Small yard design: multi levels still best?

martinca_gwFebruary 22, 2012

Interior design once favored sunken rooms to add interest and/or help a space feel larger. Newer homes rarely feature this design element. This leads me ask if the same is true re. Outdoor spaces. I've read , seen, and understand the concept of breaking up a small yard into "garden rooms" to give them a more spacious feel. Can this feeling be accomplishedjust as well without the shift in levels? Looking to tear out old patio with raised area ( one step up) and deciding to keep a raised area or make the new patio one level. I' m interested to learn your thoughts re. This design theory.

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Martinca, I'm not so sure that breaking a space into smaller spaces give it a more spacious feel. It may add more interest and be deceiving in that the sum of smaller spaces when added together feels a rambling house.

In many cases, people want one level because it's pretty much easier to use for any and everything. But another level can add a lot of interest. My thought is that what's best depends not only on what one wants, but on what's achievable and the details of its execution. In other words, you can make either way work out if you do it right.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 7:41PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

In my opinion changes of level and use of built-in walls/benches integrated into the over all design can definitely make small spaces seem both larger and more interesting. Built -ins can act as pragmatic seating, visual sculptural elements that give additional surfaces useful for displaying foliage contrasts or shadows, etc. I'd also also add the element of overhead planes as partial screens to give the illusion of parts of the garden not visible all at one glance. All that being said, if the space is so small that multiple levels don't allow for practical use of the different levels; they don't make sense. I often find myself falling back upon the use of tall/narrow trees or palms in small spaces to give the eye a reason to look up, without closing off the sky.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 1:49AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

The success of methods of making a small space feel larger will depend on the space, so it might be better if you asked the question specific to the site you are working with. As an example, I have a long narrow yard, and it gets a better feel when I create opportunities to look/walk across it.

Bahia's point about the overhead dimension is interesting - we recently took down some huge willow trees and though the space beneath them is no larger (except for losing the trunk), it feels more spacious due to the overhead air.

So there are many ways a space can be or feel small, and the right fix will depend on what those are.

But just with the info you've given, I'd suggest a one-level patio. open spaces in a small yard should maybe be as big as possible and not broken up with extra steps. But it also depends on how you use it.

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 11:38AM
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Grading and runoff are also major factors outdoors, whereas indoors they are typically less critical. When it rains, the water has to go somewhere, so you have to be quite careful about blocking off any major surface drainage routes. (Unless you want to go with area drains etc. to circumvent it, but that can be costly).

That said, a change in levels can make a huge difference in the perception of the space. Just make sure that you're not subdividing the space into spaces that are too small or inflexible to use. (That highly depends on your typical uses and needs for the space, of course).

- Audric

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 6:32PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

If I understand you correctly, the patio itself is split-level? Or do you mean the patio is up one step off the garden area? Without having seen your site, I will revert to "form follows function" and suggest you base your decision on how you plan to use the patio. If having a raised area enhances your use, go for it. If you get better use of the space all on one level, fine. Don't get locked into the current configuration or size and shape. It's possible the best solution is something completely different from what now exists. Allow your imagination to color outside the lines before you make a decision.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 9:27PM
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What great replies. Lots of food for thought. Because the house was originally a model , the yard was professionally designed, and I'd imagined a portion of the patio was raised for good reason. Ditto interiors , but that design element seems to have ( literally) 'left the building' . Was it simply a fad with no real purpose ( the purpose being to visually enlarge the space), and same can be said with yards? Certainly a long, narrow lot is a dull place , and with little room In width for a curving path with stops of interest along the way, perhaps the raised patio was the best way of breaking it up.
I know " a picture is worth...", and once I get into posting I may return for real ideas. Thank you all so very much!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 1:11PM
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I live where land is cheap so it's not often I deal with small spaces. I always thought that scale was even more important for small gardens, with particular attention to the space allotted to plants versus that for people. Features such as a bench should have enough room not to be cramped, but take up no more than they need.

Then there is the concept of depth or distance. There are some tricks. On cars, a clear top coat of paint makes the underlying color coat look very deep when in fact it's not. In a small garden one might review how a landscape artist develops a sense of depth to the painting. Distance things are painted with less color saturation, less contrast, and a more muted form and texture. Near objects are painted with the style reversed. Use this trick around the perimeter to make the lack of a generous bed depth to look greater. Thus any walls or fences should have a bland neutral look, and the plants against it should not stand out. Put the color and interesting textures to the front of the beds.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 10:25PM
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