, Resene Sunbaked and Resene Sisal or go modern monochrome with Resene Double Alabaster, Resene Black and a dramatic pop of crimson with Resene Cardinal.

Fearless fencing

Fencing is an important feature in small gardens, particularly in intensive urban areas. Not only does a fence lend you some privacy, but it can also be an important, eye-catching design feature in a small garden.

Go for thinner slats for a fence that feel less dominant, particularly if plantings and light can peek through. If you want light, air and greenery through your fence but don’t want to compromise on privacy, go for horizontal slats that are slightly angled, like a louvre. Think about the height of your fence as well. A tall fence that surrounds your garden can make your garden feel too closed in.

Choose your fence colour based on whether you want it to stand out as a dramatic feature, or recede into the background so the edges of your garden are less visibly defined. A wooden fence of narrow horizontal slats in a paler stain such as Resene Woodsman Natural will give you a contemporary architectural talking point. A fence stained in a deeper, shadowy shade like Resene Woodsman Pitch Black or painted in Resene Forest Green will start to blend into the background.

Other top tips to create small outdoor spaces with big impact include:

Remember, don't try to fit too much in. Choose one or two things to showcase in your small space and do them really well. In a small outdoor space, less really is more.

Resene Quarter Friar Greystone

Resene Half Friar Greystone

Resene Friar Greystone

Resene Peace

Resene Sunbaked

Resene Bi Hoki

November 23, 2021

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