16 Ways to Get More From Your Small Backyard, Via Houzz.com
Make a tight or awkward yard a real destination with these design tricks from the pros
2. Implement a smart lighting design. This space also has a multifaceted lighting scheme. Sconces serve multiple purposes of task lighting by the grill, landscaping lighting by the plantings and overall ambient lighting. Meanwhile, an arm pendant hangs over the dining area.
Here an outdoor rug helps establish an extra living space on a small deck in Detroit.
4. Complement your interiors. Use the same colors and style that you’ve already established inside your home for your backyard to make it feel more like its own living room. “Stylistically, you want to pick up on colors and textures that tie the two spaces together,” says Amber Freda, a landscape architect in New York. “Make it more than just a couple of chairs and a dining table. A plain dining table with wooden chairs won’t entice you to use it very much, but really comfortable lounge seating will.”
6. Pay attention to scale. If you’ve got a small backyard, the last thing you want to do is cram in a 10-person dining table. Instead, consider built-ins or extendable tables. Likewise, you won’t want to plant a tree that’s going to grow to 100 feet tall and completely overtake your yard. Here Radford smartly worked in small, native plants and grasses to keep an open feel.
Radford goes even further, suggesting using the same material that’s found elsewhere on the property. For one of his backyard projects, he used the same paving material as in the front entryway. “It created a unified space that made it seem bigger,” he says.
Freda agrees: “Avoid the hodgepodge effect,” she says. “Instead of doing 20 little pots, do five big pots for a more clean look with bigger impact. Pick only two or three styles of planters, two or three colors — it makes it feel less accidental, chaotic and overwhelming.”
To get the most out of this 25-foot by 20-foot Toronto backyard, architect Erik Calhouncreated raised decks over a large tree’s very high roots. He skipped big plants in favor of creating more recreation space. “Hedges or bushes would stick out 3 feet, and you wouldn’t be able to move anymore,” he says.
Pergolas are great for creating an intimate feel, but you can get the same effect with plantings. Architect Gary Beyerl’s backyard (shown here) is 10 feet by 20 feet. Because he has apartment units attached to his home, he wanted to do something that would afford him privacy. He used vertical plantings like humongous trumpet vines and aredbud tree to create an envelope of plant material. “By extending the plant zone up the vertical surfaces of an urban space, you can make a lot of visual greenery work to your advantage,” he says. “I’ve got a verdant environment even though it’s tiny.”
Native succulents and grasses minimize water use, but you should also consider artificial turf. “It maintains color and character better than a natural yard,” Beyerl says. San Francisco designer Martha Angus used artificial turf in the backyard space shown here; she also recommends faux boxwood. “A boxwood hedge might be 18 to 24 inches deep,” she says. “That takes up a lot of space. Faux boxwood comes in squares that are 3 inches deep that you can staple to a fence. They’re absolutely gorgeous, don’t require water and take up no room whatsoever.”
13. Terrace a sloping yard. Angus’ project here highlights another good method of increasing a tight backyard space. If you’ve got a severely sloping yard, consider terracing. Granted, terracing can be incredibly expensive, says Angus, because an extensive substructure must be created to support the terraces, but, as you can see, it provides more flat surface for activities.
Art and sculpture are good candidates, too. “A single sculpture with uplighting can be phenomenal,” Angus says.
Calhoun suggests going with an architect who can best come up with the right approach for your unique space. Is there a lot of sun? Rain? Wind? “You want someone who has a whole philosophy,” he says. A landscaper who specializes in country-style gardens could come in and do the usual, and it might be lovely, he says, “but it won’t be as satisfying as something that reflects what’s going on with the building. Call an architect instead of calling the nursery.”
Beyerl suggests bringing in a team of pros to get the job done. “Room making is an architect’s profession,” he says. “Then a carpenter can complete all the design finesse. And a landscape designer will understand how the plantings will work over time.”