Small Backyard Ideas
How to Turn Your Small Backyard into a Dreamy Oasis
By Interior Designer, Tracy Svendsen | Published August 04, 2021
Updated October 10, 2023
Small Backyard Ideas: If you have a small backyard, decorating it can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to get creative and make the most of your outdoor space. We live in a modern 2,800 + sq ft. 4-bedroom condo near two beautiful beaches, tons of outdoor hiking trails through old-growth forests, and a short walking distance to 100’s fabulous restaurants and shops. The trade-off to living so close to the heart of the community is a relatively small backyard area. Every year, we invest time into at least one or two updates to our condo, and this year, creating an outdoor oasis felt like the best choice.
My partner and I have four children who visit as often as possible, and we wanted an outdoor living space to enjoy each other’s company. Our adult kids are also great friends with each other, and we knew they’d be spending a good deal of time hanging out outside long after we had retired for the evening. It has become an oasis for the two of us, our kids, friends, and extended family.
Here are some small backyard decorating ideas to help you turn your backyard into a beautiful and functional oasis.
1. Create a focal point: A focal point can help draw the eye and make your backyard feel more spacious. Consider adding a water feature, a sculpture, or a fire pit.
2. Use plants to add color and texture: Plants can add color and texture to your backyard, making it more inviting. Use potted plants, hanging baskets, or a vertical garden to maximize your space.
3. Add outdoor seating: Outdoor seating can help you maximize your backyard. Consider adding a small table, chairs, bench, or hammock.
4. Use lighting to create ambiance: Lighting can help create a warm and inviting atmosphere in your backyard. Use string lights, lanterns, or solar-powered lights to add ambiance.
5. Use outdoor rugs to define spaces: Outdoor rugs can help define different areas in your backyard, making it feel more organized. Consider using a rug under your outdoor seating area or a dining table.
6. Add privacy: If you have close neighbors or a busy street nearby, adding some privacy can help you feel more comfortable in your backyard. Consider using tall plants, a trellis, or a privacy screen to create a sense of seclusion.
Remember, the key to decorating a small backyard is to maximize your space and get creative. With some planning and thoughtful design, you can turn your small backyard into a beautiful and functional outdoor oasis.
Shown in image: Home Depot Patio Set, Crate & Barrel 3 Candle Holder (on side table), Wayfair Cantilever Umbrella & Base, Crate & Barrel Single Candle Holder and Stand (on umbrella base), Crate & Barrel Outdoor Area Rug.
How We Created an Inviting Outdoor Oasis in Our Yard
We had already started to make a few changes to our backyard several years ago after we purchased our home. The first step was to test the soil in the garden along the fence. A vast expanse of a 25′ cedar hedge provides the ultimate privacy, but we were concerned it may have provided poor soil conditions for the garden area below.
Once we received the results, we purchased eight bags of high-quality soil to prep for new plants. This area received only a few hours of sunlight daily, so we had to ensure we planted bushes and flowers that worked best in these conditions. We then purchased a small-scale, comfortable patio set from Home Depot. Only one set was available in the size and configuration we were interested in, but it was bright orange. I liked the color, but I prefer neutral tones. I planned to have them reupholstered once they started to fade.
The grass was in terrible shape, and our German Shepherd Rose had damaged it even further. We have an enduring rainy season here, and she began dragging mud throughout the house. Next step – we had artificial grass laid down, which solved the problem quickly!
This Year’s Changes
I wanted to take the initial design this year and develop a more healing and sensory sanctuary. The goal was to create a space that appealed to sight, smell, hearing, and touch.
The vision entailed a stone waterfall that would provide the soothing sound of running water splashing from basin to basin. Sight would apply to the overall visual aesthetic – a peaceful environment with well-designed elements and the natural beauty of trees, shrubs, and floral arrangements.
A firepit would provide additional warmth and become a glowing focal point. A sizeable overhead umbrella added to the mix would allow us to remain outside in light rain while further defining the seating area.
We added trellises along the fence to draw the eye upward, with vertical floral vines such as Jasmine to provide a pleasing scent. Although this is a work in progress, we plan to add trellises to the full extent of the fence line and continue to plant Jasmine, as its smell is intoxicating, exotic, and intense. It’s also the ancient smell of calm.
An area rug would work to ground the space, while new throw pillows, blankets, and woven baskets would add cozy layers of soft textures.
Most importantly, we planned to include various light sources to create a warm, glowing ambiance.
Our open-concept living room, dining room, and kitchen have incredibly high ceilings and a stunning panoramic backyard view. I wanted a seamless flow from the interior to the exterior, incorporating the same hues of gray with black and white accents.
It was finally time to have the furniture reupholstered. I decided to go with Sunbrella fabric as it’s water-repellent, and there was a wide selection of solids, stripes, geometrics, florals, and ikats.
After receiving several quotes, I chose the lowest quote, which came in at approximately $600.00, and the company had great reviews. A few of the quotes came in at 3X that amount, and although it may have been due to the difference in fabric quality levels, the lowest quote fits into the total budget. I chose a solid gray as I thought it would make a perfect backdrop to brightly colored floral arrangements and decorative pillows.
