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From porches to tiny yards, balconies to rooftop terraces, access to the great outdoors is an important part of summertime living. Many of us depend on these outdoor spaces to extend our indoor living space — a place to take sun or read in the shade, connect with nature or do some grilling.
Over the years, I have lived in many places that have had small outdoor spaces (and I still do), so I’ve learned a few design tricks along the way. Here are my design lessons that will make any small space more functional and attractive for the summer — it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.
The first task when presented with any small space (inside or out), is to figure out its primary use: How are you going to use the space on a daily basis? Will your tiny outdoor getaway be used for dining in the evenings after sunset, taking sun and reading in the mornings, or perhaps working in the afternoon shade? Knowing how you’ll use the space will help you create a plan for furnishing and decorating.
Then think about layouts. If your space is long and narrow (like the classic apartment balcony), divide it into sections so everything isn’t stretched in a line as if it’s a hallway. I like to use the two-thirds/one-third rule: Use 2/3 for your primary use and the remaining 1/3 for storage or gardening. If your space is a square, then it’s best to furnish it for one use; create a focal point in the middle and arrange other furnishings around it (see below for more tips on this).
Lesson 2: Furniture
One of the biggest mistakes people make when furnishing small outdoor spaces is choosing the wrong shape of furnishing, and most crucially, opting for a piece that’s too large for their space. If you’re only intending on using a small balcony or terrace for reading on your own, then, of course, choose a large comfortable lounge chair and ottoman with a small side table (the comfy matching ottoman can always double as a sitting perch when a friend visits).
If you want to entertain and serve meals on a long narrow balcony, do not choose a round table — they impose on the space, interrupt flow, and are difficult to tuck away when not in use. Consider two long, outdoor console tables that can each be pushed up against the walls to conserve space or butted together side-by-side to make a wider dining table when you have guests. Two padded armchairs will be great at each end (and comfortable when not used for dining). Some stylish stacking chairs are a space-savvy way to accommodate people for dinner parties.
Stash storage shelving or benches at the ends of a long narrow space where they won’t consume precious width. In square shaped spaces, create a focal point in the center with something grand. Opting for a beautiful fountain, cozy fire pit or stylish dining table would each be ideal depending on how you use the space; then position large comfortable lounge chairs in each corner to create the feeling of a large room.
Lesson 3: Accessorize
Will your outdoor space require flooring, such as an outdoor carpet to cover unsightly concrete or old decking, or faux green grass for a lush look? Something soft underfoot adds comfort and colour. How about lighting? Will you hang a light fixture over your eating table in order to ground it, add sidelights on the outer edges of your space (shining up into greenery) for a dramatic look at night?
Items like outdoor lanterns that add a soft glow, pillows and throws for comfort and a little warmth on cool nights, and small side tables that can hold a glass of wine, a small plant or hurricane candle are all helpful and attractive ways to help set the mood. Colors in outdoor spaces should be simple.
I have two rules. First, the larger pieces of furniture should blend with the surroundings (stonework, wood or greenery). Second, the accessories should be various shades of one colour; for instance, pale to deep blues for a nautical feel, various shades of green for a lush garden effect, or bright, funky colors like orange and pink for a fun, casual environment. And that’s it. Your patch of paradise is complete!
Want to decorate and need advice? Follow and contact Karl on Instagram at Karl Lohnes.
To read more design columns by Karl Lohnes, click here:
Karl Lohnes: Modern trends to spruce up your outdoor space