How to design your terrace or small garden: 4 stylish ideas
How to design the perfect small garden or terrace
In a world that is increasingly frenetic and stressful, in which technology often means we are cooped up inside staring at a screen for hours on end, many of us are discovering a newfound desire to connect with nature and enjoy the open air. Just being able to step outside, even if it is onto a tiny balcony or a handkerchief-sized garden, can have an extraordinary restorative effect on our mood and energy. And who doesn’t love a spot of al fresco dining?
If you only have a small outdoor space, what do you need to think about when it comes to designing its layout and furnishings? In this guide, we’ll take a look at what you need to consider and finish with four ideas of how to create a truly fantastic outdoor space.
The first thing to think about when you’re designing an outdoor space, whether it’s a balcony, courtyard or small garden, is what you’re going to be standing on.
Obviously, with a terrace, you will need to floor the entire area, but even a courtyard or garden lends itself to some sort of paving or decking, not just to create different zones, but also on a practical note, to minimise the risk of boggy, soft ground when it rains.
On the subject of bad weather, unless your terrace is completely protected, any outdoor area is going to need decking or flooring that can cope with rain. The most common in this case are:
- Natural stone
It’s hard to go past natural stone in an outdoor environment, as it fits the bill perfectly for a number of reasons. Not just because as a natural material it is right at home in an outdoor context, but also because it is extremely tough and durable, able to withstand the rigours of both the weather and robust wear and tear.
The wide variety of stone available also gives you plenty of choice not just in terms of colour and patterning, but also when it comes to suitability for different climates. For example, if you live somewhere that is subject to dramatic swings in temperature, you want a stone such as classic white Bianco Carrara, Grigio Versilia marble or, if your taste tends towards the darker end of the colour spectrum, Pietra d’Avola.
For milder climates where temperatures tend to be more constant, you could also choose something like Crema d’Orcia with its delicate creamy surface, greige Silk Georgette® or Travertine, used for buildings that have stood up to the elements for centuries, case in point the Coliseum.
Also widely used by the building sector in many countries is terracotta, or some other form of earthenware tiling, depending on the market. Although not 100% natural, it performs well in terms when exposed to temperature variations, making it an excellent option for areas that are exposed to the elements.
There is, however**, one disadvantage to consider** and that is the fact that the tiny air bubbles inside each tile make it very porous, so what tends to happen is that dirt seeps inside. This means you need to keep a close eye on it and clean it frequently to keep it looking pristine.
When it comes to wood, the question of maintenance rears its head again. Like stone, wood is, of course, a completely natural product so there is this lovely link with outdoors and nature, however it is definitely more susceptible to sun, rain and variations in temperature.
Wood absolutely must be treated with some sort of waterproofing product and this needs to be done on a regular basis to prevent it from deteriorating too quickly. It also tends to lighten or turn greyish when it is exposed to constant sun, so in general it is best used in covered or shadier areas.
Once you’ve chosen the ground material, the next step is to decide on how you are going to furnish and decorate your terrace or outdoor space.
Where possible, we would recommend that the first thing you do is install some sort of overhead protection in a part of your outdoor area, whether it is a retractable canopy, a pergola or roof overhang, just enough to ensure you have a zone where your furniture will be out of the rain.
It will also make your al fresco space more versatile, as you can enjoy it when it’s drizzling or when you need shade during the hottest days of summer.
This done, it’s time to choose your outdoor furniture, but there’s a burning question to answer first and that is: what do you want to use the space for? Obviously, your answer also has to take into account practical aspects such as the size of your balcony, terrace, garden or courtyard, as well as your climate and lifestyle.
We could identify three main functions:
- Outdoor dining
- A multi-use space
Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee, a leisurely lunch, a relaxing glass of wine at the end of the work day or a convivial supper, everything just seems to taste better al fresco, so a table and chairs are the first things to decide upon.
If your terrace or courtyard is long and narrow, clearly your options are a little more limited than a spacious garden, and you’ll need to look for a skinny table, keeping the look as clean and understated as possible so that it doesn’t clutter the space visually or physically.
If your balcony is on the small size, there are plenty of smart solutions such as foldaway tables, and you could add a small ledge nearby to hold bottles and condiments to make room on the table for the essentials at meal time.
Regardless of the size and shape, however, whatever type of table and chairs you choose must be suitable for outside use.
Again, natural stone proves itself an ideal material here, so you could add a touch of unexpected elegance on a small balcony with the René bistrot table or place a Span table in your garden, where the mix of Bianco Carrara white marble and golden sandstone would fit effortlessly and naturally with the surrounding greenery.
If, instead you just want to create an outdoor relaxation space, what will you need? Here, you’re spoilt for choice, with the most common solution small divans, loungers and low tables.
In the past couple of years, poufs, ottomans and bean bags have also seen a surge in popularity for a more bohemian, casual vibe. They’re also idea for odd-shaped spaces or corners as they can be dotted around a garden or courtyard.
Of course, as with dining furniture, you’ll need to ensure that whatever you choose will survive the elements, and again stone comes to the party. For example, the Girella bench in Carrara marble doubles up as an artistic talking piece while the Curl chaise longue makes a stylish statement in any outdoor area.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a large terrace or medium-sized garden, you can enjoy the best of both worlds and create mini-zones, marking out a convivial dining area and another space for sunbathing, chatting and relaxing.
Ideally, you want to maintain a sense of harmony across the two different environments so in that case, there is just one golden rule and that is not to mix different design styles side by side.
How do you decorate your outdoor space and make the most of all it has to offer?
