Microspaces: Designing for Clients with Smaller Lots

Check out these ideas for spicing up a smaller outdoor space with hardscapes and plant life.

Vertical gardens add more visual interest to a space.
Vertical gardens add more visual interest to a space.

Outdoor living spaces are becoming grander—with multiple rooms, intricate designs, bigger furniture and accessory features. More homeowners are striving for outdoor living with high functionality, whether that’s a complete kitchen with a grill, sink, burners and more, or an outdoor office to carry out their work and enjoy nature.

While multiroom, multifunctional spaces are perfect for suburban areas with ample square footage, what about the clients who don’t quite have that kind of land? Though they might not have the spacious yard compatible with multiple rooms, they’re still looking to create stylish, useful spaces that encourage more time spent outside.


Developers in recent years have created smaller, more walkable neighborhoods, which are great for physical activity and visiting neighbors but not so much for yard size. The way these developments are structured cuts down on the size of private backyards—not to mention urban areas where there’s more brick than grass. Regardless, residents in these areas still crave outdoor living spaces and can use the help of a professional to optimize the land they have available.

Fully functional microspaces and hybrid spaces are now dominant forms of renovation for smaller, single-family homes without an abundant yard. Microspaces are a great way to maximize smaller outdoor areas and reap the benefits of spending time outside, no matter the surface area.

Thoughtful and compact design can include a variety of different project styles and utilize multiple materials to create a cohesive, modern area. Here are a few ideas you can share with clients looking to spice up a smaller space with hardscapes and plant life.

1. Vertical Garden and Patio

A small patio and vertical garden can liven up a small outdoor area and make it more appealing. Laying pavers, whether it’s over natural materials or concrete, give the space a cleaner, more uniform look, and there are several options to fit any style. Permeable pavers are an excellent choice if the project is in an area that experiences higher moisture.

Paired with a vertical garden, these spaces create an inviting atmosphere. Vertical gardens add height to the area and can be constructed from wood planks, as well as modular hardscape materials, depending on the homeowner’s style and preference. Various types of plant life can be integrated to add greenery, extra privacy or even food for the table; edible gardens are always a popular choice.

 2.  Front Porches

Many single-family homes now have a front porch space, especially if the backyard size has been reduced for development. Front porches are an excellent place for relaxing or spending time with family and friends, and you can get creative with design ideas. Flooring can be upgraded with pavers for a sleek look, and there are options that are frost- and skid-resistant for projects in colder areas. You also can add a walkway directly to the street, if space allows, with a unique design and geometric patterns.

3. Flex Spaces

Who says any of these spaces have to serve just one purpose, though? Creating a patio or sprucing up a front porch allows your client enough room to engage in multiple activities. A patio with a vertical garden is the perfect backdrop for an outdoor workout area. If there’s enough space, you can add water features for more ambiance. Let’s say your customer wants to cook and dine alfresco—a grill can be added to patios and porches (as long as the area is well vented). For those looking for a work-from-home space, make sure there is adequate lighting and electrical access to accommodate laptops and other devices.

You also can infuse these outdoor living areas within more “nontraditional” free space. Using space on the side of the home, along lot and fence lines or alleyways, is the perfect way to augment the area in which you have to work.

Selling the Space

In our industry, we’re much more accustomed to working in mid- to large-size areas where there’s ample space to design and install, but potential customers who don’t have a palatial backyard are still viable to our business. Don’t be afraid to take on the smaller projects if it suits your business model and create a microspace that can change your clients' entire outdoor living area. Plus, these projects are typically less time-intensive, so you can finish quickly and move on to the next client.