Whether you live in New York, Los Angeles, or another major city, having a smaller outdoor space such as a balcony or terrace can be a true gift. Unfortunately, many people don’t get much use from these spaces because they don’t know how to use or properly decorate them. Interior designer Cheryl Eisen shares this sentiment: “City balconies are the most under-utilized after-thought of the homes I’ve seen, specifically in urban cities. But it doesn’t take much to turn your balcony into a beautiful zen den.”
Whether you’re starting fresh or simply trying to work with what you have, here are six ways to reimagine a city balcony.
Find One Function For The Space
When space is sparse, it’s best to opt for a single function and enjoy it for that purpose. “The balcony is an often neglected opportunity in apartment living, and it often ends up as the de-facto bike storage space. There are far more exciting possibilities, you just need to start with ideas about the function of the space” says Matt Baran of Baran Studio Architecture.
Choose one function and run with it: “If the living space has large openings out the balcony, you can make it an extension [of that space],” says Baran. “It can also become its own discrete and separate space. Options include a dining area, a bar, garden, or outdoor space that you can share with pets.”
Baran also suggests keeping the furniture and decorative elements small and minimal. “Avoid an overly busy space. Calm, minimal, and integrated into the architecture of the balcony itself is ideal.”
Create A Dining Space
Creating a dining space is an easy go-to for most balconies and apartment/condo dwellers. “The smallest balcony can squeeze the following elements to create a cozy and quaint oasis,” says Eisen.
A balcony can be a dream for someone with a green thumb. However, it’s important to hang plants as safely as possible, especially if you are on a high floor. “Hang or set planters inside of the balcony railing. You don’t want your plants to drain or fall on your neighbors below,” says designer Ryan Benoit, who is also the creator of SkyPots and co-founder of TheHorticult
Benoit also emphasizes the importance of choosing plants that will thrive in the given light. “Assess which direction your balcony faces before choosing your plants. If your balcony faces north, make sure to grow low-light plants. If your balcony faces south make sure to choose plants that can withstand full sun. If your sunlight is obstructed most of the day, choose plants that are good for part sun or part shade.”
Just because you’re in an urban area and have a very limited amount of space doesn’t mean you can’t grow some types of veggies. According to Matthew Geldin, who is Farmscape’s Head Farmer in Southern California, even a little sun on your balcony can yield some crops. “Vegetable crops do best with full sun exposure,” he says. “If you have partial sun, consider growing crops that produce smaller fruit— think cherry tomatoes instead of beefsteak, or jalapeno peppers instead of larger bell peppers.”
Accessorize With A Rug
Outdoor rugs can make a big design impact on any balcony. “Outdoor rugs are a great way of bringing the indoors out and creating a natural extension of your home,” says interior designer and founder of FabHub, Haggie.
You can also consider layering rugs on larger terraces. “The layered finish is a great way to bring in individuality and personality as well as add depth and texture to your home,” she says. “Layering rugs provides additional textural contrast which creates more interest.”
So how do you know you’re choosing the right rug? “The right rug should ground a space, giving a balanced, harmonious feel,” says Haggie.
Not into outdoor rugs? Astroturf can be a fun and unique alternative according to celebrity designer and HGTV star, Wilfredo Emanuel. “For me, when someone lives in the city, their balcony can be a place to escape from the city life temporarily. I try to bring as much nature to the space as possible which not only looks beautiful but also helps to create a relaxing atmosphere.”