Vacay Vibes

How To Make Your Small Outdoor Space Feel Like A Resort

Balconies and backyards never looked so good.

by Ashley Abramson
how to make your outdoor space feel like a resort
Lais Borges/Bustle

Summer’s here, which means you’re probably spending more time basking in the sun than ever. While these lazy, hot days might have you wishing you could lounge poolside at an exclusive resort, you don’t have to venture somewhere tropical to feel like you’re on vacation. And you definitely don’t have to have a huge backyard (or any backyard at all) to achieve the relaxing vibe you’re craving.

With a couple of simple and inexpensive design strategies, you can transform a tiny apartment balcony, fire escape, or shared backyard into an Instagram-worthy oasis. Here are six ways to maximize your outdoor space to achieve the same feel as a resort, no matter how many square feet you have to work with, according to designers.

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Go Green

One thing pretty much all gorgeous resort spaces have in common? Gorgeous, lush greenery. To create an intimate, organic feel in your outdoor space, Sierra Fallon, lead designer at Rumor Designs in Colorado, suggests adding a couple of plants of your own. “Potted small palm trees or ferns are easy to maintain and give the overall vibe of a tropical resort,” she says. For extra small footprints, make use of vertical space by hanging a plant (trailing plants, like ferns, work great and can tolerate high heat and humidity).

If you’d rather relax outside than work on your green thumb, don’t be afraid to go the faux route. “Faux plants have had a bad reputation in the past, but in recent years, the options look amazingly real,” says Sandra Asdourian, founder of the Florida-based Sandra Asdourian Interiors. Look for outdoor-grade plant options, which are designed not to succumb to weather damage.

Add An Outdoor Rug Or Two

Adding a rug to your terrace, fire escape, or balcony is a simple but effective way to define the space, add texture, and bring in color and pattern, says Danielle Meri, an interior designer at Massachusetts-based Cube 3. You can go with any rug that makes your heart sing, but Meri says bold prints like geometric patterns or nostalgic florals are a great base in any outdoor area.

For extra oomph in a space that feels empty and lifeless, Fallon says layering is a quick and easy fix. Pop a smaller, colorful rug on top of a larger black and white one, or add a couple of floor cushions with a whimsical pattern. Again, outdoor fabrics always work best, because they’re constructed of extra durable and easy-to-clean materials.

Choose Comfortable Seating

Think of your outdoor oasis as a second living room — a cozy space to relax on your own or gather with loved ones. If you have room, Fallon recommends creating at least one comfy spot to sip your coffee, have a glass of wine, or enjoy a book. No space for a full-on patio table and chairs? Go for a bistro set, a single outdoor chair, or even a cute floor cushion, all of which you can find at big-box stores or Facebook Marketplace for reasonable prices.

Natural materials like wicker and rattan always lend a summery feel, and Meri suggests adding fun pillows or cushions to customize your aesthetic. Lightweight furniture typically costs less; plus, it’ll be easier to move around in any social scenario.

Hang Billowy Curtains

To take your outdoor area to the next level, think vertical. Jill Shevlin, an interior designer in Florida, loves elevating clients’ outdoor areas with sheer, billowy white curtains, which can act as a space divider, disguise an unsightly wall, or offer a bit of sun protection. You don’t need a gazebo to hang curtains. As long as you choose a lightweight option, you should be able to use a steel rope or even a clothesline. To go the extra mile, grab some LED curtain lights to brighten up your space at night.

Light It Up

Good lighting isn’t just functional. Just like indoors, the right light plays a huge role in creating ambiance in an otherwise drab outdoor space. “Outdoor lighting in apartment buildings never lends well to the romantic, calming setting of a resort, so add some portable lanterns and string lighting to add a layer of warmth and intimacy to your outdoor space,” says Fallon.

If you have power, invest in a set of hanging lights, which Meri says “provide ample visibility without lighting up the whole neighborhood.” No outlet? She suggests looking for solar string lights, which use sunlight as power. For a Miami resort vibe, Asdourian says LED furniture, such as small drink tables or ottomans, can quickly liven up your space.

Deck It Out With Drinks

We all love a good frozen cocktail or iced tea by the pool, so why not add that refreshing upgrade to your own space? You may not be able to build out a full-on bar on your tiny balcony, but that doesn’t mean you can’t upgrade it in your own way. Denver-based interior designer Margarita Bravo suggests adding a simple bar cart where you can store and serve your drinks and glasses outdoors. “A beverage cart outside is the cherry on top of your at-home resort sundae,” she says.