23 Small Backyard Ideas to Make the Most of Your Space

Landscaping and Layout Inspiration for Your Outdoor Space

Small backyard with white-themed landscaping and guesthouse

Not everyone is blessed with a big backyard, but there are plenty of small backyard ideas to make your property look and function at its best. For those who live in places with tighter outdoor spaces, it’s just a matter of practicing smart design on a smaller scale. Whether you live in an apartment, condo, townhouse, loft, or house that has more indoor than outdoor space, you can still carve out a yard with soil, trees, plants, patios, seating, and even water features. 

We’ve found 23 diverse designs and solutions for small backyards and outdoor spaces, from urban to suburban and everything else in between.

01of 23

Tucson Small Yard Design

tuscon small yard designs
 Kathryn Prideaux

Kathryn Prideaux works magic with small spaces in Tucson and other Arizona cities, infusing the colors of the sky, surrounding terrain, and nature into her landscape designs for patio homes and condominiums. She expertly fuses styles and materials: rejuvenating midcentury modern outdoor furniture, adding rustic materials, finding innovative uses for colorful tile, and incorporating sculptural forms and succulents.

Although Tucson’s Skyline Springs condominium complex has a swimming pool, the owners of this unit wanted a private pool. Prideaux Design, with the help of Cimarron Circle Construction Company, designed a stunning blue glass mosaic-tile pool as the yard’s centerpiece, with a ledge for in-pool lounge chairs when desert temperatures spike. Additional features include a poured-in-place etched concrete patio, rusted steel panels and walls, original adobe block walls, and a revitalized vintage Brown Jordan patio dining set.

  • 02of 23

    Yard for a Historic Home

    historic small yard ideas
     Jacobs Grant

    German Village in Columbus, Ohio, is a neighborhood of brick row houses built in the 1800s by German immigrants that has been undergoing preservation and revitalization since 1959. A small backyard in the district that had faded concrete pavers and an oversized iron table was transformed by Jacobs Grant Design into a functional, enjoyable space for its new homeowners. Jacobs Grant divided the space into two areas: an outdoor living room and a dining area, surrounded by hornbeam and boxwood hedges to create intimacy and structure. Designed in collaboration with Pots Abilities, the spaces include brick and bluestone, materials used on the facade of the historic house.

  • 03of 23

    Spanish Bungalow

    spanish bungalow small yard design
     Dig Your Garden

    For decades, lawns have been the go-to ground cover without anyone giving it much thought. That is until the ongoing drought in California and other dry regions forced landscapers and homeowners to rethink water-guzzling grass and come up with alternatives, such as xeriscape landscaping. 

    Dig Your Garden’s solution for the small yard of an older Spanish-style bungalow in San Anselmo, California, was to replace the grass with creeping thyme and other low-water ground covers and plants. A new Arizona flagstone pathway was added, along with a small patio that repeats the terra-cotta tones found elsewhere on the home’s exterior. 

    Other features, kept to a minimum, include an orange Fermob armchair, colorful pottery, and drought-tolerant plants like tibouchina, lion’s tail, lavenders, rosemary, yarrow, sunset hyssop, dwarf strawberry tree, and various succulents and ornamental grass.

    Tip

    A xeriscape garden is designed to use minimal water. Though typically practiced in dry, arid climates, it’s also becoming popular in other types of climates as a way to reduce water usage while saving money and time on landscaping.

  • 04of 23

    Turning the Front Yard Into the Backyard

    Turning the Front yard into the Backyard
     Catherine Bosler

    What do you do when your house has no backyard? You borrow space wherever you can find it. In this case, landscape designer Catherine Bosler looked to the 560-square-foot front yard for this Los Angeles area property.

    Inspired by the nearby coast, Bosler Earth Design added a wood deck painted in a distressed grey to create a living room with a fire pit. An outdoor dining area has decomposed granite (DG) underfoot and features a grill and prep counter. Bosler also incorporated a tall fountain to mask street noise and attract birds, added built-in benches of wood and stucco, privacy hedges, and a trellis with jasmine for its appealing fragrance.

    “The challenge was to fit everything into such a small space without feeling contrived and overdone and to make the space very private,” says Bosler.

  • 05of 23

    Backyard With a Hot Tub and Barbecue

    backyard with hot tub and barbecue
     

    Land Studio C

    An old deck and a desire to eliminate their lawn prompted the owners of this San Francisco home to enlist Land Studio C. Measuring about 1,500 square feet, the backyard now features a hot tub with a custom bench and vertical planting (back corner), a fire table, built-in barbecue, Corten (weathering) steel accents, and string lights.

