Monday, July 1, 2013


I've been working hard to "summer up" our balcony, and I'm happy to say that we're now enjoying a very lovely space! It's pretty (yay); it's practical (still using it for storage); and it's usable (you can get comfy out there - day or night; alone or with friends; reading, eating, sleeping, whatever). I'm really excited about the space, and I'm excited to share it with you! And to share ideas and tips for your own balcony/patio, so you can get out there on... those su-um-mer ni-hights.

Something's pretty enchanting about being with friends on warm-weather nights, especially if you've got twinkle lights and booze. When I lived in Illinois, I spent my summers at home (my mom's house), where I was absolutely spoiled by ideal settings for those enchanting kinds of summer nights: a beautiful patio, a fire pit, a big open pasture (we used to have horses). And we lived in the country so, of course, stars. Always stars.

Now my little SF bay area apartment definitely doesn't have a big open field or a fire pit, but we're so lucky to have a sizable balcony with plenty of trees to look at and lots of twinkle lights leftover from our wedding. Actually I may have gone a little overboard in the twinkle lights department... I think we're probably the Griswolds of our building. (But I love it. I love twinkle lights outdoors. A lot.)

Despite those advantages, there were some minor obstacles:
  • narrow space
  • small budget
  • renting, so can't put holes in the walls
  • don't have a green thumb, direct sunlight, or much time to spend caring for plants
  • still needed to use some space for storage (bikes, garden stuff, outdoor things etc.)

I DEALT WITH THE NARROW SPACE  by arranging the seating as circularly as possible, while offsetting the chairs so that no one is sitting directly across from someone else.

I also used a big mirror at one end of the patio to make the space seem bigger. The mirror is from an old dresser set, and simply leans agains the wall (so I didn't have to put holes in the wall).

Another must for small spaces is versatile furniture, e.g. chairs that can fold up and be moved, benches or footstools that have storage space inside, side tables with drawers. One of my favorite pieces of the balcony is this ottoman (from Target), which we use also as a pillow and a table.

AS FOR A SMALL BUDGET, I tried to work with what we had and buy as little as possible. I thrifted and made things by hand (check out my Pinterest for more inspiration). The biggest investment we made was in seat cushions, which was very much worth it (Bed, Bath, & Beyond). Besides making the space more comfortable, they of course add color and patterns. Mix and match. Not all seats have to have cushions. Another quick way to make the patio cozier is to add a rug. (Our balcony floor seems to be kind of yucky, no matter how much we clean it, so a rug made a huge difference for us. Try TJMaxx and HomeGoods for nice, inexpensive rugs.) Plus, a rug in the middle of a seating area gives the seating a central focus point and helps tie the area together.

Definitely check out thrift stores and flea markets for these things:
patio chairs and side tables
lanterns, candle holders, other decor
flower pots and planters, plant stands
sheets/curtains/fabrics for making fabric garlands, outdoor curtains, or slipcovers

I also hit up the Dollar Store, just in case something jumped out at me. You never know what you'll find! I got these square glass candle holders and vase-filler pebbles to use as candle holders (see below).

This fabric garland is made from strips of thrifted sheets, and it does a nice job covering the not-so-pretty metal railing. Of course it looks darling with large LED twinkle lights, too :)

OKAY, ON NOT PUTTING HOLES IN THE WALLS: I already mentioned the large mirror at one end of the patio, which has long legs attached to the back so it can lean against the wall and doesn't need to be hung. I also have this huge piece of plywood (8' x 3'), painted blue. (It used to have a mirror on it but I've now recycled it to something new.) I leaned that in the corner to use as a little patch of removable wall that CAN have holes in it. I hung fabric over the top as a kind of a "background," to make it feel a little more cozy. You can do this on the real wall, too: hanging fabric or a curtain directly on a wall requires minimal holes if you use small hooks and a wire. If you're worried about weather-proofing, try a shower curtain. 

Also, consider putting some holes in the ceiling. I know that's cheating a bit, but you can find tiny hooks (for lanterns, lights, etc.) that would only put a small hole in the ceiling. Plus, hanging from the ceiling adds depth. And after a couple of lanterns are up, you might not need anything on the wall at all. 

This little hanging starter vase came from CB2. Isn't it darling? The frame and fabrics were thrifted. 

NOW, ABOUT PLANTS. Many of you may be blessed with a plenty of sunlight on your balcony, or even a green thumb, and I'm so happy for you! But plants are not my thing (though I'm trying!). If you're like me, with limited space, not too much time to spend caring for plants, and a mostly shaded balcony, don't fret. You have plenty of options! (I'll write a more detailed post for you soon with tips for balcony gardens :) ) For now, I'll say two things: succulents and herbs. Succulents are low maintenance, drought-tolerant, and really don't need full sun (though they like it). Many herbs will do well with part sun/part shade. Try using some rail planters to maximize sunlight and minimize the space they take up. (Make your own rail planters by drilling holes in plastic pots and attaching them with zip ties.)

USING THE SPACE FOR STORAGE works mostly because we have sectioned off the patio into two areas: seating and storage. We kept the small area to one side of the door for storage only (bikes, garden things, etc.), and the larger area on the other side of the door is for seating only. With our particular layout, the placement of the door helps section off the space, but some other ways to create sections are: keep walking space between the sections, use rugs to indicate sections, or arrange furniture in a way that clearly excludes the storage section.

In addition to creating sections, we have furniture that doubles as storage space. My favorite is my "bench," made from seat cushions and a wooden chest. I know, the cushions look kind of funny like that. But, hey, the patio already has a somewhat eclectic, thrown-together feel, right? :) And since the cushions are so comfy, it doesn't bother me.

Hope this post provided some inspiration for your own outdoor space! It's already JULY, people! So go outside right now, sweep off your patio, and imagine yourself cozied up with friends, twinkle lights, and booze. Your next stop: thrift shop.

Happy 4th!