Whether you have an apartment in the city with a balcony or terrace or in the suburbs, an outdoor space is practically a requirement. With a little planning and effort, you can turn a passable outdoor space into your own secret garden and relaxing escape.
Figure out your seating first: Determine where it will go and measure the space before you shop.
Look out at the space from inside your home, too. What can you see from the living room? An outdoor sofa with thick cushions may look great when youâ€™re enjoying the outdoors, but if you have to cover it for the winter, you may face an eyesore for much of the year. If thatâ€™s a concern, consider furniture with no cushions or small ones that can be easily stored.
Keep outdoor seating minimal so you have space to move around â€” you can always supplement it with folding chairs. If you have a grill, leave enough room for staging and food preparation. And make sure the grill is not too close to your home.
Choose a shady spot for seating. But if your only option is to have your seating area beneath the blazing sun, install a shade sail, a retractable awning or a large umbrella. Or, step it up and build a pergola, letting vines grow over it to create a natural canopy.
Select the Right Furniture Materials
All outdoor furniture requires some amount of maintenance. It needs to be cleaned, and some materials need to be treated to protect them from the elements. Before you shop, decide how much upkeep you can manage. Wood furniture, for example, lasts years, but it must be oiled every year to keep it from graying. Furniture with weather-treated fabric cushions and pillows will need to be cleaned and stored at the end of the season. Decide how you will store the bulky cushions before you buy them. Looking for a lower-maintenance alternative? Powder-coated steel seating is durable and sturdy.
Think of your environment, too. Aluminum seating is often light, affordable and easy to move around, but it can also fly off a balcony or roof deck in a strong wind. So youâ€™ll need something heavier for higher altitudes.
Build Your Backdrop
If your outdoor space allows it, make a privacy screen with foliage, using evergreens like arborvitae to create a green wall. Turn a brick balcony wall into a green one with a trellis wrapped with climbing ivy, Virginia creeper or clematis. Use tall potted plants or a freestanding trellis as a screen to separate areas within your outdoor space. Think of your evergreens â€” boxwoods, juniper or holly â€” as the bones of your landscaping, the plants that will stay green throughout the year and serve as the base of your spring and summer palette.
Unless you donâ€™t ever plan to step outside after dark, you need some lighting in the space. Choose fixtures with low-wattage LED bulbs to create a romantic mood, and keep your neighbors happy, particularly if they are only one apartment wall away. Look for rechargeable or solar lights, and mix the fixtures up to light different areas at different angles. Some ideas:
- A string of lights hung from a pergola or balcony rail can create a festive atmosphere.Â
- Uplighting tucked into a potted plant or the base of a tree can add drama.Â
- Standing lamps and portable table lamps can warm up an area.Â
Bluetooth technology has made it simple to bring music outside. Look for a portable speaker that is water resistant. Donâ€™t want to carry a speaker with you? Buy a planter speaker, which is a flower pot with a built-in Bluetooth speaker. If you have a built-in stereo system inside your home, ask your installer to put a speaker outside. Running water can lend a soothing, trickling ambiance to your space, and many water features are easier to install than you might think. A bird bath is an invitation to feathered friends. And a decorative fountain can add a creative touch to a garden. If your balcony is in a noisy area, however, a water feature may compete with the sounds of sirens and horns, rather than mask them.
Extra Tips To Make Your Backyard an Escape
- Add a fire pit on a stone or gravel surface, surrounding it with low, comfortable seating to keep your parties going late into the night. Select a tabletop-style one and the space could be used for cocktail hour, too. If your space is compact, consider a small smokeless fire pit. Be sure to check local ordinances before you install a fire pit.Â
- Use heat lamps to extend your summer season into fall.Â
- Install a hammock between two trees for a quiet retreat. Or hang a seated hammock in the corner of a porch.
- Make a walking path out of mulch or stone slabs, leading to a bench or chair in your favorite spot.
- Add an outdoor rug where you’ve placed your patio furniture. This will brighten up the sitting area and adds a nice touch of color.
- Accessorize your surroundings. Add lanterns, decorative pillows, small accent tables to your outdoor area.