Photo: James Bombales, design by Kate + Co. Design Inc.
Sure, you can string up bistro lights or replace sun-faded outdoor cushions, but if you really want to overhaul your outdoor space, you’ve got to think big — even if you’ve only got 400 square feet to work with. We can’t promise these projects will be cheap or easy, but the payoff is well worth the investment. Here are 8 ways to design a small patio with big visual impact.
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1. A modern pergola lends an outdoor living space some edge.
Traditional cedar pergolas are a bore. This season, it’s all about clean lined structures. Big-box stores like The Home Depot and Target have started selling modern pergola designs, typically made of powder-coated steel. If you’re handy, you could always purchase building plans on Etsy or scour DIY blogs for freebies.
2. A multi-level patio divides your space into well-defined zones.
If your patio is looking, well, a little flat, consider installing multiple levels. Build a raised area to serve as an alfresco dining space, or dig down to create a 60s-inspired conversation pit. Adding multiple levels separates your patio into outdoor “rooms” that each serve a purpose.
3. A sculptural fire pit keeps your guests cozy and encourages conversation.
Summer days can be scorching, but when the sun goes down the temperature dips significantly. To prevent your patio party from ending early, purchase a propane or wood-burning fire pit. There are numerous styles and sizes to choose — online retailers like Wayfair sell models priced from just $45.
4. A plunge pool has a small footprint and requires less upkeep.
An in-ground plunge pool requires less time and money to maintain than a regular-sized pool. It’ll keep you feeling refreshed all summer long and won’t take up too much real estate in your backyard. While you can’t swim laps in a plunge pool, you can use it to aquacize or soothe sore muscles and joints.
5. A privacy screen separates you from your neighbors and adds interest to your outdoor space.
If you’re dealing with nosy neighbors or want to add shade to your outdoor living space, a privacy screen is a must. Instead of installing wood slats horizontally, why not hang them vertically or in a chevron pattern? If you’re looking to incorporate color and pattern, breeze block is a fantastic (and totally retro) option.
6. A space-saving vertical garden livens up a big blank wall.
Indoors, decorating a blank wall is no big deal — design a gallery wall, hang an oversized piece of art or group together collectibles. But outside, your options are limited (is it just me or is all outdoor wall art extremely cheesy?). Installing a vertical garden not only greens up your outdoor living space, it’s an opportunity to cultivate fresh herbs, vegetables or colorful blooms.
7. A built-in seating area offers storage and plenty of room for guests to spread out.
Building your own patio furniture might seem like a sizable investment, but it might actually save you money in the long run. Built-in benches with hidden storage are great for entertaining large groups in a small space. You won’t have to worry about mildew stains or keeping up with the latest outdoor furniture trends — just add some throw pillows and you’re good to go.
8. A water feature adds instant ambiance and drowns out street noise.
If you live along a busy road, the sound of bubbling water will be a welcome respite from the cars whizzing by. Whether you choose a freestanding water feature or an in-ground pond, it’s a great way to add natural beauty and attract wildlife to your backyard. Be sure to integrate LED lighting to brighten up your outdoor space in the evening.