10 easy ways to help transform your outdoor space

Make your outdoor space feel bigger by improving its connections to both indoor areas and the wider environment

When your garden is small or simply consists of a balcony, deck or courtyard, increasing its sense of space even a little can make a huge difference. With a few clever touches you can turn these areas into outdoor rooms, essentially extending your interior space, or alternatively, create a lush green oasis that brings more of the outdoors in. After taking a look at what some of the best designers do to maximise the potential of outdoor spaces, we’ve put together these 10 great ideas for you.

1. Inside or outside?

Decide first whether you want your garden, courtyard or balcony to connect with the inside of your home, or to its wider outdoor environment. If your neighbours have some established trees, use climbers or lush pot plants to disguise your boundary structures and make it feel as if your garden merges with theirs, and therefore feels larger. If yours is a balcony with an urban outlook, you might go for a clean, no-frills aesthetic so the two are in harmony. Or you might prefer to create a warm, cosy retreat from the world with an outdoor fireplace, candles and comfy sofas.
If you’re more keen on extending your indoor space outwards, link the colours of cushions or chair fabrics to those used in the interior. Blur the lines between indoors and out by placing pot plants inside and soft furnishings outside.

2. Less is more

Don’t assume you’ll have to forgo your favourite garden elements because you have a small outdoor space – simply scale down your perceptions a little. If you love trees, think about planting a dwarf k-owhai or magnolia in a large pot, or one of the many other small trees and shrubs suitable for growing in containers. Likewise with water features – bubbling urns, tiny fountains and miniature fish ponds can all be easily accommodated by even the most diminutive of decks and courtyards. Ask for advice at your local water feature specialist.

3. Grow out

Growing food in even the smallest of outdoor spaces can make it feel larger and more generous. You don’t need a lot of space for a kitchen garden, particularly if you follow the square-metre principle advocated by Lolo Houbein, author of Outside the Magic Square (Wakefield Press). Most dwarf fruit trees are happy in large pots if they are fed and watered properly. Or mix edible plants such as herbs, coloured beets, artichokes and peppers with ornamentals. Save room by training plants such as beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes up vertical supports or along espaliered wires.

4. For all seasons

If you want to enjoy your outdoor space all year round, choose plants that will create interest in autumn and winter, not just spring and summer. Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and daphne produce a delicious scent during winter, while the gold and red leaves of Japanese maples are pure joy in autumn. Citrus trees look lovely all year round, with the bonus of scented flowers in spring and colourful fruit in winter. Just remember to limit the number of different plants you use in tiny areas, otherwise you can end up with a messy jumble.

5. Devil in the details

Everything comes under scrutiny in a tiny space, so pay attention to the details. Make sure potted plants are healthy and weed free, outdoor furniture is not rusty or broken and the water in your miniature pond is sparkling clean. For a room-like vibe, add outdoor rugs, artworks or even chandeliers to create plenty of interest.

6. Lighten up

Make your balcony or deck look as attractive at eight o’clock in the evening as it does at eight in the morning with well-placed lighting. As well as functional lighting for steps, seating areas and outdoor cooking, consider lighting special features such as the branches of a beautiful tree, a fountain or an interesting wall surface. Go for that Danish ‘hygge’ feel with lots of candles or go really festive with fairy lights.

7. Soothing sounds

Nothing enhances the atmosphere of a room, inside or out, more than music. For that final touch to your outdoor room consider installing outdoor speakers or buying a portable bluetooth speaker. Playing the same music inside and out will enhance that feeling of connection between the spaces and make your home feel more expansive.

Save Cloud corner seat, $749, from Target.
Splurge Petra outdoor modular corner sofa, $1895, from Poynters.

8. Flexi time

When spaces and budgets are tight, choose folding furniture or pieces that can be used inside and out. You may be able to add wheels to outdoor dining and coffee tables so they can be wheeled in and out as you desire, and there are plenty of outdoor dining chairs that look just grand inside, too. Select cushions and throws that you can also take outside on chilly nights.

9. Private lives

For an outdoor space to feel like a room, you must create a sense of privacy. For this you need some form of wall structure on at least two sides so occupants feel enclosed. Walls don’t have to be solid, it’s the perception that counts. Trellis screens planted with a climber, bamboo panels or even a hedge would work. If the space is overlooked from above, some form of overhead shelter such as a pergola or shade sail is important. On high roof gardens or exposed balconies, the wind needs to be taken into consideration when choosing materials.

10. Work the room

Make every element in your outdoor space work hard for its position by giving everything multiple functions. Many structural features can double up as places for planting, lighting, ornament or even storage. Fix trellis or wires to walls, fences and columns for climbers. Consider one of the many vertical garden options to enliven a blank wall. Fix shelves to walls to display attractive objects and candles. Create storage inside seating, under decks and inside walls, and pop a cushion onto any spare surface for extra guests.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Bauer Syndication.

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