It may still feel like winter in many parts of Australia, but spring is just around the corner, which means it's time to get the outdoors looking shipshape, says Cherie Barber.
For many people, especially those who live in the inner city, their 'backyard' is limited to a balcony or small courtyard. And just like any outdoor area, without a little design inspiration these can end up barren, wasted spaces. Fortunately, there are plenty of imaginative ways to turn even the smallest space into an enticing outdoor room.
1. Shade, screen and shelter
If your balcony gets blasted by sun in summer and battered by wind and rain in winter, then it’s about as inviting as a concrete slab. Think about ways to protect it from the elements. Things like screening, shade sails, sun umbrellas and retractable awnings are all options that can turn an unusable courtyard, deck or balcony into a protected outdoor room you can use year-round.
2. Tailor furniture to the space
If it’s really cramped, think about collapsible furniture like deck chairs and a fold-away table. For fixed table and chairs, go for aluminium, rattan and timber, which are all contemporary, durable choices. Just make sure you pick a style that blends with your indoor areas. Similarly, there are barbecues these days for absolutely every sized space, and a small Weber can fit virtually anywhere.
3. Inject colour and character
Mirrors immediately enlarge any space, so find a nice, big one you can strategically place to capture the best aspect. Pots take up space which you may not have, but there’s bound to be a bland wall you can turn into a vertical garden. Your hardware store would be able to suggest ways to secure pots to a wall fixture, which you can then plant with decorative plants. If you have a big enough courtyard, it’s worth sacrificing space for a striking focal point, like a potted frangipani or large urn.
4. Clear the clutter
You need a place to stash the clutter. If it can be dual purpose, all the better. Bench seating that incorporates storage is a great idea. Just lift the lid and toss in all your seat cushions, gardening tools and other paraphernalia. Under-deck storage also works if there’s enough space. Make sure you have a retractable clothes line that folds back out of the way when not in use and a hose that’s neatly wound up on a wall-hanging reel.
5. Shed some light
Night time is often when your outdoor room comes into its own, and lighting will make it feel cosy and warm. If you don’t have access to a power point, you can always use tea lights, outdoor candles or even solar lighting to create atmosphere. In a courtyard, use uplighting and downlighting to wash light over the walls and spot lights for plants and trees. Lighting set into the deck or steps doesn’t just look great; it also makes the area safer to navigate at night.