15 Small Patio Ideas from Professional Designers

Small Patio Ideas

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Given that we live in such a technology-driven world where many of us spend more time in front of screens than we’d like, it feels more important than ever to spend quality time outdoors. And thanks to the power of interior design, you don’t need much outdoor space to create a beautiful outdoor retreat.

To help you create the small patio design of your dreams, we tapped some of our most trusted exterior and interior design experts so you can make the most of your outdoor area, no matter your square footage.

Meet the experts

For this article, we asked professional interior designers to share their best tips for creating the perfect small patio space. You’ll hear from the following experts:

Design from the corners

A great way to make a small space appear larger is to create as much open space in the center area as you can. Not only does this create a more expansive look, but it will make it easier to move around. An easy technique for achieving this is to start your patio design from the corners, placing furniture and home decor near the edges of the space, then work your way in.

According to Jessica Shaw, “To make a small patio space feel larger, build your design out from the corners, and allow for open space in the center. This means seating, tables, or barbecue areas should branch out from the corners, instead of spreading from the middle of the patio.”

Frame the space with wood paneling

Patio Pergola and Wood Paneling
Credit: Design by The Turett Collaborative, photo by Costas Picadas

The natural grain and knots of wood never fail to elevate an outdoor space with warmth and texture. And if yours is a small outdoor space, wood can come in even more handy, enhancing your aesthetic through functional elements, like wood paneling, which won’t encroach on too much precious square footage.

“For this smaller patio space off the primary bedroom,” says Jessica Shaw, “the space was left primarily bare apart from planters and a built-in seating area” Thanks to the natural wood’s gorgeous appearance, this minimalist space is full of style and personality. And it offers the perfect foundation for lots of greenery.

Make the most of vertical space

Optimizing your vertical space can really help make up for what your patio might lack in floor space. “Many city patios and backyards are contained by walls or fences, so finding a way to bring some originality and tidy up the space through vertical decor is a great option,” says Jessica Shaw.

And there are all kinds of fun options you can explore. You can add some shelves topped with playful pieces of outdoor decor. Or you can incorporate plants that climb a trellis, fence, or railing around your space, creating a vertical garden of sorts. And if you have a covered patio or balcony, you can hang an outdoor chandelier or pendant to illuminate your space from above.  

Focus on the essentials

Small Patio with Sofa
Credit: Design by Pamela Hope Designs, photo by Jonathan Calvert.

When designing a small outdoor area, every inch matters, so consider only adding essential items to the space, like a seating area and a side table or two. Then, if you still have room, you can layer on additional interior design elements as you see fit.

“This is not a large patio but it has everything needed for a garden oasis,” says Pamela O’Brien of this gorgeous design. “There is a table for dining, a small lounge area, a grill, and a tea cart that holds plants and garden tools.” In other words, this outdoor space sticks to essential items that homeowners are likely to use regularly while enjoying it.

Choose proportional furniture

Patio Bistro Set
Credit: Paddy O'Furniture

Scale is important in any design, but it’s especially important in small spaces. If your outdoor furniture is too large, it can quickly make a small patio feel even smaller.

“Choosing furniture that is proportionate to the size of the patio is essential,” advises Karen Rohr. “Oversized furniture will make the space feel cramped and cluttered, so stick to smaller pieces. Choose compact and easy-to-move  furniture. A few chairs and a small side table will make the area feel more spacious than a large couch and coffee table.”

“Oversized furniture will make the space feel cramped and cluttered, so stick to smaller pieces."

You should also consider whether the furniture’s functionality makes sense for your patio design. For instance, “Club chairs that swivel and rock are wonderful, but they can easily get in the way and overcrowd a small space,” says Tammy Alexander.

Add ambient lighting

Few design elements make more of an impact than lighting, and that’s most definitely true in the case of a small patio design. But not all lighting is created equal. According to Jessica Shaw, “Adding string lights or lanterns to the ceiling contributes to ambiance and often creates a more enjoyable glow than harsh patio lighting.” You might also consider where the lighting falls on the warm-cool spectrum. Generally, warm, yellowish lighting is preferred for creating a cozy, relaxing ambiance over cool, blueish lighting.

