As our homes become places of escape from the constant rush of urban living, more people are investing in their outdoor areas – no matter how large or small. Offering a connection with the outdoors and a space for relaxation, your courtyard is an opportunity to expand the living area of your home.
When transforming a courtyard into a useable outdoor living, play or entertaining space, consider how its design will best complement your lifestyle. Maintenance, planting, drainage, lighting and shade are all important considerations to make at this stage.
By getting the design right, you’ll reap benefits including:
More living space in your home
Increased value of your property
A private, secure space for children to play
Improved mood and decreased stress through contact with nature
Planning your courtyard design
The secret to creating a courtyard that feels like a natural extension of your home is planning. In most homes, the courtyard connects directly to a key living area such as the loungeroom, kitchen or dining room. When designing your courtyard, consider how you can create a sense of cohesion between it and your indoor areas.
There are a number of ways to do this, including:
Maintaining a consistent colour scheme inside and out
Positioning plants and garden beds so they are visible from inside your home
Installing large windows and retractable doors
When you start with this consideration, the design of the space becomes a much more natural and intuitive process. At this stage, think about whether you have enough space to create zones in your courtyard and what function each zone will serve.
Even when room is limited, there are a number ways to maximise space. Built-in seating with storage and vertical gardens are two relatively simple ways to incorporate important elements without consuming too much space.
Things like large dining settings often consume more room that you may think, as people need to move around them, so be realistic about how much space you need for the essential elements of your courtyard.
Other considerations to make in the design phase include:
Drainage and watering systems
Privacy, if your courtyard is exposed
Materials and colours that will complement your aesthetic
Introducing shade where necessary
Lighting for night-time use
Positioning of elements such as walkways and garden beds
Planting considerations for courtyards
It is often the case that courtyards are either shaded for most of the day or completely exposed. Aspect and the amount of light your courtyard receives will impact your planting options.
If your outdoor area doesn’t receive a lot of sun, it is unlikely that a lawn will thrive, so consider large pavers, tiles or a deck instead, and supplement this with plants that don’t require a lot of sunlight. Likewise, if your courtyard receives a lot of foot traffic, you will need to create paths so that your lawn doesn’t suffer.
In exposed courtyards, there are a number of ways to work with the elements. Consider having a permanent shade structure installed over entertaining areas and soften the glare from walls by using wall treatments or by planting a vertical garden.
In smaller courtyards, using one or two large plants like the courtyards above is an effective way to create scale and statement without compromising living space. By choosing evergreen species, you’ll be able to enjoy year-round foliage.
Another way to introduce greenery that won’t require a lot of maintenance is to plant grasses planted around pavers.
For more design ideas and space-saving tricks, download our free ebook Small Spaces, Big Ideas.
Creating an indoor courtyard
You don’t necessarily need a dedicated outdoor space to create your own at-home oasis.
Formerly a garage, this New York home is now a peaceful retreat for its owners. The design incorporates a private, low-maintenance outdoor area into the second floor of the home, which is an incredible luxury for anywhere in New York, or any built-up area.
Similarly, these residences have been designed around the idea of featuring an internal courtyard, so get creative with the different ways you can incorporate nature into your home when building or renovating.
Open-air rooms and internal courtyards have a number of additional design and functional requirements, so it is likely you will need input from an architect and landscape designer to create your very own lush indoor retreat.
Want more courtyard design inspiration? Download our complete guide to small space gardening!