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How I Turned My Tiny Porch Into an Inviting Outdoor Retreat

Overhead view of small outdoor space with black chairs.

Courtesy of Heather Bien

City living comes with a lot of perks—vast outdoor space is not one of them. From fire escapes to rooftops, we make the most of what we have. But, over the past year, I’ve counted myself among the many craving breathing room and fresh air. Weekend day trips to the country became a welcome respite, but they weren’t enough.

I wanted to turn my small back porch into an inviting outdoor oasis where I would actually want to spend time, rather than one that I avoided looking at and only passed through to take the trash out, so here's how I did it.

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Carve Out Both Dining and Lounging Areas

Carving out two definite dining and lounging areas is key in creating an inviting outdoor room, particularly when you’re dealing with space limitations. It’s not necessarily comfortable to curl up with a book in a dining chair and trying to eat dinner while sitting back in a lounge chair is less than optimal. So, how can you accommodate both dining and lounging in a space that’s smaller than a suburban walk-in closet?

On my back porch, I designed in the confines of a square floor plan that has three different entry points. I played around with the layout before landing on a 28” square dining table in one corner with garden stools as chairs—a configuration that takes up the smallest footprint possible while still allowing enough room for two full place settings or four for small plates or appetizers. If I have more guests over, I can pull the table out to seat others around all four sides.

Then, I did my research, tracking down the smallest profile lounge chairs on the market. I found two lounge chairs measuring in at only 26” wide and 35” deep. Tucked against one wall, and with a garden stool between them, these two chairs form a designated lounge area within the space. This is the place to kick back with a cocktail or read a magazine. 

TL;DR: no matter how short you are on space, creating two defined areas for dining and lounging makes your outdoor space feel like a room you actually want to hang out in.

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Creating an Inviting Small Space

Egg chair in black outside on small porch.

Courtesy of Heather Bien

With only an 8’x8 space to work with, I needed to get creative to make the space work and to create an inviting porch where we actually want to entertain guests. I wanted the space to feel fully utilized without feeling overcrowded, which meant a full dining set was out of the question and there certainly wasn’t room for the hanging egg chair of dreams.

But, not one to be deterred by a small space challenge, I committed to the idea of designing a welcoming porch where I could start my days, invite friends over for coffee, or relax late into the evening.

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Utilize Versatile Multi-Purpose Pieces

Typically, it’s only two of us using our back porch. I drink my morning coffee back there while calling into my morning meetings, catch up on reading in the afternoon, or my husband and I eat dinner al fresco on a nice evening. Our furniture arrangement is clearly set for two and, with such a small space, we didn’t want pieces that would take up room when not in use. Read: we didn’t want to dominate our limited area with a table for four when it’s almost always two.

However, I did want the flexibility to host a few friends for cocktails on occasion (has anyone else realized over the past year that, even though a trendy restaurant is great, sometimes simply welcoming a friend into your home is more relaxing?). So, we invested in versatile, multi-purpose pieces that could shift around depending on what our company looks like. We use garden stools as both dining chairs and end tables so we have a place to set a drink when we’re lounging, but we have somewhere for others to sit when we have guests over.

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Add a Few Creature Comforts

Printed outdoor rug in black and beige.

Courtesy of Heather Bien

Just because you’re short on square footage doesn’t mean you can’t add in some of the upgrades you’d expect in a luxury patio situation. First, I mounted an outdoor plug-in fan into the wall (no electrician or hardwiring required), which is a game-changer on humid East Coast days—plus, I like to think it helps keep the mosquitos and flies at bay. Then, I strung bistro lights. This is such an easy and inexpensive project, yet it gives the entire space a sense of twinkly magic on summer nights. Lastly, adding an outdoor rug really does tie the space together.

One final tip: if you have a hookup for a hose, invest in a power washer. No matter how small your outdoor area, nothing feels more inviting than a freshly cleaned space.