Suffering from a case of the small backyard blues? Good news! With our helpful guide, you don’t have to. Whether you have a space-challenged backyard, balcony, or atrium, decorating a compact space can be difficult. Thankfully, Chairish Design Directory designers are well-versed in making small backyards feel substantial — And best of all? They’re willing to share their tricks and tips! Here, we reveal some easy ways to maximize your outdoor space like a pro.  

RELATED READ: 6 Stunning Ways to Approach Outdoor Living

Wellfleet Cottage with small backyard decorated with pale green chairs
Design by Eleven Interiors / Photo by Read McKendree

Design a Delightful Dining Space 

A round dining set’s footprint is fairly compact, making one a great option for a backyard — or even a back deck — with small proportions. When choosing a dining table, consider a design with a pedestal base. Doing so will allow your dining chairs to tuck in tightly, maximizing your yard’s remaining square footage. And because there are fewer opportunities to add personality in a small backyard, consider dining chairs that don’t match perfectly with your dining table. Colorful metal chairs or rattan chairs can be a brilliant way to add some color. Alternatively, consider a matching set with some unique character, such as a Chinese Chippendale or Grotto shell-motif set from a vintage maker like Brown Jordan

Wellfleet Cottage with small backyard space decorated with picnic table and built-in bench seating
Design by Eleven Interiors / Photo by Read McKendree

Hone in on Zones

One way to ensure every inch of a small backyard is maximized? Break it into zones. Zones can include areas designed for lounging, dining, playing, gardening, or just kicking back on the grass. The benefit of puzzling together zones is that you’re naturally encouraged to do away with unusable space like hedges running around the perimeter of a yard, or a play set dropped right into the middle of the lawn. To add visual interest, consider mixing a variety of stand-alone furniture pieces with built-ins. Dress built-ins with decor like seat cushions or  throw pillows to give everything a more holistic look. 

Beacon Hill Carriage House with small backyard space decorated with green barrel chairs
Design by Eleven Interiors / Photo by Michael J. Lee Photography

Embrace Color and Texture 

Thanks to plants, grass, and trees, the average yard is an abundance of color and texture. But if your yard is too small to include much of that, you’ll want to spring for color and texture in your decor. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of colorful outdoor furniture these days. Lounge chairs are available in a wide range of materials, including wicker, wood, molded plastic, PVC cording, and more. For a thin-profile chair that’s usually decked out in vibrant color and can go just about anywhere, try the “Acapulco” chair. These corded chairs are endlessly versatile and can also be scored at bargain prices. To finish off the look, opt for a shapely side table constructed of a contrasting material. Ceramic drum stools — be they traditionally Asian in style or modern in style — are always a win. 

Modern Oceanside Retreat with small backyard space decorated with concrete table and red bistro chairs
Design by Eleven Interiors / Photo by Greg Premru

Choose Small Profile Furniture 

Two words: bistro table. When you’re faced with a less-than-grand outdoor space, scaling down your furniture is sometimes your best bet. In these cases, bistro tables, long celebrated by Parisian sidewalk cafes, are an excellent choice. They have petite proportions and fold up, making them easy to wedge just about anywhere — including the most miniature of balconies. If you like the idea, but want to oust the look from its comfort zone, consider matching bistro chairs with a pedestal table featuring an unusual shape or construction material. Seat cushions in a coordinating color can also be used on top of bistro chairs’ seats, providing additional interest. 

San Diego beach cottage with small backyard decor
Design by Kelly Hohla Interiors / Photo by John Merkl

Simplify with a Sectional 

Need a one-and-done power move? Try dropping a sectional onto a small backyard patio. While it may take up the majority of your yard, a sectional will maximize seating, giving your yard the most bang for its square footage. Among sectionals’ pros are that they’re usually square in shape, meaning they’ll easily conform to most yards. Drop a coffee table in the middle, or choose a fire pit. Not sure you can choose one over the other? Shop for a fire pit with an extended ledge that can double as place to drop drinks or a foot rest. 

Marin County Family Home Backyard Lounge Area
Design by Kelly Hohla Interiors / Photo by John Merkl

Sun-Proof with a “Roof” 

While a sunshade or umbrella won’t necessarily maximize your outdoor space, it will make it look more like a proper room. (And as a bonus, it will make your space more versatile come summer.) When deciding between an umbrella and a sunshade, consider if you want an architectural element or a color and pattern moment. Sunshades, especially sail designs, will generally provide the former, while umbrellas can be sourced in virtually any color and pattern these days. 

Lead design by Kelly Hohla Interiors / Photo by John Merkl


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April 27, 2023

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