Maximize Your Space with These 33 Small Backyard Ideas

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.

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.

Tucson Small Yard Design

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.

Yard for a Historic Home

Spanish Bungalow

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.

Turning the Front Yard Into the Backyard

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.

Backyard With a Hot Tub and Barbecue

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.

Another Part of the Yard

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.

Asian-Inspired Backyard

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.

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      Tiny Toronto Backyard

      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.

      Family-Friendly San Francisco Backyard

      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.


      Neat and Vertical Backyard

      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


      Small Backyard With Planters

      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.


      Organized Backyard Layout

      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’.

      Reimagined Brooklyn Brownstone

      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.

      Brooklyn Bluestone

      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.

      Gazebo Focal Point

      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.

      Downtown Chicago Pad

      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.

      Natural Berkeley Backyard

      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.

      Luxurious Lissoni in Miami

      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.

      Yard With Zones

      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.

      Planter With a Purpose

      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.

      Corner Backyard in Virginia

      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.

      Clean-Line Backyard Design

      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.

      Super Small Backyard Turned into a Dream

      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