For those who choose the hard-core urban life, a balcony or terrace can be that little bit of nature that keeps you sane. It’s a place to take an evening cocktail or a morning coffee, turn your face to the breeze and rebalance yourself. A well-decorated outdoor space can be a little piece of heaven.
Here are our tips for creating your fair-weather oasis:
- Start with the floor. Nothing can undo a beautifully kitted-out space faster than standing on bare concrete while you’re trying to enjoy it. Garden centres carry colourful indoor/outdoor area rugs that will do the trick, or pick up a cheap synthetic remnant at a carpet store and get it cut to size. If you get it cheap enough, you can always just chuck it at the end of the season and get another one next year. Don’t try to stretch it more than one season if it’s designed for indoor use — mould and a squishy feeling underfoot are not going to do your oasis justice.
Wooden tiles or wooden planks look great, especially with an abundance of plants. You can get interlocking deck tiles made of wood, plastic, stone or composite at most home improvement stores. There are outdoor-rated tiles in beautiful finishes and colours, too, that can be installed right over your concrete floor; make sure you get a handy friend to help, as inadequate drainage can damage the concrete underneath.
- Think vertically. Make good use of balcony walls and save floor space by gardening vertically. You can buy vertical planters ready to go and fill them with whatever makes you happy, and these days there are several options for easily hung planters that start out looking like what they are — plastic bags full of dirt — but quickly become delightful.
As with most things decorative, it just depends how much effort you want to put into it. Ferns, ivy, petunia, verbena, alyssum and nasturtium are all good choices for a vertical garden, and nasturtium even add a peppery kick to a salad. Make good use of wall space with your furniture choices too. Pick up a storage bench at the home improvement store that will give you a place to tuck away bar supplies, your watering can or a cozy blanket, and turn it into a cute sofa by adding a cushion to the top, and then wall-mounting matching cushions on a rod behind it for back support.
- Light up the night. You may spend most of your balcony time during daylight hours, but giving due consideration to lighting can turn it into something magical at night. Consider three levels of lighting: from above, at table height, and uplighting from the ground.
As far as we’re concerned, string lights never go out of style; you can use small hooks to hang them from the ceiling or wrap them around the railing itself. For mid-level lighting, you can stick to candles if it’s merely ambiance you’re after, or plug in something brighter if you like to read in the evening. Lanterns that sit right on the floor and cast light upwards make everybody look gorgeous and provide an unexpected touch. Solar torches that you can just stick into the soil of a planter and forget about are ideal for small spaces, and they’re cheap too.
- Plants, lots of plants. Even if you don’t have a green thumb and struggle to keep indoor plants alive, having to nurture something through just one season is a far less daunting task. Watch your balcony at different times of day to determine whether you’re full sun, partial shade or shady, and take that knowledge with you when you go to pick out greenery. Be honest with yourself about how much care you’re prepared to give them.
If just watering them seems like too much work, there are some great-looking artificial plants around. Traditional window boxes always look good, but if you’ve got the space, more substantial containers won’t need to be watered as often.
- Furnish it for you. It’s great to sit outside with a friend, but if you’re going to use the balcony by yourself 90 per cent of the time, make it right for you. You can always keep a folding chair tucked away in a corner for when you do have a visitor, but don’t be afraid to take up most of the space with a hammock or a chaise lounge if that’s what you really want. If you don’t sit out there much at all but do love fresh herbs or veggies, use the majority of the space for plantings and maybe forgo furniture all together.
Details, details. Much like inside space, little things mean a lot. Don’t forget the throw cushions, blankets, candles and a little touch of art.
One of the best things about summer living in the city is an outdoor space to call one’s own. It’s seasonal and temporary, so don’t stress about getting everything perfect. Just make it comfy and cozy and you’ll love it well into the fall.