A balcony can provide a little private oasis of outdoor space in an otherwise enclosed apartment home: fresh air, natural light, and maybe even enough room for a little bit of a party. There are many ways we can enjoy our balconies — from barbecues to reading nooks and small gardens. Just think of your balcony as a tiny backyard that requires much less lawn mowing! Most anything you’d do in the yard you can do (in some form) on your balcony. If you’re lucky enough to have an apartment with a balcony, read on for some tips on maximizing its potential!
A Private Nook
Do you dream of a quiet sunlit spot where you can curl up with a drink and a good book? When you step out onto your balcony in real life, however, you may find it hard to relax with the eyes of all your neighbors peering in on you. Luckily, balconies can be made into private grottos with some creative decorating. It’s easy to grow your own privacy screen with pots and some quick-growing tall plants. You can talk to a gardening center near you for local recommendations on the best plants for the job, but bamboo, cattails, and a variety of ornamental grasses tend to grow well in many different climates. They grow quickly and densely and can easily put a screen of green between you and your nosy neighbors.
For a less nature-based approach, you might choose some beautiful indoor/outdoor fabric to hang from your balcony, making sure to secure it well to prevent it from flying away in the event of rain or wind. Then all you’ll need is your favorite comfy outdoor chair and a drink holder. Ah, paradise.
A Gardener’s Dream
Are you the type of renter that longs for the day you’ll have a little patch of dirt to call your very own? No need to wait for a full yard! Balcony gardens can produce enough beautiful flowers and delicious produce to keep any budding gardener busy.
Container gardening is usually the easiest way to approach gardening on your balcony. You can buy fancy pots or just use cheap buckets. My favorite inexpensive balcony garden was made in a 6” deep blue plastic kid’s pool. If your balcony is particularly small, think vertically. For instance, you can secure simple containers like empty two-liter soda bottles onto a wall or rail.
Whatever containers you choose, fill them with good quality soil and the appropriate amount of fertilizer. Then grow your plants from seed or seedlings. Remember that some plants are easier to grow in containers than others. I have had particular success with cherry tomatoes, strawberries, lettuces, and herbs. Vining plants like cucumbers, squash, and grapes can work well, too, as long as you train the vines to crawl up the rail of your balcony. Experiment with some of your favorites and ask for help from the local garden shop or your university “extension” gardeners.
Even small balconies can make great party spaces. The simplest way to use your balcony to add life to your apartment party is to throw open the doors and let in the light. The added openness and fresh air can make any unit feel a whole lot bigger.
If you have a little more space, turn your balcony into a destination. Buy a couple of small barbecue grills, but be sure to check your lease for rules about using them before lighting anything up! A couple of tall and skinny cocktail tables can give guests a spot to perch and chat, and solar-powered string lights can provide some fun and festive ambiance. Thanks to recent wireless technology, you can even mount waterproof speakers to the outside of the building to get some party tunes going on your balcony. Just be sure to consider your neighbors when selecting the songs and their volume.
No matter how you use your balcony space, chances are it’s going to feel smaller than you’d like it to. Here are some clever ways to stretch that space as far as you can:
The space will look and feel bigger with furniture and decorations of different heights. Hang lighting from above, and use several plants of different heights to make the balcony appear more lush and full without sacrificing a lot of its footprint.
Think Outside the Box
Hanging plants or decorations on the outside of the balcony railing creates great ambiance without taking up any of its valuable sitting or standing space.
My favorite piece of balcony “furniture” is a hammock. It’s oh so comfy, and it folds to the side when you’re not using it so you still have room for other people.
Rather than a couch, you can put a small chest or bench with overstuffed pillows on your balcony. Rather than a patio table, get a cute bistro set. Rather than a full-sized bar, you can buy a wall-mounted fold-down model (also called a murphy bar). Delicious and oh so small!
Okay, this one isn’t about saving space — but who loves walking on concrete or old faded wood? Spruce up your balcony with some indoor/outdoor rugs or interlocking outdoor floor tiles. These can be fairly inexpensive, and you can find varieties that are easy to remove when you move out.
Try a couple of these ideas out to breathe some new life into your balcony and really start enjoying your outdoor space.
What’s your favorite balcony must-have?