    In this view of the yard, we see a pathway of concrete pavers set in pea gravel, a lounging area with an umbrella, and a delineated hardscape. The hot tub’s screening wall, bench, and a side yard screen were made from the old redwood deck.

  • 06of 23

    Another Part of the Yard

    small yard designs
     

    Land Studio

    Yes, this is the same yard in the same fairly small space, designed by Land Studio C for a house in San Francisco. Viewed from the middle of the yard toward the house, you can see the outdoor living room with the fire table, dining area, and small back porch. 

  • 07of 23

    Asian-Inspired Backyard

    asian-inspired small backyard ideas
     Change of Seasons

    Sacramento-based design firm Change of Seasons was inspired by the dividers of a bento box for its remodel of a backyard that features stone-lined sections or compartments to add interest and structure to an eco-friendly contemporary garden.

  • 08of 23

    Tiny Toronto Backyard

    toronto small backyard ideas
     Beyond Landscaping

    Working with limited space, Beyond Landscaping was able to create a low-maintenance retreat in the backyard of a home in Toronto, Canada, that features a small fiberglass pool, composite decking, a horizontal fence for privacy, and artificial turf.

  • 09of 23

    Family-Friendly San Francisco Backyard

    small backyard overhead view
     Creo

    The challenge: To design a backyard for a young family in San Francisco that could include room for dining and seating along with space for two little boys to let their imaginations run wild. Creo Landscape Architecture planted bluegrass and no-mow fescue on a berm for the children to play, along with interactive sculptures. Creo used durable redwood to build the fence and bench, while Podocarpus (plum pines) provide softscape and privacy. When not in use, the kids’ outdoor toys are stored inside the redwood benches.

  • 10of 23

    Neat and Vertical Backyard

    small urban yard
     Megan Maloy

    Emma Lam and her design team at A Small Green Space specialize in small yards: the bulk of their clients are in Jersey County, New Jersey, and nearby New York City. This 16 by 11.5-foot urban backyard is shared by three condos, making it a challenge for the designers to access via three private flights of stairs that lead to the yard. Since there is no outdoor water supply, the plants chosen are drought-tolerant. Among the upgrades to the neat, symmetrical design include:

    • Lightweight furniture
    • New fencing that includes vertical planters
    • A bluestone patio
    • An artificial lawn
  • 11of 23

    Small Backyard With Planters

    small backyard with planters
     KL Designs

    The owners of this small yard in the San Francisco Bay area hired KL Designs to redesign their outdoor space to accommodate raised wood planters in which they can grow vegetables and herbs. Building the raised beds allow the plants to grow in quality soil, keeps them away from city-dwelling critters (such as squirrels and mice), and provides easy access for maintaining the vegetables.

    Tip

    You don’t need to compromise on growing vegetables even if you have a small backyard. Many veggies grow exceptionally well in containers, such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. For fast-growing container veggies, consider peas and lettuce.

  • 12of 23

    Organized Backyard Layout

    organized small backyard
     Blue Hibiscus

    For symmetry and organization, a patio made of irregularly shaped Arizona flagstone was replaced by designers Blue Hibiscus Gardens with rectangular bluestone tiles in an ashlar pattern. A matching side patio was added using base rock and pre-cut pavers. A cozy deck features built-in seating and a concrete-top natural gas fire pit with prism fire glass. New plants include a Japanese maple and Pittosporum ‘Silver Sheen’.

  • 13of 23

    Reimagined Brooklyn Brownstone

    reimagined brooklyn small backyard
     Irene Kalina-Jones

    When their children outgrew the kid-oriented yard, a Brooklyn couple, both professors, decided to renovate the garden of their Brooklyn brownstone. With the help of Outside Space NYC, the backyard was divided into three areas with different levels. A geometric pergola provides shade and creates a comfortable seating area on the ipe deck. Raised stacked-stone beds are planted with a mix of low-maintenance shrubs, perennials, and ornamental grasses. The homeowner added a modern, lightweight outdoor sofa and coffee table for a midcentury feel.

  • 14of 23

    Brooklyn Bluestone

    brooklyn bluestone small backyard
     Amber Scott Freda

    Another backyard in Brooklyn was redesigned by Amber Freda Landscape Design as a space for entertaining and relaxation. A bluestone patio, custom horizontal planter boxes with casters for mobility, and fencing made of Ipe complement the outdoor kitchen and seating area with a fire pit.

