Karl Lohnes: Design Tips for Beautifying Small Outdoor Spaces

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Here are some suggestions that will make any small space more functional and appealing for the summer.

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From porches to small courtyards, from balconies to rooftop terraces, access to the great outdoors is an important part of summer living. Many of us depend on these outdoor spaces to expand our indoor living space – a place to sunbathe or read in the shade, connect with nature or grill.

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Over the years I’ve lived in many places that had small outdoor spaces (and I still do), so I learned a few design tricks along the way. Here are my design lessons that will make any small space more functional and appealing for summer – it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Lesson 1: Function

The first task when presented with a small space (indoors or outdoors) is to determine its primary use: how will you use the space on a day-to-day basis? Will your little outdoor getaway be used for evening dining after the sun goes down, sunbathing and reading in the morning, or perhaps working in the afternoon shade? Knowing how you will use the space will help you create a furnishing and decorating plan.

Then think about layouts. If your space is long and narrow (like a typical apartment balcony), divide it into sections so that everything isn’t stretched out in a line like a hallway. I like to use the two-thirds/one-third rule: use 2/3 for your primary use and the remaining 1/3 for storage or gardening. If your space is a square, it is best to furnish it for single use; create a focal point in the middle and arrange other furniture around it (see below for more tips on this).

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A hanging table helps maximize floor space on a small patio or balcony.  Outsunny rectangular outdoor hanging table, $159, www.rona.ca
A hanging table helps maximize floor space on a small patio or balcony. Outsunny rectangular outdoor hanging table, $159, www.rona.ca

Lesson 2: Furniture

One of the biggest mistakes people make when furnishing small outdoor spaces is choosing the wrong form of furniture and more importantly, opting for a piece that is too big for their space. If you only intend to use a small balcony or terrace to read by yourself, then, of course, choose a large comfortable lounge chair and a pouf with a small side table (the matching comfortable pouf can always serve as a perch when visiting a friend).

If you want to entertain and serve meals on a long, narrow balcony, don’t choose a round table – they take up space, interrupt flow, and are difficult to store when not in use. Consider two long outdoor console tables that can each be pushed against the walls to save space or side by side to form a wider dining table when you have guests over. Two padded armchairs will be perfect at either end (and comfortable when not in use for meals). Some stylish stacking chairs are a space-saving way to seat people for dinner parties.

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Store shelves or storage benches at the ends of a long, narrow space where they won’t eat up valuable width. In square-shaped spaces, create a focal point in the center with something grand. Opting for a beautiful fountain, a cozy fire pit or an elegant dining table would be ideal depending on how you use the space; then place large, comfortable lounge chairs in each corner to create the feeling of a large room.

Create a relaxed nighttime ambiance with outdoor themed string lights.  Everhome Rattan LED String Lights, $30/set of 10, www.bedbathandbeyond.ca
Create a relaxed nighttime ambiance with outdoor themed string lights. Everhome Rattan LED String Lights, $30/set of 10, www.bedbathandbeyond.ca

Lesson 3: Accessorize

Will your outdoor space require flooring, such as an outdoor rug to cover unsightly concrete or an old deck, or faux green grass for a lush look? Something soft underfoot adds comfort and color. And the lighting? Are you going to hang a light fixture above your dining table to ground it, add sidelights to the outer edges of your space (glistening in the greenery) for a dramatic look at night?

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Items like outdoor lanterns that add a soft glow, pillows and throws for extra comfort and a bit of warmth on chilly nights, and small side tables that can hold a glass of wine, a small plant or a hurricane candle are all useful and attractive ways to help set the mood. Colors in outdoor spaces should be simple.

I have two rules. First of all, the most voluminous pieces of furniture should blend into the environment (stone, wood or greenery). Second, the accessories should be different shades of the same color; for example, pale to deep blues for a nautical feel, various shades of green for a lush garden effect, or bright, funky colors like orange and pink for a fun, laid-back environment. And that’s all. Your piece of paradise is complete!

Want to decorate and need advice? Follow and contact Karl on Instagram at Karl Lohnes.

  1. To read more reviews of Karl Lohnes’ design, click here:

  2. Composite decking can be used for more than just decking boards.  Decorators Voyage Decking (Tundra shown), from $8 per square foot, www.homehardware.ca

    Karl Lohnes: modern trends to beautify your outdoor space

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