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Design Ideas for Small Backyards

Who says that small backyards can’t pack a big punch? Small outdoor living spaces may not be easy to design, but with innovation, creativity, and the right design team on your side, it’s possible. No matter how small your space is, Water and Earth believes that the right design solution exists for your family. We’ve completed a good number of high-impact designs in small backyards over the years. Today, we’re looking back at some of our favorite design ideas for small backyards.


Fireplace, Pool, Patio, Pergola!

When square footage is limited, clients can express concern over managing to fit in everything on their wishlist without the final product looking crowded. Water and Earth is well versed in solving complex space dilemmas, and most of the time we’re able to make it all work. In this first space, the homeowner’s backyard had a small footprint, while the clients themselves had big ideas.


They were eager to have a pool, seating and dining space, and create an area to gather around the fire on summer nights. After brainstorming, we settled on a design they loved and began construction. The final result was a perfect example on how you don’t have to compromise for less, even when space is limited.

Looking back toward the home from the elevated tanning deck.
Looking back toward the home from the elevated tanning deck.

Above, you see how each element of the finished space is concisely scaled to fit together without looking crowded or impeding functionality. Designing in small spaces is often a game of figuring out how to properly scale elements. Here, a large pool would have made the patio space for the dining area look cramped. Elevating the small deck allows visual interest to be created through use of vertical space.

Looking over the custom pool and spa. A cozy fireplace and outdoor dining area/kitchen fit snugly into the left hand side of the yard.
Looking over the custom pool and spa. A cozy fireplace and outdoor dining area/kitchen fit snugly into the left hand side of the yard.

Looking at the project from the other side of the pool, you see that not only were we able to include a small pool, but we were able to incorporate a spa as well. Clean, modern lines and a simple layout mean the homeowners are easily able to walk from one space to the next. Using a mix of industrial materials such as steel and organic finishes such as wood tie each space together. The finished effect is a harmonious, small design with big impact.

A closer look at the custom fireplace, finished in white stucco with plenty of storage space on complementary wooden shelves.
A closer look at the custom fireplace, finished in white stucco with plenty of storage space on complementary wooden shelves.

Taking a closer look at the custom fireplace and seating area, you can really see how keeping lines minimal and colors bright helped to keep this small space feeling open. From the open slatted pergola to the crisp white stucco of the fireplace, great design ensures nothing about this backyard feels closed off or cramped.


Custom Playground, Patio, and Pergola

When it comes to a custom outdoor living space, it’s critical that the finished design suits your lifestyle. A great backyard is one that serves a purpose for every member of the family. In this space, the homeowners were looking for a way to create a play space for their kids that could exist alongside a patio for adults to relax and look on.


The finished space is a testament to how unique design ideas for small backyards can create living spaces that are as functional as they are beautiful. Using the limited space, we decided to divide the yard into a space for adults and a space for kids' imaginations to run wild. An open, grassy space became home to a playset in a wood finish that matched other design elements in the space.

A look from under the custom pergola, finished with hanging lights and furnished with a dining and table and grill.
A look from under the custom pergola, finished with hanging lights and furnished with a dining and table and grill.

Off the back of the home, we constructed a slatted pergola finished with string lights. Underfoot, a stone patio brings an elevated look to the space while injecting some color into the backyard. The patio, while compact, leaves plenty of room for a dining table, extra storage, seating, and a sizable grill.

A green wall adds privacy and is less closed-off than a continuation of solid wood fencing.
A green wall adds privacy and is less closed-off than a continuation of solid wood fencing.

Moving out from under the pergola, you get a closer look at the finishings of the rest of the yard. The bluestone continues in a stepping path that brings kids off the patio and into their play space. Turf and privacy plantings soften the design’s right angles, while a perimeter bench adds additional seating away from the main patio.

A closer look at the custom playset that the homeowner’s children will enjoy for years to come.
A closer look at the custom playset that the homeowner’s children will enjoy for years to come.

The right hand corner of the backyard is completely devoted to kids. A large, modern playground structure is finished with beautiful cedar wood which plays off of the wood of planting beds, fencing, and the brand new pergola. The finished effect is one small backyard design that still has plenty of room for every member of the family to have a space that feels like their own.


Tiny Townhome Transformation

When we get asked about the smallest backyard designs we’ve done, this project is always near the top of the list. This tiny backyard was attached to our client’s condo. The existing space was small and lacked the function the homeowner’s were looking for. We knew that all this small space needed was a fresh, creative design concept. After working with the clients, we designed a space that turned their cramped condo’s outdoor space into the backyard of their dreams.

Looking from the unique, curved seating bench toward the home.
Looking from the unique, curved seating bench toward the home.

Not only was this townhome’s backyard small, but it was irregularly shaped. To solve this, we got creative. Above, you see the back entrance of the home opens onto an open patio space. From here, the homeowners can step up onto a raised deck with an additional seating wall. Or, they can step along a series of concrete pavers and take a seat on the funny, curved bench wall seating in the back corner of the property.

Looking from the back entrance of the home to the curved bench seating in the far corner of the property.
Looking from the back entrance of the home to the curved bench seating in the far corner of the property.

The curved seat wall not only allows it to fit perfectly in the small back corner of the yard, but creates a natural conversation space for guests. From any area of the property, guests are always within eyeline. This means even this small space has plenty of capacity for entertaining without anyone struggling to find a place to sit.


Materials like composite decking, interlocking patio pavers, and beach pebble come together to create a dynamic blend of hardscaping materials. Throughout the design, ample landscaping creates a private, jungle-like effects while injecting color and softening the space.

Outdoor lighting means the space remains functional even after the sun goes down.
Outdoor lighting means the space remains functional even after the sun goes down.

Of course, a space that isn’t functional after the sun goes down isn't using its full potential. Here, we used spotlighting, path lighting, and string lighting to bring a warm ambience long after the sun goes down. The finished effect turns this postage stamp sized space into a yard with ample seating and the ability to entertain guests day or night.


A Narrow Yard Has it All

Rounding out this list of design ideas for small backyards is this unique project done for homeowners with an unusually narrow backyard. While the space was an average length, the depth of the space was incredibly narrow. We were challenged to create a design solution that could transform a narrow backyard into a functional, beautiful space for the whole family.

Looking at the long patio, completed with an extended pergola, kitchen space, and gas fire pit.
Looking at the long patio, completed with an extended pergola, kitchen space, and gas fire pit.

High on this client’s list of priorities was to create outdoor space where they could entertain, eat, and gather. To maximize the functionality of the yard, we constructed a long, elevated pergola which was anchored to the home’s roof on one side. Angular slats block the sun while throwing a pattern of light and shadow on the blue stone patio below.

A long bench wall spans the perimeter of the space.
A long bench wall spans the perimeter of the space.

To maximize seating, we created a long seat wall along the back of the property, with half of the bench wall remaining shaded, while the rest allow guests to enjoy the sunshine or gather around the fire pit.

Out-deco panels add visual interest to the property’s fence.
Out-deco panels add visual interest to the property’s fence.

While the narrow footprint of the yard didn’t leave an excess of room for landscaping, we managed to inject color and greenery with a long, narrow planting bed along the back edge of the space. Against the fencing, we added a series of decorative outdoor panels to help create texture of visual interest without taking up any additional room.


Find The Design Inspo You’re Looking For

To view more spaces like the ones shown here,visit our blog. From full design walkthroughs, to answers to your most-asked design questions, we have the answers you’re looking for. For day to day inspiration,follow us on Instagram.

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