Small backyard ideas: 10 clever ways to maximize a small outdoor space

Our small backyard ideas will help you to create the yard of your dreams, even if you’re limited on square footage

small backyard ideas with sofas and gas fire pit table on patio
(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

The best small backyard ideas will help you to make the most of your plot. After all, when it comes to outdoor space, not every backyard is created equal. While some homeowners might have acres and acres to play with, many others have a pretty limited area to work with. Figuring out what to do with a small backyard might be a challenge, but there are plenty of ways to maximize your space and create a perfect oasis.

Whether you’re interested in creating an entertainment area for summer fêtes, a serene escape where you can curl up with a good book in the afternoon, or a practical space for you to try your hand at growing your own produce, there’s plenty of backyard ideas to suit to suit smaller spaces in our selection. 

Small backyard ideas: 10 brilliant looks for smaller plots

Time to give your outdoor space a refresh? We've rounded up our favorite small backyard ideas to give you plenty of inspiration to start your transformation project. 

1. Create an extension of your indoor living space

small backyard outdoor living space with sofa and fireplace

This project in Venice Beach, California by Kim Gordon Designs (opens in new tab) makes the most of every inch of space

(Image credit: Brandon Arant/Kim Gordon Designs)

Outdoor furniture has evolved from the days of wooden picnic tables and slatted metal loungers. With advances in weather-resistant materials you can create an outdoor living space that looks just like the one you might find inside your house — and is just as comfortable.

Despite what you might think, oversized furniture can actually be the best option when it comes to the most successful small backyard ideas. 'Forget benches and small metal chairs, they are never comfortable,' says designer Kim Gordon (opens in new tab), who created this tiny bohemian-style oasis in Venice Beach, California. 'Using sink-in, oversized seating in a small space makes it look and feel much bigger.' 

The general rule is that the more comfortable your outdoor furniture is, the more likely you are to use your outdoor space. Plus, you’ll be adding liveable square footage to your home — a huge advantage if you live in a smaller house.

2. Build a small deck or patio for maximum practicality

grey paved backyard patio

(Image credit: Lambs Lawn Service & Landscaping)

If you plan on entertaining in your backyard, it's likely need to create a flat space for amenities like a fire pit, dining table, hot tub, or even just a few lounge chairs. Depending on your specific landscape, you can either build a deck or a patio, or something in between like the patio design pictured. 

If you’re working with a hilly yard, you might need to opt for elevated decking ideas to get that flat area you need. But if your backyard is already flat, you can opt for a more straightforward patio.

In general, decks are a little more expensive than patios, since there’s a bit more engineering involved. Patios, on the other hand, are much easier to install. You can even learn how to lay a patio yourself using either pavers or gravel. But in either case, creating a flat surface in your small backyard essentially gives you a blank canvas to design the entertaining area of your dreams.

3. Plant a vegetable garden and grow your own crops

raised vegetable beds in tiered Los Angeles garden

In this Los Angeles project by DMAR Interiors (opens in new tab), tiered vegetable beds make the most of the sloping plot

(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

Gardening might have everything to do with land, but that doesn’t mean you need a lot of land to do it. As this outdoor space shows, including a few kitchen garden ideas in your small backyard can be more achievable than you might think. 

'Many people are gardening on terraces and other small spaces, so a small yard isn't a problem,' says Dan Bailey, president WikiLawn Austin Lawn Care (opens in new tab). 'You just need to maximize space. You can do this by having a garden that grows more vertically rather than sprawling out horizontally. Vertical crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers work well for this. To save even more space, invest in plant cages so they can have structure and guidance when growing.'

For an even more compact version, why not learn how to create a herb garden? Many herb growers simply have pots on the patio or a couple of window boxes for their mini herb gardens. 

The best part? You get to reap the benefits of your hard work with fresh produce or fresh herbs.

4. Create an outdoor kitchen for alfresco entertaining

decked terrace with outdoor kitchen and dining area in Los Angeles

This outdoor kitchen by DMAR Interiors (opens in new tab) has a small footprint, but still makes room for a pizza oven

(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

'This summer, move your kitchen outdoors so you can entertain while you cook,' says Tyler Forte, founder and CEO of real estate company Felix Homes (opens in new tab). 'Investing in an outdoor kitchen can be a costly project, but it's a feature that can recover most of its cost upon resale. The best idea is to keep it simple and include kitchen basics: large grill, stainless-steel storage drawers, sink with running water, countertop for food prep, outdoor fridge and freezer with plenty of room for drinks and ice, and waste receptacle for trash and recyclables.'

On that note, you can definitely expand beyond the usual suspects when it comes to choosing appliances to complement your outdoor kitchen ideas. This design has a small footprint, but still makes room for one of the best pizza ovens in the set-up.  

5. Build a pool to fit the shape of your yard...

backyard with pool at dusk

(Image credit: Joseph Richardson Landscape Architecture)

Think pools and small backyard ideas don't go together? Think again. Pools definitely aren’t just for homeowners with sprawling backyards. Whether you’re working with a pool designer or shopping around for a prefabricated option, you’ll be able to work with a variety of shapes to fit your specific space. After all, not every pool needs to be a perfect rectangle or a kidney bean shape! Just take a look at this trapezoidal pool to see how it makes the most of the available space. 

Do bear in mind that for more compact backyards your pool will obviously need to be on the smaller side, which might be better for soaking and relaxing rather than swimming laps. Although, if you have a long, narrow backyard, you could potentially install a lap pool instead. 

Need more inspiration for your backyard pool ideas? Our dedicated guide is a great place to start. 

