Have a Tiny Outdoor Space and a Budget to Match? Follow These Rules.

Any outdoor space in the city, no matter how small, is a precious thing.

“In New York City, if you’re fortunate enough to actually have a terrace or a patio, you’re one of the lucky few,” said Keita Turner, an interior designer based in Manhattan. “Anytime you have something like that, it should be an extension of your home.”

In other words, you owe it to yourself to make the most of it — even if it’s tiny, awkwardly shaped or hemmed in by other buildings.

“We actually prefer smaller, more intimate spaces,” said Kat Bell, who runs the Los Angeles-based firm Argyle Design with her husband, James Drew. “With massive backyards, we end up creating these intimate moments anyway, because it’s nice when there are different destinations within the backyard.”

Here’s how she and other designers make the smallest outdoor spaces sing.

If you hope to equip a tiny space for cooking, dining, sunbathing, games and reading, it’s unlikely that it will do any one of those things very well.

“When you have a small space, don’t try to do too much,” said Jarema Osofsky, a partner at the landscape design firm Dirt Queen NYC. “Focus on how you want to actually use the space, and really commit to that.”

Just make sure your decision reflects an honest assessment of how you live, said Amy Kalikow, an interior designer in New York. “I’ve designed outdoor terraces where the clients are like, ‘We just want a lounge because we just want to hang out,’” she said. The result: an outdoor living room.

“But I’ve done others,” she added, “where they say, ‘We want to eat outside.’” In that case, she creates an outdoor dining room.

Based on how you plan to use the space, choose just enough furniture. If you want a sofa or daybed for lounging, go ahead and get one. But consider skipping the additional lounge chairs and chaise longues.

When Dirt Queen NYC was planning a compact terrace in the East Village, for instance, the designers installed a single daybed. “The clients just wanted an area where they could nap,” Ms. Osofsky explained, and they needed enough open space to entertain friends.

For outdoor dining, avoid the temptation of using a large dining set if you’re likely to have only a handful of dinner parties on special occasions. A compact dining table with four chairs will usually suffice, Ms. Bell said.

If you envision having breakfast on the terrace with one other person, Mr. Drew added, go smaller still: maybe a bistro table with two chairs.

Adding containers with plants is a great way to soften the appearance of landlocked terraces, patios and balconies. But there’s an art to deploying them to maximum effect.

Instead of scattering a few pots around the space, try building up the greenery using various sizes of pots, plants and stands — essentially creating green walls.

“You want to layer the plants,” said Leigh Jendrusina, the owner of Salthouse Collective, a design firm in Carlsbad, Calif. “So you might do one large plant with smaller plants in two different sizes of pots next to a chair or a little sofa.”

A tree in a large pot instantly adds a sense of verticality, while long, rectangular containers can be filled with towering plants like bamboo, creating a screen of greenery that provides privacy in a dense urban setting. Climbing plants can also be used to cover adjacent exterior walls.

But even with smaller pots, it’s possible to create a sense of verticality, said Ms. Turner, who has used makeshift pedestals — upside-down pots, tables, a child’s wagon — to elevate greenery to eye level.

When you’re choosing containers, don’t buy only one type. Use various kinds that look good together — white pots in different styles, say, or containers in complementary colors and materials — for a relaxed appearance that doesn’t feel as if it was pulled straight from a catalog.

“I like to mix up textures, colors and patterns,” Ms. Jendrusina said, “but in a color palette or a style that flows together.”

Then add eye-catching accessories, as you might if you were styling a coffee table or a sofa.

Argyle Design has used a cornucopia-shaped vase stuffed with flowers and a wood bowl filled with sand, rocks and a miniature tree to adorn tables. Ms. Turner has mounted a patterned outdoor rug as wall decoration. And the designers at Dirt Queen NYC use brightly patterned pillows and throws on furniture.

One advantage of having a small outdoor space is that it doesn’t take much to light it for nighttime use.

“We keep it simple with string lights,” Ms. Osofsky said. “They add a nice romantic glow,” and simply plug into an outdoor outlet. She also likes battery-powered lanterns that can be moved wherever they’re needed. Both are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, but go a long way toward creating the right mood.

Don’t forget that you can enjoy your outdoor space from indoors, too. Having a view to a balcony, terrace or patio can visually expand your indoor space and make it feel as if you live in a garden.

For a home in Red Hook, Brooklyn, with a patio slider that opened the living room to a terrace, Argyle Design added potted plants on either side of the glass. An organically shaped sofa upholstered in a green fabric just inside the door also helped to connect the spaces visually.

“We were very much looking at it as, ‘How do we frame this area outside?’” Mr. Drew said.

An outdoor space won’t feel relaxing if you’re constantly worrying about it. So consider how much maintenance you’re willing to do before you buy furniture and accessories.

Even cushions made with outdoor fabric require covers or storage to look their best over time, so if you know you’re not going to remember to take care of them, consider choosing furniture made from hard materials like wood or powder-coated metal.

Nothing should be too precious. For a balcony in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Ms. Turner bought inexpensive, hard-wearing artificial turf from Wayfair to soften the concrete floor. “We wanted to bring in a burst of color and a sense of greenery,” she said. “It can stand up to all weather conditions,” and it doesn’t require scrubbing like a regular outdoor rug does.

Then she added retro-looking, powder-coated metal armchairs that cost less than $200 each. That way, the owner can enjoy them for a while, but it’s not the end of the world if she eventually needs to replace them or leave them behind when she moves.

Even if you have a tiny space and a budget to match, Ms. Turner said, “you can create a place that is an extension of your personality and brings you happiness and joy.”

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