“Inch by inch, everything’s a cinch.”

My father used this pithy phrase a lot when I was growing up, in reference to achieving larger goals. It’s a concept I’ve returned to throughout my design career. Rather than look at a problem in its entirety, break it down into component parts. Solve each part and the bigger picture, reimagined with clarity and purpose, will eventually emerge.

Since Outer’s inception, we’ve talked to hundreds of people about their backyards—the good, the bad, the shady. Here we tackle some of the most common concerns we came across using basic design principles and that bit-by-bit philosophy that’s stuck with me since my childhood.


1. My yard is gigantic. How do I fill the space without tons of furniture or landscaping?  

First, think about how you use the space today, and how you dream of using it in the future.

Typically, these activities consist of dining, lounging, and playing (gardening, sports, or kid activities). Now that you’ve broken up your big space into functional areas, you can address one at a time.

4 ways to break a large outdoor space into functional areas

  1. Use your outdoor furniture to define them.
  2. Invest in an outdoor rug. The perimeter of the rug helps our eye distinguish a break in materials or textures.  
  3. Build a DIY raised planter, or purchase planters to create virtual walls between one space and another. An herb or vegetable garden could be a fun project, especially with kids, with the added bonus of having organic, sustainable food to eat.
  4. Plant bamboo for added privacy.

Plants are always a great way to create a natural division or wall in an overwhelming space. A green wall if you will. They also enhance the space’s natural beauty and dampen out sound—win-win.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

2. How can I maximize my small patio space without making it feel too crowded?

Designing smaller outdoor spaces is a luxury—picture it like your own private sanctuary in an urban jungle. Here’s how to create a space without overfilling it.

How to maximize your outdoor space

  1. Proportions play an important role. Find furniture that feels appropriate for the size of your space. For example, a sofa with a lower track arm would suit a small space more than a sofa with a roll arm.
  2. Materials and visual weight can also ensure a space doesn’t feel too crowded. Opt for a wireframe coffee table versus one with thick legs, which creates a visual heaviness.
  3. Pattern matters. It can be the difference between a space that’s calm and one that’s busy and chaotic. If you love patterns for pillows, stick to the same color palette so they feel cohesive, then ground the grouping with solid or color-block pillows.
  4. Speaking of color, think tonally—when selecting a color palette, choose accessories that are gradients of a color group, like lavender and dark purple. Then add a single pop of color.  

3. My yard is quite shady. Is there a way to warm it up or make it feel more inviting?

A shady space is not a curse! Think about how special it is when walking in the woods and spotting a brightly colored flower or bug. That pop of color makes you pause and appreciate your surroundings even more. The same theory applies to shady outdoor spaces.

How to make your backyard more inviting

  1. It’s easier to bundle up than stay cool, so be thankful. Consider adding a fire pit to your darkened space for cozy nights under the stars.
  2. Take advantage of any overhead elements—hang string lights or lanterns.
  3. Stick with a warm color palette (oranges, reds, browns) for your base fabrics, and then toss in some bold accent pillows for a touch of whimsy or pop of color
Photo by Tim Mossholder

Rather than try to brighten a dark space, consider enhancing and bringing out the best of what your space already has to offer. I picture walking in Muir Woods among the redwood trees, and how the sun naturally dapples through the foliage. It’s magical. Or, of all those beautifully stylish Instagram images of people dining under a mature Oak Tree with lanterns hanging from the branches and an eclectic mix of chairs. Doesn’t sound so bad anymore, right?

We want to hear more about your design challenges and successes. Tag us in your backyard photos on social media and let us know what you’d like to learn about next.

#LiveOuter