With rising real estate prices across the country, many homeowners are opting to create private oases in their own backyards instead of purchasing a second home, cottage or chalet. Have you ever stepped out onto your patio or apartment balcony and felt like you were living in a fishbowl? As neighborhoods get denser and lot sizes get smaller, privacy is becoming more of a premium. And it’s not just prying eyes that you have to worry about. Noise pollution from nearby highways, screaming children and loud neighbors can ruin an otherwise perfect staycation. So how do we take back our privacy and make the most of our urban backyards and condo balconies? We turned to HGTV’s home and garden expert Carson Arthur for seven of his top tips.
1. Add privacy closer to your home
When considering backyard privacy, most homeowners think of installing a fence and planting some trees along their property line. Unfortunately, this won’t help much if your neighbors live in two-story abodes and you spend most of your time on the deck that’s attached to your house.
“The further away your privacy device is from you, the less privacy you’re actually going to get,” says Arthur. “I always tell people to sit on their deck, balcony or patio and see who’s looking at you. These are the areas and line-of-sights that you want to distract from.”
2. Use man-made structures to provide instant privacy
Building a pergola around your patio, outdoor kitchen or deck is a great way to add privacy where you need it most. Enclosures can include wooden trellises and pergolas that can be accessorized with shade cloths and climbing vines to further increase privacy.
“When building a pergola, arbor or trellis, I recommend using a pre-treated wood like MicroPro Sienna lumber which lasts longer and weathers very well,” suggests Arthur. “With an overhead structure like that, you don’t want to have to climb on a ladder every spring to re-treat and re-stain the wood.”
Photo: James Bombales, design by Lisa Canning
3. Create interesting visual cues and focal points to distract the eye
Adding decorative elements like privacy screens, arbors and lattice panels to your backyard not only enhances its appeal, but adds visual cues and focal points that the eye will gravitate towards.
“What happens is you can still see your neighbors, but your eyes are visually distracted by these structures, and they give them something to focus on before you look through and see what’s behind them,” says Arthur. “They may not provide complete privacy but they give a feeling of enclosure without actually physically enclosing the space.”
4. Use fabric panels and curtains to soften your outdoor space while adding shade and privacy
“Whether you want to add shade to your yard or create a barrier from the neighbors looking into your space from above, fabric panels and curtains are an easy way to get instant privacy without worrying about planting trees and growing shrubs,” says Arthur. “Weaving curtains through pergolas or installing fabric shade sails add coziness and privacy to hot tubs, outdoor spas and even swimming pools.”
Photo: James Bombales
5. Design your landscaping around your deck or patio
Planting trees, hedges and shrubs is a classic way to add privacy and landscaping to your backyard. But instead of planting them at the other end of your yard close to your neighbor, consider mixing them in with the landscaping around your patio or deck to create a living fence.
“Small trees like serviceberries or redbuds look great and add color to your landscaping,” says Arthur. “You can plant them closer to where you actually need it to really take advantage of all the privacy, but they’re also small enough so that they don’t dominate your space.”
Photo: James Bombales, design by Jackie Morra
6. Include elements of sound to reduce noise from neighbors and traffic
When it comes to noise pollution, the same rule of thumb applies: Putting an element between you and what you’re trying to distract from is going to allow your senses to focus on that element as opposed to what’s behind it.
“The soft sounds of water trickling or chimes blowing in the wind is enough for your ears to focus on and drown out the sound of neighbors or traffic,” explains Arthur. “And it doesn’t have to be a big pond. Something as simple as a hanging wall fountain or a self-contained unit would work well for a small patio or balcony.”
Photo: MicroPro Sienna
7. Layer your space with plants and accessories
“You can actually create better privacy by doing a few different elements all together versus just one,” says Arthur. “If you have a condo balcony with a glass partition, try adding a few plants in front of it with a bit of height — it could be something as simple as a $10 palm tree from the grocery store. And then you can layer it further with something like a decorative panel, table or a cozy deck chair.”