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Small Patio Ideas: Decorating a Small Patio with Style

Tips & Tricks for Making the Most of Your Outdoor Space

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Small Patio Ideas: Decorating a Small Patio with Style
Photo © Frank Gaglione/Getty

Due to rising building and land costs, along with the advent of modern conveniences such as air-conditioning, large wrap-around porches and flowing lawns like our grandparents had have fallen by the wayside. Many homeowners or renters find themselves with only a small balcony, porch or patio as a means to enjoy their great outdoors.

However, decorating a small patio or balcony area can be even more fun than dealing with a huge porch. A smaller space is much more intimate for gatherings or private reflection, and can be much more inexpensive to furnish and decorate than a large space.

Whether you are hoping to use your small patio for entertaining or are yearning for a private place to unwind, these small patio ideas can help you make the most of your small space.

Define the purpose of your space.
Would you prefer more of a private retreat, or do you wish to use your small patio for entertaining? Will you be lounging or eating at a table? Do you need room for the kids to play? Choose one use, or two at the max. In small spaces, it is very important that you limit the purpose of your space to the essentials.

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

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

Look for furnishings that tend to “disappear.” For example, acrylic or glass tables and thin-line metal chairs allow the eye to see through them and decrease their visual weight in a space, making them perfect for small patios.

Bear in mind the traffic flow of your small patio. Be careful to not block entrance and exit points. On open patios without a lot of landscaping or walls, furniture and decor can also be used to define the traffic flow in and around your patio.

Know thy plants.
Container gardens make excellent accents for small patios or balconies, and landscaping around your patio is a great way to enhance privacy and/or shade. But know your plants – or find a good nursery that does – before adding them to your small patio. A pretty little trailing plant may look cute in the store, but it may also take over your small space like kudzu.

Choose landscaping and plants that will add color, texture and/or height, not bulk, to your small patio. You don’t want plants taking up all of your valuable (and limited) outdoor living space.

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

When adding decor, less is more.
Small patios don’t necessarily need a lot of small decor. For example, one large urn has more impact than several small vases, which can look cluttered.

Diffused, natural light and light colors tend to open up a space and make a small space feel larger. If your patio is extremely shady, consider adding uplighting, string lights or other electrical lighting. Stick with light colors or neutrals in furnishings, and use darker colors as accents.

Prints can work well in small spaces, 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 2:1 - two small-scaled patterns or textures with one sparsely used bold pattern to add interest and pop.

Though the appearance of your small patio is extremely important, don’t forget the power of sound. A small water feature or wind chimes can enhance your small patio and mask unappealing background noises.

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