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Seven Tricks to Make a Small Deck Look Bigger

small cedar deckAre you struggling to fit a deck in a mini-yard?  Or do you already have a small deck that you wish looked bigger? You’re not alone. Over the last century or so, the size of the average American house has boomed, while the size of the surrounding yard has shrunken.

Between 1950 and 2000, the National Association of Home Builders found, the average American home went from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet of livable space. Concurrently, lot sizes have been on the decline. Urban planners are keen to prevent sprawl, and one way to do that is to subdivide larger lots and sell off the new parcels.

As a result, more and more Americans are faced with a miniscule amount of outdoor space.  Fortunately, good design can trick the human eye into thinking that even the smallest of decks is large enough for a good time. This article will explain how you can make a small deck look bigger.

1. Revise Your Landscaping. The first technique for making a small yard appear bigger is to carefully select plants and landscaping features that will expand your space.

Clutter is your enemy. Don’t overwhelm a tiny yard with dozens of statues and hundreds of blossoms. If you must have oceans of flowers, at least limit the colors. Otherwise, the clash of tones could lend a clownish appearance to your space. Instead, plant blocks or spots of complimentary colors. An expanse of pure purple (in the form of lavender, perhaps) can help make your yard and deck appear bigger.

Emphasize height and texture. As you surround your cedar or composite deck with inviting, relaxing or invigorating plants, think about how to incorporate vertical elements into your design. Bamboo, for example, creates an instant shield from prying eyes while providing a soothing wall of greenery. Tall, skinny plants draw the eye skyward and make any space feel more expansive. Similarly, contrasting textures add beauty without overwhelming the space. Whatever you do, don’t let the area around your deck feel overgrown—hack back overwhelming bushes and trees to allow the open space to shine.

2. Highlight the deck. Make your deck the focal point by surrounding it with appealing plants. Instead of planting around your boundary line, line your deck with variegated, glossy and/or compact plants that will make the space shine.

3. Move patio objects (grills, tables, chairs, etc.). It could be that all your patio really needs is some careful rearranging. A round table goes especially well in the corner of a wood deck, for example. Consider buying a smaller grill if your super-size cooker is sucking up all of your patio space. Or perchance your six-person picnic table could be replaced with a two-person table with the option to flip up extra table surfaces for entertaining. If you must keep your big BBQ, consider creating a better spot for it by adding some patio stones off of the deck.

4. Create privacy with sensual details. A challenge of any small space is making it feel separated from the outside world. To create a sanctuary around your deck, activate the five senses with objects such as wind chimes and fountains. Alternatively, you can use the natural soundproofing capabilities of plants to create your urban oasis. You may consider adding a trellis or a pergola to provide a surface for climbing plants, such as wisteria, to grow into a natural sound barrier.

5. Select built-in furniture. A bench around the outside of your patio or deck will provide much-needed seating while taking up minimal space.

6. Avoid blocking pathways. Consider the utility of your patio. Make sure you have a clear pathway and your placement of furniture does not block the natural movement inherent in your space. The minute a person has to awkwardly sidestep an ill-placed table, he or she feels cramped.

7. Choose cool and/or pastel colors. Blues, greens, grays, whites and tans: All of these tones will make your space appear larger. In contrast, warm colors such as ruby make a space appear cozier and more intimate.

If you’ve tried these techniques but are still frustrated, think about adding a patio off your deck. With a tarp or landscaping fabric, time, a shovel and a strong back, nearly anyone can add a patio to their backyard. If you have the space, think about the two surfaces as two separate rooms, with the deck leading naturally to the patio. Matching deck stains, colors or materials can tie together such outdoor rooms.

~Colleen Welch, 2010

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