As always, it’s the little extra touches that will create atmosphere and transform your balcony, courtyard or garden into a charming extension of your home.
What are the main types of accessories you need to think of when it comes to outdoor decorating?
- Candles and planter pots
Unsurprisingly, plants are the most important element, particularly if we’re talking about a city apartment where just having a tiny oasis of green can completely transform your sense of wellbeing and quality of life.
There a myriad of types of plants, far too many to mention, especially as it will depend on where you live and the climate, but in most cases, no matter which part of the globe you are in, climbers are a fantastic solution for a balcony because of the privacy they afford.
For gardens or courtyards where too much sun could be a problem, the solution is to opt for tall plants and trees with thick, plentiful foliage that will provide a cool, shady haven.
In large gardens, the sky is literally your limit, so let your imagination run riot and think about flower beds with an abundance of colours that change with the seasons, or maybe plant a small herb garden and enjoy experimenting in the kitchen.
Whatever the size of your outdoor space, add pots, plenty of pots. In a courtyard or garden, the trick is to group them together rather than space them out, and this way they create their own feature zone. On a patio or balcony, potted flowers, ferns, olive trees or lemon trees, if your climate allows, all create a welcoming haven where you want to linger. Nature really is the perfect decoration so place them wherever you can, in all sizes, shapes and even colours.
The other must-have items to scatter around your outdoor space are candles. Nothing sets the scene better than the flickering of a flame, so think about tealights or something more substantial and longer-burning such as a scented candle nestled in a Pietra L11 holder or a long, tall candle in a beautiful vase.
By choosing design pieces, you will also enjoy an equally gorgeous aesthetic effect during the day.
On the subject of creating atmosphere, we come to lighting, as always, an essential element. It’s worth spending some time to think about the effect you want to create, but we would recommend going for a number of softer, gentler lights placed strategically, rather than a single bright bulb.
Uplighting is definitely a great solution here, especially in larger gardens, while in the entertaining area or on a terrace, you could have fun choosing statement pieces such as the moonlike Urano lamp, the ideal theatrical prop and perfectly in keeping with the outdoor theme.
Or, if you want to create a truly magical environment, lanterns and strings of fairy lights are your best friends and there is an enormous range of products available, especially when it comes to solar-or-battery powered solutions.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the main aspects to take into consideration when decorating an outdoor space, it’s time to move on to the fun part, and look at some examples of gorgeous terraces and gardens.
We’ve talked about the importance of deciding how you will use your outdoor living zone, of choosing furniture that is practical as well as lovely to look at and how the extra touches such as lighting, plants and pots really make the difference when it comes to your home oasis.
Let’s see the advice in action, with four ideas of how to create outdoor living that is beautiful, stylish and functional.
There’s nothing like your own outdoor space if you’re a city dweller, and greenery is your best friend as it not only optimises privacy but lifts your spirits and creates that sense of a refuge from the challenges and stresses of metropolitan living.
If your terrace is large enough, make the most of it and enjoy the pleasure of a multi-functional space, keeping one style throughout, however, so that you don’t interrupt the sense of harmony.
This example shows just how you can achieve this, with two clear zones that work seamlessly together so that the entire terrace becomes a wonderfully private extension of the rest of the home.
In the foreground we have the dining area where the Span table and bench seating are large enough to host plenty of guests in comfort, but without cluttering the terrace, while the same look and feel is also found at the other end, which is more geared towards informal gatherings.
The floor in Pietra d’Avola Cotone harmonises perfectly with the subdued, elegant colour scheme, and the pared back, simple décor, combined with plenty of green, fosters the sensation of a private tranquil oasis.
If you have a large outdoor space with a clearly delineated garden, why not create an outdoor living room?
This unashamedly contemporary patio is all about elegance, simplicity and functionality. The harmonious blend of light and dark stones exudes warmth and the result is a tantalising space that beckons you to sit down and relax.
Stone dominates, but the juxtaposition of each carefully-chosen element means that there is no sense of heaviness. The contrast of white Carrara marble and black Nero Marquinia in the Proiezioni tables is playful rather than stark, while the different shades of brown and tan work beautifully together, from the Pietra d’Avola of the Curl chaise longue to the dark caramel tones of the floor in Imperiale Stone Parquet.
Then, it’s just a handful of understated accessories in the form of an Urano lamp, Bugia candle holder and Pietra L13 vase, and voilà, you have a sophisticated and welcoming patio.
When you have a glorious view, the one thing you’re not going to want to do is block it, so of course you should do all you can to incorporate it into your outdoor space and make it a feature.
Obviously, privacy can be an issue, but in the case of this stunning terrace, that has been addressed by erecting not just any old dividing structure, but an elegant feature wall in Romboo Silk Georgette® that is a stylish backdrop to the outdoor bathtub where you can sit and enjoy the panorama before you.
The harmonious colour theme runs across every element, starting with the floor paving in honed Crema d’Orcia limestone, through to the sand-coloured walls and Span benches in white marble and golden sandstone.
Add a Curl chaise longue and a scattering of lanterns and the scene is set for blissful evenings relaxing, and looking up at the stars, accompanied by the gentle flicker of candlelight.
And now, for something completely different, we’re moving to the bucolic countryside where it’s all about giving free rein to nature rather than laying paving or installing awnings. In the right setting, why not let nature provide the canopy and material underfoot?
Here the only manmade elements are the Span table and benches, and even here that claim is tenuous, with each piece 100% made from natural stone.
Perfectly at home in this leafy environment, what better place to pause for lunch, to read a book or simply sit and contemplate?
No artifice, no manufactured structures or accessories, but simply the tranquillity and restorative power of pure nature.