Outdoor Area Rug
I love outdoor area rugs as they add a cozy touch to patios, decks, and porches. They warm up any area while providing comfort, texture, pattern, and color. They instantly pull together a seating area and elevate outdoor living spaces. I chose a geometric pattern in black and white as it was similar to the area rug in our dining room and went perfectly with two woven black and white striped outdoor baskets that I had purchased from Crate & Barrel the previous year.
The outdoor umbrella was purchased from Wayfair. Outdoor umbrellas are great for providing additional privacy, but they also block out the sun’s harmful rays. A cantilevered umbrella with an articulating arm allows you to face the umbrella from whichever direction you need to block. They provide a shaded area for pets and assist in protecting outdoor furniture and décor from sun and water damage.
In the image above, Rosie enjoys a break from the sun after a long hike at the dog park and a swim in the ocean! When we had the furniture reupholstered, I had the seamstress make a removable pad to protect the fabric on the chair she sits on.
The umbrella has made a dramatic difference to the space. It just feels cozy and protected sitting under it and, like the outdoor rug, works to define the seating area. We’ve also found that we don’t have to run outside and cover the furniture and the fire pit when it rains.
Design Tip: Order a structural support system to prevent the umbrella from blowing over in the wind and to give the base a professional look when used with a cross-arm stand. Just fill each block with water for a total weight of up to 140 lbs. I typed in Umbrella base self-filled water weights for various options on Wayfair. I also added four potted plants on the support system that are slightly elevated by rubber blocks.
The image above shows the stone waterfall we purchased from Wayfair. It plugs into an outdoor outlet and sounds beautiful. I surrounded it with plants to create a tropical vibe. Next year, we will add a built-in area underneath to elevate the waterfall and provide a high trellis for the Jasmine as it grows.
Waterfalls provide the tranquil and gentle sound of running water and are highly therapeutic, significantly reducing stress and anxiety. They can drown out intrusive sounds you may hear in your yard, like street traffic or additional noise from the neighbors.
If you’re into feng shui, fountains, and flowing water help restore balance and positive vibes in any indoor or outdoor environment (“shui” means “water” in Chinese, and “feng” means “wind”). Being surrounded by beauty has an incredible effect on the mind and spirit, and there’s no denying that water features are visually pleasing. Buddhist monks have used water fountains in their gardens for centuries because there are so many benefits to the soothing sounds of water.
Dog owners know it is crucial always to keep fresh drinking water available to their pets. During the summer, dogs love to while away their time in the heat, lapping cool water. Dogs love the fresh water they can get from an outdoor fountain and are fascinated with their motion.
Water elements stand out against the greenery and foliage, creating focal points around the garden or yard. A single fountain can draw the eye, while a trickling stream or waterfall can deliver water to various spots in the landscape. We chose a waterfall that adds multiple levels of soft lighting.
Sitting around an outside fire isn’t just about keeping warm. An outdoor fire pit also has many practical, emotional, and health benefits. A fire pit is the ultimate focal point and creates an irresistibly ambient glow for a cozy evening outdoors.
Not only does a fire pit provide warmth once the day’s sun has gone down, but it can also change the aesthetics of your home and give your garden a wonderful warm glow. The most underused area is often the garden, but when you have a fire pit, there’s no excuse that it’s too cold when you can sit next to those flames in the still of the night.
When the sun goes down, there’s nothing better than to relax and unwind by watching the flames dance. A study by Christopher Lynn, Anthropologist at the University of Alabama, claims that fire helps us become calmer and more sociable and even causes our blood pressure to drop!
Due to the entrancing flickering of flames or an innate sense of safety, outdoor firepits calm the nerves and bring us to stillness. Speaking of ambiance, nothing promotes a social gathering or a long, in-depth conversation like the open flames of a firepit. We found our adult children stayed outside chatting with us much later in the evening than usual – minus any viewing of screens.
I have always been drawn to soft, twinkly lights, which add a particular magical and romantic element to a space. No other style of lighting feels as festive as string lighting. We began by purchasing and installing wood trellises attached to the back fence. Vertical features such as a trellis create the illusion of more space and provide the perfect place for beautiful vines to flourish. We lined the trellises with bulk string lighting purchased from Amazon by stapling them to the wood.
The outcome was magnificent! Lighting adds drama and interest to an architectural landscape and helps define specific property areas.
Most of the lighting we chose is solar-powered, as they allow for effortless backyard illumination. You don’t have to worry about wiring or scheduling their activation.
Outdoor Garden Area
When we first moved in, we purchased an elevated herb garden stand as we both love cooking with fresh herbs. We typically grow a ton of basil, parsley, sage, oregano, thyme, dill and rosemary. This year, we added a larger wooden stand along the fence line. We planted tomatoes, zucchini, red peppers, cucumbers, peas, and beans here.
Small Backyard Ideas: Conclusion
In conclusion, creativity and planning can turn a small backyard into a dreamy oasis. Start by assessing your backyard’s soil condition and sunlight exposure, then invest in high-quality soil and plants that work best in those conditions. Add comfortable outdoor furniture, an artificial grass lawn if needed, and trellises with vertical floral vines for a pleasing scent.
Incorporate a stone waterfall, a fire pit, and various light sources for a warm, glowing ambiance. Finally, choose water-repellent fabrics for your outdoor furniture and add cozy layers of soft textures with throw pillows, blankets, and woven baskets. With these backyard decorating ideas, you can transform your small backyard into a beautiful, inviting outdoor oasis for you, your family, and your friends.
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