We spend so much time in our backyard and it is always important to me to make it a cozy, functional, and inviting space for us to enjoy through spring, summer, and even into the fall. Having 4 children under the age of 8 means a lot of fun and always an excess of energy, so our home has to be a place to accommodate and celebrate that. We play, eat meals, lounge, entertain, snuggle, garden, run through the sprinklers, work, and everything in between out here, and we do all of that in a well laid-out small space. Social media and the internet tend to show that large backyards, farms, and expansive outdoor living spaces are the only way to go, but today I want to talk a little bit about making small spaces functional and beautiful.
Don’t get me wrong, we do hope to someday move our family out onto property in the country, but part of truly loving and enjoying life is to make the best of what we have right here and now. And I am not talking about just making the best of what you have in a begrudging sort of way. I am talking about really enjoying, appreciating, and thriving in spaces you grow to love.
I am convinced that the key to happiness it learning this one trick- to not wait until that day when everything is ‘perfect’ (when we have a bigger home, when we have a bigger yard, when we have…) to make our home and lives as beautiful, full, happy and content as possible. Because the reality is that if we wait, we are going to miss out on moments, memories, time with our loved ones, and the ability to truly learn happiness and gratitude.
I will be honest, I struggled with this backyard. It was definitely a clean slate to begin with. But over the years, and through a little elbow grease, it has become a sanctuary for our family that I absolutely love. And not because it is fancy or expensive at all, but because we have made the most out of every space and truly made it function for our family and lifestyle. You can see the ‘before’ picture HERE– it is unrecognizable!
One of the first things we did was to add privacy and block the neighbor’s R.V. by building this garden structure privacy screen. It is a free standing lattice that I have grown honeysuckle and akebia vines on. It has filled in beautifully over the years and adds so much green to our home and patio. Looking out my windows from the house, it is so nice to have the privacy of not seeing into the neighbor’s yard and it creates a very courtyard type of feeling. We didn’t have room between the patio and the fence to add trees, so this was a great option.
Add Seating and a Lounge Area
We added an outdoor sectional to our patio several years ago and we use it for many things. Comfortable seating is so important because it makes you want to linger a while longer. It is so helpful in enjoying your outdoor space. Our old cushions were hammered so I made these new cushions out of inexpensive R.V. foam and canvas drop cloths. They are washable and durable (I wash them every few weeks throughout the summer because of kids and the dog). I added these pillows to make it extra cozy.
Everything has a Function
I couldn’t go overboard on decorations, so most things are functional and pretty at the same time. This standing planter tray is great for entertaining, filling with ice and drinks, holding plates and flatware, etc. When it is not in use, it holds flowers, an old picnic basket, and vintage watering cans.
Growing a Garden in a Small Backyard
A garden was really important to me because it is something I truly love to do. I feel so much peace working out in my yard. We added a garden on the side of the house where the littles and I grow a variety of vegetables we love to eat- cucumbers, beans, carrots, onions, zucchini, sunflowers, herbs, pumpkins, and a variety of tomatoes.
To maximize the amount of things we could grow in our yard, I also added a couple of pots of herbs on the patio. Having these close to the kitchen door makes it very convenient to grab clippings while I am cooking dinner. They are also very pretty to look at (and bonus- some deter mosquitos).
This was only planted a couple weeks ago, but don’t let her fool you! She will be huge by the end of the summer! You can see more about how to build an easy garden box HERE and how to build wooden tomato cages HERE. We have been using both for many years now.
I incorporate food in almost every planter that we have. These pots have strawberry plants and the fairy garden on the bottom right has fresh mint growing in it. It smells wonderful.
Hanging Baskets and Potted Plants
I may have gone a little overboard on the hanging baskets this year, but they always make me smile. It is one of my very favorite spring traditions to go and pick them out and I love the pop of color and life they add to our little backyard. For small backyards, you can also plant some vegetables in hanging baskets as well.
Flowers and plants in pots are also easy to care for (they rarely ever get any weeds). Every morning, I go out and quickly water all of my pots and hanging baskets and they thrive.
Adding a Fire Pit to a Small Yard
We have been wanting to add a fire pit to our backyard for a few years now. We have looked at different options, but nothing was exactly what we wanted. Then I ran across this fun outdoor fireplace at Costco and thought it would be perfect! We will use it for warmth on chilly evenings but mostly for when we want to roast marshmallows and make s’mores with the kids.
Ambiance is an easy way to make things feel warm and inviting and a fireplace (and patio lights!) is one of the ways to add that.
Dining Table for a Small Patio
This table is the one we have had for several years. I just added a new top to it this year. We left it out in too many Idaho winters and the old top was very warped and splintery, so I built this top to replace it. When I was first designing our outdoor living space, I thought I had to pick between having a lounging area and having a table, but with a little planning and a lot of research, I was able to find both to fit in the small space.
This table with benches paired with the sectional created the perfectly multi-functional space for our family. If the sectional was a couch and chairs or the benches at the table were chairs, both would not fit in the space. But by being selective with the types of furniture, we were able to have both! So functional for our family!
Kid Friendly Backyard
My goal is to always have a space that my kids can just be kids. Don’t let the outdoor furniture and pillows fool you- this is a very functional and family friendly (washable) space. When they are barefoot, covered in dirt from hours of playing, and sticky from s’mores it makes my heart so happy.
Making Room for Large Barbecue (Traeger Pellet Smoker Grill)
We used the little alcove in one of the planters (sort of hidden and out-of-the-way) adjacent to the patio to add a grill. We grill a lot of our dinners in the summer, so this was an important addition for our family. My hubby wanted the largest Traeger he could find, so we had to think outside of the box to make it possible to fit it in the design plan. Creating a grilling area out of a planter ended up being the best solution for our family.
In order to make room for the grill to safely be in the planter area, we removed all plants from the space. You will want to follow all enclosed grill safety and installation instructions and research your own fire safety instructions. We also added pavers for the grill to sit on top of.
A She Shed in a Small Backyard
My She shed is in the other side yard. It is snuggled back in a cozy alcove away from the hustle and bustle, but it still overlooks the kids’ play area. Fitting a shed in our backyard was not something I thought we could do when I first thought of the idea of having a she shed back here, but with a little planning it came to fruition! And I love that it has its own cozy space!
One thing that I have discovered about any space, but this one in particular, is that if you add planters and vegetation around it, it looks like it was always there. It makes it look intentional and loved.
Having a smaller yard or patio can still be functional and happy for a large family. The key is to prioritize the things you truly want/need and rethink how to use every corner in your yard to accommodate. Creating beautiful places is always worthwhile!
I wanted to share some of my friends’ yards and outdoor entertaining areas with you today! You will love them!