Turn your apartment's outdoor space into an oasis
By Laura Firszt, Networx
If you live in a townhouse, condo or rental apartment with its own balcony or terrace, you may be reluctant to use your outdoor space for more than storage or the designated smoking corner at parties. Limited size, privacy, excessive sun and wind are commonly mentioned as drawbacks. However, there are fixes for all of these that can help you transform your outdoor space into an inviting retreat. You'll need permission from your landlord, super or condo association, of course, before making any major changes. Ensure that the structure can support the weight of any heavy planters or furniture you'd like to use.
As an urban dweller, you are probably already a pro at furnishing an undersized space. The same principles that you'd put to work in a 450 square foot home also apply to a 45 square foot balcony. Choose small-scale furniture, preferably foldable for easier storage. In fact, there are purpose-built balcony tables and benches that collapse discreetly right into the floor – you can't get more compact than that! Or opt for hanging furnishings – hammocks, or tables and planter pots that are designed to be mounted on your balcony railings. Cushions and upholstery should be made of waterproof fabric if you don't want the bother of schlepping them inside every time the weather changes. High-rise tenants are advised to secure outdoor furniture in place so that it won't be blown away in a windstorm.
A profusion of healthy plants, perhaps trailing over a trellis or railing, can turn even cramped quarters into a gorgeous garden. Sweet-scented flowers will give you and your visitors the feeling that you are in a virtual paradise. Or take the opportunity to grow your own flavorful, organic herbs or vegetables. If pots take up too much space, try a compact vertical planter. Because you have limited options for where to place your plants, you'll need to select seedlings carefully based on their sun or shade preferences. Plants can also function as a windbreak. Pot a few large wind-tolerant species in heavyweight containers, rather than many smaller ones, so that they are less likely to be toppled by strong breezes.
A sheet of Plexiglas is another option for sheltering your spot from the wind, and this one won't block your line of sight, if you're lucky enough to have a view. Should your only vista be more along the lines of your next door neighbors than a gorgeous cityscape, a visual barrier is in order. Construct a privacy fence, possibly with built-in seating, from pallets or other reclaimed wood which has been sealed for weather resistance. Room dividers, bamboo blinds or cloth curtains are additional, more portable solutions. When young children have access to your outdoor space, it may be necessary to extend the railings or add screen for safety's sake.
Overhead and Underfoot
The most dedicated sun lover in the state of Texas will agree that you can sometimes have too much of a good thing. When your terrace or balcony is open to the elements, installation of a roof or awning made of wood is an investment that will provide shade in an attractive long-lasting form. If this type of project is not in the cards right now, consider overhead solar screening. Made of mesh fabric, the screen will reduce sun exposure and filter out harmful UV rays. It can also decrease your sun-saturated balcony or terrace's overheated temperature by as much as 30 degrees. For the opposite problem – an outdoor space that is too chilly – installing all-weather carpet or artificial turf will help warm you up nicely.