“Adding string lights or lanterns to the ceiling contributes to ambiance and often creates a more enjoyable glow than harsh patio lighting.”

But if you don’t have a ceiling in your outdoor space from which to hang lights, you can simply add string lights to a railing or wall to get the same effect. You can even incorporate an outdoor floor lamp if your small space allows for it.

Define the space with outdoor rugs

Patio Rug
Credit: MC Design

Area rugs have a special knack for adding color, definition, and texture to a space, and they don’t take away livable square footage, so they’re a no-brainer for punching up a small patio design.

“One way to add personality to your patio area is to add an outdoor area rug.”

“Most people focus on furniture, but floor space can be an important part of creating a cohesive outdoor area,” says Karen Rohr. “One way to add personality to your patio area is to add an outdoor area rug.” Consider adding an outdoor rug beneath a dining area or seating area to help define these spaces. You can also layer area rugs on top of one another to incorporate more cozy texture.

Opt for modular furniture

Villa Outdoors Modular Furniture
Villa Outdoors' modular all-weather wicker furniture

Modular furniture is great for all spaces, but it’s especially helpful in small spaces since it gives you lots of flexibility over your design depending on your needs of the moment. “Modular outdoor furniture is easy to arrange and rearrange for any setting or occasion,” says Maggie Gala, “so you can customize it as you need based on how you’re using the space.”

For instance, maybe you prefer to lounge on an outdoor sofa most days, but if you have company, you might want to create more individual seats in your seating area. A modular sectional sofa will allow you to enjoy the length of the couch for everyday living, but when you have guests over, you can break it up so everyone has their own space.

Consider your materials

Outer wicker patio furniture
Outer's all-weather wicker outdoor sofa

Some materials carry more visual weight than others. For instance, a rich, dark velvet accent chair will typically look like it takes up more space than the same chair in a lighter, breezier fabric. So if you’re working with a small space, consider incorporating light, airy materials to give the impression of more space.

“Materials that give a lighter appearance include mesh, open-weave rattan, and wicker."

“Materials that give a lighter appearance include mesh, open-weave rattan, and wicker,” advises Maggie Gala. “These materials allow floor space to peak through, giving the illusion of a larger outdoor area, whereas heavy, clunky pieces of outdoor furniture can visually overwhelm a space.”

According to Karen Rohr, you can also incorporate light, reflective materials to make a small space feel larger: “Pale stone tiles, mirrors, and white wicker furniture will help bounce light around, making the space feel brighter and bigger.”

Liven up your space with greenery

Patio Plants
Plants can bring more color, texture, and personality to your patio

Plants are a no-fail way to breathe new life into a space. And given that many people use their balconies and patios to connect with nature, they’re particularly well suited for outdoor spaces. Especially if your outdoor area is in a city, the more greenery you add, the cozier your space will feel,” says Rachel Robarge.

Especially if your outdoor area is in a city, the more greenery you add, the cozier your space will feel."

According to Karen Rohr, you can also use your plants’ vessels to infuse your patio design with more color, texture, and personality: “Using planters to bring in more patterns and colors through potted plants is a great option that can help to bring some life to your patio design.”

Add space-saving furniture

Investing in space-saving furniture can go a long way when it comes to making a small outdoor space feel larger and easier to navigate. And space-saving furniture comes in many forms. For instance, you can purchase an outdoor coffee table with hidden storage in the top to keep clutter-inducing items out of sight.

“Foldable or stackable patio furniture can help you optimize your space by offering lots of flexibility."

Additionally, “Foldable or stackable patio furniture can help you optimize your space by offering lots of flexibility, making it easy to store pieces that aren’t in use,” says Rachel Robarge. You can also opt for double-duty patio furniture to save space and create more functionality, like a futon that can be transformed from an outdoor sofa to a bed.

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Create a focal point

Outer fire pit
Outer's fire pit can be a great focal point for a small patio space

When you have a lot of patio design ideas, it’s easy to go a little overboard with furniture and home decor. But if you have a small patio, it’s a good idea to create one focal point or theme around which you can build the rest of your patio design.

