A GUIDE TO COURTYARD DESIGN

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.

Outdoor and indoor spaces are thoughtfully connected in the Links Courtyard House on the Mornington Peninsula. Image via Inarc Architects. 

Outdoor and indoor spaces are thoughtfully connected in the Links Courtyard House on the Mornington Peninsula. Image via Inarc Architects

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

A seamless connection between a courtyard and indoor living areas enhances the liveability of a home. Images via jj Design and Apartment Therapy.

A seamless connection between a courtyard and indoor living areas enhances the liveability of a home. Images via jj Design and Apartment Therapy.

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

Related Reading: Project showcase – hidden courtyard
 

Planting considerations for courtyards

The amount of light your courtyard receives will determine which plants will thrive in the space. Images via Desire to Inspire and Dwell.

The amount of light your courtyard receives will determine which plants will thrive in the space. Images via Desire to Inspire and Dwell.

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

An internal courtyard adds a sense of calm to this New York city home. Image via Inhabitat.

An internal courtyard adds a sense of calm to this New York city home. Image via Inhabitat.

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.

When outdoor space is limited, look indoors for ways to create a garden area in your home. Images via Architectural Digest Mexico and William Dangar.

When outdoor space is limited, look indoors for ways to create a garden area in your home. Images via Architectural Digest Mexico and William Dangar.

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.

Related reading: Give your balcony a makeover with these styling tips

 

Want more courtyard design inspiration? Download our complete guide to small space gardening!