Small balcony, big design
Don’t let a tiny space stop you from relaxing and entertaining outside
When interior designer Kyra Williams lived in Paris, she was always happy to see her fellow city dwellers perched on their balconies, enjoying coffee with friends.
“If you’re in the heart of an amazing city, your apartment is probably really tiny, so real estate is important,” says Williams, lead designer for San Francisco-based Bungalow, a home rental startup. Even the smallest, narrowest balcony can be a great place to relax and entertain. “Consider your balcony part of the square footage of your space and really utilize it.”
Here’s how to transform your postage-stamp-size balcony into an outdoor oasis. |
Decide how to use the space
To get the most seating out of narrow, rectangular balconies, Williams suggests lining a long bench with cushions. “That way you could seat five or six people, whereas a table and chairs can really only seat two.” Storage benches such as Ikea’s woodstained Applaro bench ($70, ikea.com) can be used to stow items and can be repositioned.
Cynthia Hoyt, the Atlantabased creative director of the Darling Down South blog, agrees: “You can turn basically anything into a dining situation,” she says. (She once threw a tablecloth over a moving box for a temporary outdoor dining surface at an old apartment.) If you’re faced with the choice of a table set or lounge seating area due to space constraints, Hoyt would prioritize a casual seating area and add a small table, especially if you already have a dining area inside.
Williams also likes ceramic garden stools, which can be used as end tables or as additional seating.
Add greenery and privacy
Plants can beautify small outdoor spaces. Williams personally loves herbs and red geraniums, which she spotted in windowboxes everywhere in Paris. Hoyt suggests considering the amount of sunlight the balcony gets. If you’re short on floor space, Williams suggests using planters that attach to railings or hang from the ceiling, such as Crate and Barrel’s Alfresco Rectangular Rail Planter ($49.95).
Hoyt has a potted rosebush and likes the look of the cascading tendrils on pothos vines (also called “Devil’s ivy”) hung from the ceiling or on a high shelf. She also likes to position odd numbers of plants in rows. “You can find a lot of really affordable, amazing hanging wall planters to pot herbs in,” she says. “If you have three plants, you could have three in a row, and it feels balanced.”
It can be hard to get privacy on the balcony of a high-rise apartment building. “I think a lot of people maybe don’t use their balcony because it doesn’t feel private,” she says. Plants and screens can help. “Plants not only look beautiful, but they also give a sense of calm.” Station taller potted plants that grow straight up, such as bamboo, or climbing plants such as a vine or jasmine, near the edge of a balcony to create a natural barrier.
For those who don’t possess a green thumb, a patterned metal or wrought-iron privacy screen, such as Pottery Barn’s Veradek privacy screen ($399) provides visual interest and privacy without blocking sunlight, breezes or your view. Hoyt suggests adding roll-down shades or hanging linen or canvas curtains on a tension rod or with zip ties for retractable privacy and a little added protection from bugs.
Create layered lighting
Both Hoyt and Williams suggest adding additional light sources beyond the wall sconce that probably came with your balcony. Stick with LED lights that are meant for outdoors and add different levels of lighting to create a layered, cozy look.
“Personally I think that literally every outdoor space should have bistro lights” Hoyt says. She looks for solar-powered or batterypowered LED string lights to cut down on ugly cords running into the house and through the space.
Williams suggests zigzagging string lights across the top of the balcony to create a roof of soft light. Williams also suggests placing battery-operated tea lights inside clear, square lanterns (such as World Market’s Black Windowpane Cargo Lantern, $34.99 to $59.99) on the ground and on tables to create low light. “Get multiple heights, a shorter one and a taller one next to it, to move the eye around the space and make it a little more interesting,” she says.
Both Hoyt and Williams suggest buying bulbs that emit warm white light, rather than severe yellow or white light. “It brings more warmth and coziness and a more romantic atmosphere, as opposed to the bright light, which to me feels more hospitable-like and not welcoming,” Williams says.
Add comfort and personality
Your average apartment balcony is likely to start out cold and dreary, with ugly concrete floors and metal railings. Williams suggests covering the floor with flat-weave outdoor rugs, naturalwoven fiber rugs (try jute, sisal or sea grass for a tropical look) or wood decking that snaps together for easy assembly (Williams suggests something such as Ikea’s Runnen decking, $2.87 per square foot). These pieces make the space look more complete and create extra cushion underfoot. “Rugs are your friend,” Hoyt says. “Buy as many affordable rugs as you can and layer those different textures. That way you have a little more visual interest and it starts to feel more unique to you.”
Pillows and throws make for a cozy finishing touch. Hoyt likes linen and woven fabrics for thick material that won’t stain. For cushions and pillows that stand up to weather and wear, Williams swears by pieces constructed of Sunbrella, a durable fabric that won’t fade in the sun. However, Hoyt and Williams both say you can bring indoor textiles outdoors easily, as long as you remember to bring them inside and shake off any dust when you’re done.
Dinner for two: Make a statement with CB2’s Watermark brass bistro table. It seats two for dinner, or works as a side table, $239, CB2.com