Four Tips for Decorating a Small Patio With Style

Real photo of a white pillow and pink blanket on a rattan chair standing in the garden of a luxurious house
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Enjoying the outdoors at home in our grandparents' time was made possible by huge wrap-around porches and flowing lawns. For our parents, outdoor living may have meant a huge suburban deck or patio. Today, though, with rising costs of land and construction, as well as the popularity of small-house living, many homeowners and renters find themselves with a small balcony or patio that offers the only means to enjoy the outdoors. 

This need not be an obstacle, however, because decorating a small patio or balcony area can be even more fun than dealing with a huge porch. A smaller space is much more intimate for holding social gatherings or enjoying private reflection, and it can be much more inexpensive to furnish and decorate than a large space.

Whether you are hoping to use your small patio for entertaining or are yearning for a private place to unwind, these patio ideas can help you make the most of your small space.

Define the Purpose of Your Space

A huge patio can be a multipurpose space, but for a small patio, it is important to focus and create a clear sense of purpose. Do you prefer a private retreat, or do you wish to use your small patio for entertaining? Will you be lounging or eating at a table? Do you need room for the kids to play?

A small patio can effectively support one, or at most two, activities. For a small patio, it is very important that you limit the purpose of your space to what feels essential.

Choose and Arrange Furnishings With Care

Consider the size and scale of your patio or balcony before you add furniture. Furnishings that are large or overstuffed can quickly engulf a small space. Look for furniture pieces without arms, with simple lines and low backs. Benches can be used along one or more sides of your patio for additional seating.

  • Choose furnishings that can do double duty. Ottomans that can be also be used as storage or cocktail tables, or furnishings that can be folded or stacked and put away when not in use, work well in small spaces.
  • Look for furnishings that tend to “disappear.” For example, acrylic or glass tables and thin-line metal chairs allow the eye to see through them and decrease their visual weight in a space, making them perfect for small patios.
  • Bear in mind the traffic flow on your small patio. Be careful to not block the entrance and exit points. On open patios without a lot of landscaping or walls, furniture and decor can also be used to define the traffic flow in and around your patio.

Add Plants

Container gardens make excellent accents for small patios or balconies, and living landscaping around your patio is a great way to enhance privacy and/or shade. But know your plants—or find a good nursery that does—before adding them to your small patio. A pretty little trailing plant may look cute in the store, but the wrong species may quickly take over your small space.  

  • Choose landscaping and plants that will add color, texture and/or height (not bulk) to your small patio. You don’t want plants taking up all of your valuable (and limited) outdoor living space.
  • Plants with pleasing scents are a wonderful addition to any outdoor area, but avoid plants with extremely strong aromas that can quickly overpower a small patio...and you.

Less Is More

Small patios don’t necessarily need a lot of small decor items. For example, one large urn has more impact than several small vases, which can create a cluttered look on a small patio.

  • Diffused, natural light and light colors tend to open up a space and make a small space feel larger. If your patio is extremely shady, consider adding uplighting, string lights, or other forms of electrical lighting. Stick with light colors or neutrals in furnishings, and use darker colors as accents.
  • Prints can work well in small spaces, as long as they are used sparingly. Stripes often work well on small patios because they can be used to create the illusion of height or length. When choosing patterns, stick with the ratio of 2:1—two small-scale patterns or textures with one sparsely used bold pattern to add interest and pop.
  • Though the appearance of your small patio is extremely important, don’t forget the power of sound. A small water feature or wind chimes can enhance your small patio and mask unappealing background noises.