“If you have a small patio, make sure you define the space with something that creates the feeling you're going for, like a firepit, dining table, or gaming area,” suggests Lucy Small “Using a small patio for only one or the other is the best way to keep the space uncluttered.”

Make space for alfresco dining

Floyd Outdoor Dining Set
Floyd's outdoor furniture is perfect for small spaces

If you love the idea of dining alfresco on your patio with your favorite people while breathing in fresh air, then you might want to make an outdoor dining table a priority of your patio design. “An outdoor dining table is a great addition to any patio,” says Karen Rohr. “Whether you're enjoying a meal with family and friends or simply want a place to enjoy your morning coffee, an outdoor table is the perfect solution.”

But if your small patio doesn’t allow for a full-size dining set, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the perks of eating outside. A small bistro table or side table with a pair of dining chairs is all you need to enjoy a nice meal with a loved one.

Take your indoor style outside

If you’re not sure where to start with your patio design, consider letting the interior design of your home inspire it. Creating cohesion between your indoor and outdoor space can enhance both designs with a sense of flow and continuity. It can also make for a more comfortable outdoor living space.

“The outdoor area should be an extension of your indoor space,” suggests Megan Dufresne. “And if you make it inviting and comfortable you are more likely to use it.” Consider adding throw pillows and other small home decor items to your patio design that draw on colors, materials, and patterns found in the room that leads out to the patio.

Have fun with accessories

Speaking of home decor, just because you’re rocking a small backyard doesn’t mean you can’t add some personality-enhancing decor to take your patio design even further. “Adding throw pillows, outdoor rugs, and different types of lighting will take your patio design to the next level,” says Rachel Robarge. “They can bring in different colors and textures that will help give you an oasis feel.”

“Adding throw pillows, outdoor rugs, and different types of lighting will take your patio design to the next level."

And thanks to the small space, you don’t need a ton of home decor pieces to make a big impact. “A few well-placed accessories can go a long way in making your patio feel inviting and stylish,” says Karen Rohr. Hanging a few string lights, adding a throw pillow or two, and incorporating some colorful potted plants are simple ways that accessories can enhance your design.

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Pro Tips for Designing a Small Patio Space

Choosing to DIY a small patio design can feel a little overwhelming, but there are a few tips that make the process much easier. “Start by considering the purpose of the patio,” says Karen Rohr. “Do you want it to be a place for relaxing, entertaining, or both? Once you have a clear idea of what you want to use the patio for, you can start planning the layout.”

“Do you want it to be a place for relaxing, entertaining, or both? Once you have a clear idea of what you want to use the patio for, you can start planning the layout.”

For instance, if you know that you’ll use the patio for alfresco dining, then you probably want to invest in an outdoor dining set, which can serve as the focal point around which you create the rest of your patio design. On the other hand, if you plan to more often use your small patio for relaxing with a great book — like an outdoor living room, maybe you want a hammock or lounge chairs to serve as your focal point.

It’s also helpful to consider how you want your patio to feel in terms of comfort and overall vibes. “When designing a patio of any size, consider lighting, warmth, and comfort,” recommends Jessica Shaw. “I have found that most people spend the most time on their patio after the sun has gone down, so an affordable fire pit can create a huge difference.” You can also add string lights or other lighting types to enhance your patio’s ambiance.

“When designing a patio of any size, consider lighting, warmth, and comfort."

Once you’ve solidified your patio design’s focal point and created the ambiance you’re after, you can incorporate small patio decor ideas to finalize your design. And because you’re working with a small patio, you only need a few pieces of decor to make a difference. ‘With cozy seating and a place to have a drink, all you need is a potted plant on the table to make it feel inviting,” says Pamela O’Brien. Bonus points if that potted plant rocks a vessel with a playful color or pattern.

Written by
Kelly Weimert
Kelly Weimert is a writer, editor, and interior design expert with 10 years of experience writing about design and home decor. She's written for interior design publications such as MyDomaine, Apartment Therapy, Domino Magazine, and Hunker. When she's not writing or editing, she's probably busy obsessing over how to beautify her home.

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