However a patio is defined in your garden – a paved area, a stepped deck, even a balcony – it’s not about the size of it, it’s about what you do with it. Thoughtful small patio ideas can make even the tiniest of spaces feel more valuable.
As Francesca Hadland, Product Executive from Bridgman.co.uk enthuses, ‘small spaces have huge potential. Thinking flexibly and smartly can transform your small patio into an outdoor paradise that will only be limited by a lack of imagination, not a lack of space’.
Small patio ideas
Small patio ideas can benefit from little tricks and ideas that can elevate a ‘meh’ space into a marvellous one, and often on a budget, too. And as Garden Trading’s senior buyer Claire Wilks succinctly puts it, ‘a small patio can be just as rewarding as a rambling garden idea when thoughtfully styled’.
1. Add a useful framework
Assembling a wooden structure over a patio, be it using beams, rafters or a pergola, not only adds substance to a small patio, but gives you a framework to suspend lighting from. Fairy lights work particularly well here as the generous lengths of wire they’re attached to are perfect for threading over, through, under and around posts and beams. This is an ideal small patio idea on a budget to effortlessly create an intimate nook that oozes charm and ambience.
When you’re hunting for fairy lights, choose soft white over bright white bulbs as they’ll emit more of an ethereal glow (thus enhancing the romantic feel) and plump for white or transparent wiring, which will be less visible than black.
If your small patio resides in sunny spot, an overhead structure will provide shade as well as a useful frame for guiding easy climbing plants such as clematis and ivy to climb up. Even more enticingly, you could cultivate a mini orchard by planting climbing fruit plants (such as grapes and berries), adding colour, scent and fresh food!
2. Choose slim furniture
Chunky garden dining armchairs may look comfy and inviting but position them around an equally hefty dining table, and poof! Your small patio will visually shrink. Skinny is the best garden furniture option; not only will it physically take up less room, but it won’t block out any light, thus maximising the feeling of a small garden. Furthermore, a generous clearance underneath the table top and chair seats will afford you a clear view from the indoors out.
Opt for a narrow table with a slim top and simple, streamlined legs (ones that are set at an angle rather than just straight up and down will look more modern) and team with a set of skinny dining chairs with slinky legs.
If you’re partial to arm rests, just ensure that they’re whippet-thin ones and check that the whole set can be tucked in to the table when not in use. Seat pads and small cushions will provide comfort and pops of colour
3. Embrace the power of pattern
To make a small space stand out, using floor tiles that are patterned is an easy but effective for patio paving ideas. As Colin Lincoln-Evans, Buyer at Tile Mountain explains, ‘Patterned tiles create interest and add contrast to what can otherwise be a bland space. Plus, they don’t have to cover the entire area to be effective. For a small patio, using a large tile with a simple pattern will minimise the grout lines and ensure the space doesn’t look cluttered’.
Another benefit of using large tiles to floor a small patio is that you won’t need many of them, saving you time, money and effort. Consider choosing porcelain tiles over ceramic ones; the latter option is the cheaper one, but the manufacturing process of porcelain tiles makes them ultra resistant to staining, cracking and UV fading, arguably making them a more sensible choice in the long run.
4. Creat an immersive planting scheme
Large planters and troughs can take up masses of space on a small patio, so incorporating them into seating instead is a clever idea. Plus, a bespoke seating area will utilise all the nooks and crannies that your space has, and can be tailored to your taste. And it can be done on a budget, too – wooden planks can be cut to length, sanded, treated and assembled to create an L-shaped bench that encompasses a generously proportioned raised bed behind it.
Tropical plants, such as ferns, are easy to maintain and all that lush greenery will add colour and personality to your patio and break up the expanse of wood.
‘In the instance where your patio area is a small balcony or plain, flat patio’, says B&Q’s Category Manager, Dawn Ritchie, ‘use plants to add greenery to offset any urban environment and create a ‘jungle’ feel’.'
Check which tropical plants need full sun, shade or a bit of both, before you buy though, or consider artificial tropical plants that will, ‘inject biophilic beauty without worrying about the maintenance that comes with a garden’, as Joanne Evans from Homescapes advises.5. Form a clear walkway
5. Form a clear walkway
Just like in a bedroom where pushing a bed up against a wall, rather than in the middle of the room, can free up floor space, the same applies to a small patio.
To further enhance the space, choose straight-edged over curved furniture that can sit flush against a wall or fence. You want to create a clear pathway, but balance the positioning of the furniture so you have equal amounts on either side. This will avoid your patio from looking like a storage space!
Soft furnishing such as cushions, throws and tablecloths will break up the straight lines, adding pattern and personality along the way.
6. Opt for light shades
‘To make a patio space feel larger, keep things light when it comes to choosing colours’, say the experts from KING Design Studio.
A pastel colour palette will do just this, will the added bonus of creating a pretty look that’s full of charm and cheer. The key is to keep everything pale, from flooring and fencing to furniture and accessories, and to mix and match three to four harmonious hues – this will ensure a sense of style and cohesion, and avoid it from looking monotonous.
On a practical note, when it comes to patio chairs, light shades won’t absorb the sun as much as dark ones, so they’ll be cooler to the touch when those heat waves (here’s hoping!) hit.
Chalk paint is ideal to achieve this halcyon look – use to upcycle existing garden furniture or invest in a no-frills patio set and get happy with a paintbrush.
