Designing Eye: Smart Decorating for the Small Patio

Did you grow up with a big porch, a flowing lawn, a big deck off the kitchen? It's a dream setting that not everyone, including me, was fortunate enough to have. Instead, I remember a balcony and small patio that we would go out to this time of year when the weather turned nice.
This condominium patio is only about 10 feet by 10 feet, but it appears much larger through the use of neutral colored furnishings, a stone bench, a single piece of wall decor and right-sized colorful plants. To help with the ambiance, a water feature and windchime were added.

Many homeowners and renters find themselves with only space to enjoy the great outdoors. Decorating such a space, however, can be fun and inexpensive. Here are some ideas to help you make your small outdoor space just as fine as a big one.

Consider the size and scale of your patio or balcony before you add furniture. Furnishings that are large or overstuffed can engulf a small space. Look for furnishings without arms and that have simple lines and low backs. Benches can be used along one or more sides of your patio for additional seating.

Choose furniture that can do double duty. Ottomans that also can be used for storage and cocktail tables or furnishings that can be folded, stacked and put away when not in use work well in small spaces.

Look for furnishings that tend to "disappear." Acrylic or glass tables and thin-line metal chairs allow the eye to see through them, which decreases their visual weight, making them perfect for small patios.
This small patio has a big outdoor feel with plants, light colored furnishings and a glass table top that doesn't add to the visual clutter. Debbie Noda/Modesto Bee ( Debbie Noda )
Container gardens make excellent accents for small patios or balconies, and a little landscaping around your patio is a great way to enhance privacy and shade. But know your plants -- or find a good nursery that does -- before adding them to your patio. A pretty trailing plant may look cute in the store, but it may overwhelm your space.

Choose landscaping and plants that will add color, texture and height, not bulk, to your patio.

Plants with pleasing scents are a wonderful addition to any outdoor area, but avoid plants with extremely strong aromas that can quickly overpower both the space and you.

Small patios don't necessarily need a lot of small decor. One large urn has more impact than several small vases, which can look cluttered. One nice piece of wall decor beats a bunch of small ones.

Diffused, natural light and lighter colors tend to open up a space and make it feel larger. If your patio is extremely shady, consider adding uplighting, string lights or other electrical light to brighten it up. Stick with light colors or neutrals in furnishings and use bright colors as accents in pillows, an umbrella or place mats.

Fabric prints can work well in small spaces, too, as long as they are used sparingly.
Stripes often work well on small patios because they can be used to create the illusion of height or length. When choosing patterns, stick with the ratio of 2-to-1 -- two small-scaled patterns or textures with one sparsely used bold pattern to add interest and pop.

Listen up
Although the look of your patio is important, don't forget the power of sound. A small water feature or wind chimes can enhance your patio and mask unappealing noises from a nearby street or your neighbors.
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