    Freda’s challenge for this space: using the right plants for the widely varying pockets of sun and shade throughout the yard. In addition to a lush mix of flowering annuals and perennials, Freda used sweet potato vine, trumpet vine, Japanese maple, ornamental grasses, and dogwoods. Everything is equipped with automated low-voltage uplighting and drip irrigation lines.

  • 15of 23

    Gazebo Focal Point

    fernhill small yard design with gazebo
     Fernhill

    A stunning wood pergola is the centerpiece of a backyard in the quaint town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, designed by Fernhill Landscapes. With upholstery, pillows, and flowering plants that harmonize, the space is intimate and appealing.

  • 16of 23

    Downtown Chicago Pad

    Downtown Chicago Pad
     Reveal Design

    Besides Wrigley Field, the next-best place to enjoy a Chicago Cubs game is your own backyard, right in downtown Chicago. Created by Reveal Design, the linear design features a patio made with Technoblock pavers, Ipe, black steel and frosted-glass fencing, aluminum powder-coated planters, and the fire table and grill area are framed with Ipe. The illuminated orbs can be adjusted to change colors for holidays or sports on TV.

  • 17of 23

    Natural Berkeley Backyard

    berkeley small yard
     Green Alchemy

    Guided by the belief that gardens should blend seamlessly with the lives of their owners, Deborah Kuchar of Green Alchemy created a casual outdoor space for a house in Berkeley, California, that features natural materials like stone along with plants that create a lush, private space. Simple, classic butterfly chairs and a fire pit are surrounded by angel’s trumpet and lavender, among other growing things.

  • 18of 23

    Luxurious Lissoni in Miami

    ritz miami small yard design
     Ritz

    Italian architect and designer Piero Lissoni created the namesake Villa Lissoni at The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Miami Beach, a seven-acre property with more than 100 condominiums and a limited collection of 15 standalone properties. This upscale condo features a small, lush yard with tropical landscaping (including orchids), a private infinity pool (the property also has pools on-site), and patios that are accessible via floor-to-ceiling glass doors. 

  • 19of 23

    Yard With Zones

    small backyard with zones
     Land Aesthetic

    San Diego enjoys one of the most ideal climates in the United States (or anywhere), which is why the owners of this home in Encinitas sought assistance from Envision Landscape Studio to make the most out of their backyard space. Divided into zones or sections, the yard includes a lawn for pets and children, a fire pit with casual seating, a covered outdoor living room, a dining area, and a water feature, all surrounded by low-maintenance landscaping.

  • 20of 23

    Planter With a Purpose

    small backyard with planter
     Bradford Associates

    Peeking through the gate of a backyard in Providence, Rhode Island, remodeled by Bradford Associates, you can catch a glimpse of new fencing, a patio with lightweight furniture, and a raised bed that not only allows its owners to grow plants but helps to screen an adjacent raised filtration area.

  • 21of 23

    Corner Backyard in Virginia

    corner backyard in virginia
     Heart’s Ease

    Tucked into a corner of a backyard, a composite-decking bench was placed in front of a mature hydrangea bush to create an appealing nook. Designed by Peggy Krapf of Heart’s Ease Landscape and Garden Design in Toano, Virginia, the space features a bench that is set on a stone pad to create a level surface. Urns planted with annual color can be changed out seasonally.

  • 22of 23

    Clean-Line Backyard Design

    Clean-Line Backyard Design
     Christy Webber

    Symmetry, geometric design, and organization are often key to designing small backyards. Christy Webber Landscapes was inspired by this Chicago homeowner’s recent interior renovation—modern and using clean lines—to extend living space to the yard. The patio is paved with bluestone with blue-chip joints. A privacy fence is softened with medium-sized trees, like Japanese maple trees, along with birch and spruce trees, while boxwood, rhododendron, arborvitae, and pachysandra add year-round interest.

    Continue to 23 of 23 below.
  • 23of 23

    Super Small Backyard Turned into a Dream

    super small yard design
     Magic Landscaping

    Andrew Shepherd of Magic Landscaping was tasked with creating a backyard for a historic home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The challenge: “It had absolutely no backyard. What was there was about 20 feet deep and about 100 feet wide. The project scope was to create interest, beauty, privacy, and intimate spaces so that the family could go outside and spend time together,” says Shepherd.

    Using a combination of limestone boulders, Delaware pea gravel, cedar mulch, and lush greenery, Magic created fairytale-like paths, a fire pit, a trampoline for the kids, and a dining area. 

 

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