7. Use a mirror to double the space
The still-going-strong penchant for outdoor mirror ideas has resulted in a seemingly endless choice of style, shapes and sizes to appease all tastes. But they’re not just pretty faces! Position them with precision and they can double the size, light and beauty of a small patio.
‘A mirror can work magic by visually expanding the space,’ says B&Q’s Dawn Ritchie. Seek out one that’s long and rectangular to reflect a view that’s panoramic, creating a feeling of not just extra space, but a wider space.
It’s also important choose one that’s plain and simple – that means no fussy features nor fancy frames - as what you want to enhance is the illusion of space, rather than the mirror itself.
Be mindful of where and how you hang it, too. It needs to be positioned at eye level and opposite the nicest view (because who wouldn’t want a double injection of beauty!) and somewhere that frequently catches the sun.
8. Avoid overwhelming furniture choices
Turn the old adage, ‘the bigger the better’ on its head when it comes to small patio ideas, as Garden Trading’s, Claire Wilks advocates, ‘to make the most of small outdoor spaces, opt for furniture that is not too overwhelming in size – petite bistro sets are perfectly suited to smaller patios and gardens as they don’t take too much floor space and can be folded and hidden away’.
Team a foldaway table with bijou seating – benches are naturally disposed to be smaller and more practical that separate seats, plus, when you’re not outside as much during the colder months, they can be shunted to the sides, sit flush against a wall and used as plant stands. Painting them in a bright colour will inject some va va voom and a sense of fun and occasion.
9. Consider a pack-away patio
If your small patio is directly outside your indoor living space, you may want to keep sightlines into the garden clear and unfussy. A neat and neutral space could work for you and can easily be achieved.
Go for pale or bleached uniformed decking or paving, and reflect the colour and style of this on the surrounding walls and fences to form a seamless feel. The idea is to create a blank canvas, but by opting for a soothing shade and simple style choices, such as tongue and groove and block paving, it will look warm and chic rather than cold and stark.
Be savvy with your furniture choices, too – chairs that can be stacked or folded and packed away in a finger click will tick the practicality box but put equal importance on good looks – beach or director-style chairs with a canvas seat and back look and feel smart and comfy. Team with one or two butler tray tables – they are brilliant space savers, can be stored away speedily, look chic and are budget friendly.
10. Define the space with a rug
An outdoor rug has been a ‘thing’ now for a good few seasons, and for good reason. They deliver on so many levels – from softening decking underfoot and adding pattern and colour, to anchoring furniture and defining the space. Oh, and as they are so affordable, they’re a brilliant idea for small budgets!
‘We have seen a huge increase in demand for garden furnishings such as cushions and rugs, ‘ says Joanne Evans of Homescapes. ‘They are popular as they offer a quick update to upgrade your patio spaces easily, plus, they can give the illusion of a larger space- following the 2022 garden trend of bringing the indoors out’.
11. Trick the eye with a feature wall
Feature walls can be just as effective outdoors as they are indoors, but as wallpaper isn’t an option, consider a canvas or tiled mural instead. Not only will it look beautiful and turn heads, it’ll be the focus of the patio, taking the attention away from the patio (and its smallness) itself. In fact, choosing one wall that goes across the whole width of your patio will make the small garden space look bigger and wider.
Murals also get brownie points for their escapist qualities – choose a botanical scene or water feature to evoke a sense of tranquillity, a walled garden with a beguiling mirror to blur the lines between reality and fairy tale fantasy or a sun, sea and sand setting to transport you straight to a tropical island.
What is the ideal patio size?
Tile Mountain’s Colin Lincoln-Evans says, ‘An ideal patio needs to be large enough to encompass all the elements that are important to you and your family - for example, an outdoor dining area and somewhere to sit and relax, but with enough room to move comfortably around the space.’
‘When it comes to size’, explains Dawn Ritchie, ‘there is no ‘perfect’ one size fits all. Rather what size fits the activity you’re going to use the space for. Why not try sketching the space? Assign an activity, and allow ample space for it, including traffic flow and furniture to see if your design fits the space you have allocated’.
Francesca Hadland, Product Executive at Bridgman.co.uk advises to, ‘measure your living room and use similar dimensions for your patio. This will ensure the patio is definitely spacious enough for ample outdoor seating. If you’re unsure, rope off the proposed area and place your outdoor furniture inside it to see how it fits. If you don’t have your furniture yet, lay rope or tape in the shape of the sets you’re looking to buy’.
What can I do with a small patio?
‘If you are finding it hard to incorporate everything you need into your space, try finding space saving, or ‘double purpose’ items to use’, suggests Stefan Gheorghe, Design Expert from Homedit.com, ‘Seating benches which double up as storage can be a great option to save space while still providing a fantastic family dining area.’
Francesca Hadland warns, ‘steer clear of cluttering up petite patio areas with furniture that sits empty most of the time. Use smart, stylish and space-saving flexible furniture like stackable chairs, bar stools and even loungers that can be stacked on top of each other and stored away when not in use. Pair with a foldable table for a set you can effortlessly move to one side whenever you choose’.
How to clean a patio
If you already have a patio then sometimes just giving it a clean can give a tired patio a whole new lease of life. The best patio cleaners on the market are a quick, easy and hassle-free way to shift dirt and grime.
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Fiona Galley has been a Freelance Journalist since 2015, contributing to lifestyle titles both on-line and in print. Previously, she was the in-house Lifestyle Editor at Essentials magazine, where she styled shoots, compiled shopping sections and looked after the reader homes pages.
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