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9 Designer-Approved Tips to Make Any Size Outdoor Space Feel Zen

back patio boho style

Design & Photo: Casey Hardin 

Whether you're working with a small patio or a large backyard, having a well-designed outdoor space can make for a much-needed escape as the weather warms up. Enjoying a morning cup of coffee or a nightly glass of wine outside is a great way to start or end your day. Now, all you need to do is design a space you actually want to spend time in.

We asked nine of our favorite designers to share their tips and tricks to make any outdoor space feel extra zen. From adding vintage elements to making sure the exterior design aligns with your interiors, these designer-approved ideas will make any space–from a tiny balcony to a large deck—feel fresh and calm.

01 of 09

Create a Vertical Garden

back patio boho style

Design & Photo: Casey Hardin 

"For me, I always feel most zen and connected when I am in nature. With all the extra time at home, I have spent a lot of time on our back patio. One of my favorite features of this space is the vertical garden. It’s a great way to garden when you don’t have a ton of room and want to bring in lots of plants to make your space more tranquil. You can plant flowers, trailing vines, or even an herb garden! To create your own vertical garden, you first need to measure your space to determine the number of vertical planting pouches you need. After the pouches are securely hung, add soil, and start planting. It’s a simple way to add a garden in virtually any space so that your own special zen oasis is always just a few steps away." Casey Hardin, Decorist designer

02 of 09

Think Happy

emily henderson outdoor space

Design: Emily Henderson Design, Photo: Sara Ligorria-Tramp

"I think what makes an outdoor space calming and zen is when it’s welcoming and happy. I always like to keep a neutral-toned base (like wicker or wood chairs) because that feels timeless, and then add fun pops of color with throws and pillows. I also make sure to vary up the scale of patterns, so the space feels balanced—just like in an indoor room. The important thing is to just have fun with your outdoor space because we can all use a little more joy and fresh air right now." — designer and stylist Emily Henderson, of Emily Henderson Design

03 of 09

Make the Outdoors Feel Like The Indoors

back porch

Design: Erika Dale

"In a time where we could all use a little escape to a comforting oasis, we gave a previously-ignored corner of our covered front porch a super cozy makeover with things we already owned in order to function as a private reading corner. To make the space feel cozy like an indoor room, I brought out a polypropylene rug for color and softness. Polypropylene rugs are durable for high-traffic use, very stain-resistant, and will not grow mold or mildew when exposed to water so they are perfect for an outdoor application. Another thing that helped the space feel inviting and warm was the addition of some indoor textiles like pillows and throws. Finally, I hung some string lights and sometimes bring out candles as well to create a warm, intimate glow and a very hygge feeling. Add in a favorite book and a cup of coffee (or glass of champagne!) and this little nook is the perfect mini-getaway right at home!" Erika Dale, Decorist designer

04 of 09

Keep Your Style Consistent

outdoor dining space

Design: Mary Patton, Photo: Molly Culver

"While you're home during this time, maximize your outdoor spaces and consider how you want them to be used. Proportion and function are two essentials to consider for a well-designed outdoor area. Treat your outdoor space as an extension of your house to create a zen environment. It’s nice to keep the overall look consistent but you can also go more neutral, or add more color depending on the style of your home. I love the brand loll for outdoor furniture. They offer a variety of cool colors, and are so comfortable, even though they don’t need outdoor cushions (which can get soggy and faded.)" — Mary Patton of Mary Patton Design

05 of 09

Think Vintage

outdoor patio

Design: Elise Payne, Photo: Cascadia Design Build

"For a casual, collected vibe, visit thrift stores or estate sales for assorted flower pots, wood crates to hold blankets, and even furniture. This gives the space a more casual, eclectic feel as opposed to the more cookie-cutter outdoor looks from the big box stores." Elise Payne, Decorist designer

06 of 09

Don't Forget a Spot to Dine

outdoor patio

Design: Joyce Downing Pickens, Photo: Amy Bartlam

"Always include cozy seating, a dining area, and somewhere to grill. Create a space that does feel like an extension of your living room and you will find people will gravitate towards it. Here in southern California, we are lucky to have year-round good weather so we have mastered the art of outdoor living. And there is nothing like the smell of food cooking on a grill that feels more like summer!" — Joyce Downing Pickens of JDP Interiors

07 of 09

Think About the Flow

outdoor space with pool

Design: Sara Barney of BANDD DESIGN, Photo: Molly Culver

"Even if you're working with a small space, you can design the area to maximize every inch. If you really keep in mind the flow of the exterior and how you want to enjoy it, then you should center the design around those elements. Obviously, the dip pool was a big feature, so we chose to center everything around that. This is a good rule of thumb for any feature that is the main focal point of your exterior. Just implement a flow and layout that works well around that and bring in comfortable seating, layers, relaxing lighting, etc." – Sara Barney of BANDD DESIGN

08 of 09

Layer Textures

outdoor space with comfortable chairs

Design: Mikayla Keating 

"I love our little patio area because it’s is the perfect space to relax! To make our space feel extra special and comfortable, I included a mixture of plants, throw pillows, and a rug to bring the indoors outside. I recommend layering textures and choosing plants with various heights to complete the look. Also, make sure that your outdoor space gets great shade as well so that you can enjoy it during the day. When choosing outdoor furniture, look for pieces that look and feel comfortable. Having comfortable seating options will encourage you to actually use your outdoor space. " Mikayla Keating, Decorist designer

09 of 09

Choose Flexible Seating

outdoor space

Design: LeeAnn Baker of LeeAnn Baker Interiors, Photo: Sozinho Imagery 


"In reality, designing for the exterior is no different than designing for an interior. You still want pieces that work for the way you will use them, chairs at the right height for dining or conversation, and other pieces that are more comfortable for lounging. Just like the interior, comfort and durability are key to create a zen outdoor area. For the outdoors, I tend to think more about the flexibility of pieces, as my clients are more likely to move furniture around for outdoor parties and functions than they are with their interiors." — LeeAnn Baker of LeeAnn Baker Interiors