6. ...or add an infinity pool if your yard is hilly

modern infinity pool in a sloping backyard

(Image credit: Joseph Richardson Landscape Architecture)

If you have a steep incline in your backyard, fret not — you can still build a pool if you so desire. In fact, infinity pools are ideal for a sloping garden as they can be designed to work with the contours of the plot. However, you will need to bear in mind that they can be a pretty expensive project. 

This backyard project perfects the look, with a small infinity pool looking out onto a river. One of our favorite additions is the in-pool spa as it means there's no need to find additional space on the deck for one of best hot tubs

7. Place an outdoor rug over your hardscaping

yellow and white striped rug on patio next to backyard pool

Add some color and comfort underfoot with the Made You Look rug from FLOR (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: FLOR)

One of the downsides of building a deck or patio in your small backyard is that it will take away space for grass. To help create a more comfortable area, whether that’s for your kids to play our your pets to lounge around, you can roll out an outdoor rug. From a design perspective, rugs are also a great way to make a room (even an outdoor one) feel more cohesive. 

We love the vibrant, beach-inspired vibe of this rug by FLOR (opens in new tab), which actually comprises a series of carpet tiles rather than one single piece. It’s a versatile model that allows you to create the perfect shape for your space and is guaranteed to add a subtle splash of color and texture to any modern paving ideas

8. Don't forget about lighting

stake globe lights in flowerbed with painted garden walls

(Image credit: Houseof)

'Regardless of how you decide to decorate your small backyard, adding the right lighting to your space is critical,' says Eric Jeanette of the Lighting Tutor (opens in new tab). 'Not only will it improve the look and feel of what you are trying to accomplish, but it will also enable you to enjoy your yard at night. This can be accomplished by adding string lights, globes, pathway lighting and landscape lighting.'

These brass globe lights are a brilliant solution for your outdoor lighting ideas as they're easy to install; you don’t even need access to an outlet. They’re solar-powered, so all you have to do is stick the stakes and the solar panel in your lawn or flowerbed, then wait for twilight for them to automatically illuminate.

9. Install a water feature for a sensory experience

two tier backyard water feature

(Image credit: Patty Mitchell/Flickr)

When thinking about how we want to design our small backyard ideas, we’re often focused purely on the visual elements, but it's important not to forget about the other senses too. 

Adding a water feature is a great way to incorporate sound into your outdoor space, so you can sit outdoors and listen to the calming sound of water trickling in a fountain or small pond. 

Water features do require a bit of maintenance to ensure they don't end up filled with slimy green algae, and keep in mind the climate where you live. If winters are harsh, that will affect seasonal maintenance — you might need to drain the feature so that the water doesn’t freeze and potentially crack the structure.

There's plenty of inspiration on how to bring water into your plot in our water feature ideas

10. Hang art to make a feature of your backyard walls

courtyard garden with tropical inspired wall art

(Image credit: Wallsauce)

Art isn’t only for inside the house. While sculptures have long been included in all manner of backyard landscaping ideas, you can now hang wall art in an outdoor setting, adding to the living-room vibe of a well-appointed patio or deck. 

If your small backyard is walled in, one benefit is you'll have plenty of available garden walls for displaying some stunning art. Wall decor company Wallsauce (opens in new tab) offers metal prints that are designed to withstand the elements, so you can jazz up a wall or a fence with a painting or a photograph. They’re specially treated to be UV-resistant, meaning they won’t fade quickly in bright sunlight.

How can I maximize space in a small backyard?

decked patio with timber pergola and seating area

(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

Unless your backyard is perfectly flat, it's likely you'll want to install a deck or small patio in order to incorporate elements like fire pits, grills or outdoor sofas. 'Building a deck helps to define your space and give your backyard a sense of purpose,' says designer Rebecca Hays of Rebecca Hays Design (opens in new tab). 'Consider the size of furniture you will need before you build so that you have ample room to relax and walk around.'

Even if you're not planning to include a deck or patio, you’ll still want to design your yard to have different zones, each of which serves a specific purpose. Our favorite pergola ideas can be a brilliant way of achieving this, helping you to divide up your space for seating, cooking and entertaining, for example. Just remember, organization is key in a small space inside your home to enhance the feeling of space, and it’s equally as important in a small backyard too. 

What budget do I need to landscape a small backyard?

Nani Marquina Shade outdoor rug Go Modern on backyard patio

(Image credit: Go Modern)

Pricing varies across the board when it comes to landscaping small backyards. If you’re enlisting a contractor to build a pool and an outdoor kitchen with a wet bar, that’s going to get very pricey very quickly — we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars.

But backyards are also incredibly DIY friendly so you really don’t have to spend a fortune to create a beautifully designed outdoor space. If you're happy to put in little elbow grease then there are plenty of budget backyard ideas that you try out to transform your space.

How can you make a small backyard feel bigger?

modern backyard living space with seating around a gas fireplace

Project by DMAR Interiors

(Image credit: Molly Rose/DMAR Interiors)

Wondering how to make a small garden look bigger? One of the best ways is to play with the vertical elements in your space. There’s a reason New York City’s buildings are so tall — there’s more vertical space than there is horizontal. This design trick is particularly helpful when it comes to small garden layout ideas too.

Besides providing extra space for different elements of your small backyard ideas, designing vertically is also a great way to draw the eye into otherwise unused space, making it feel taller. You can also consider playing with perspective — that’s how landscape designer André Le Nôtre designed the main axis of the gardens of Versailles in France to look infinite.