Small Backyard Deck Design Strategies

Did you know it’s more common now for new homes to have small backyards? Many new properties are only 25 -30 feet deep.

Developing an outdoor living space in a small backyard is challenging! To make a backyard enjoyable you may need noise reduction, privacy, shade and more. Not to mention the functionality of cooking and eating outside with guests. It’s tough to make any improvements to today’s smaller backyard without making it look like a “bowling alley.”

Don’t worry, an experienced deck and backyard designer can help! It’s one thing to create a beautiful and functional design, it’s another getting your new design through your city planning office where the building permits get issued. Your experienced deck designer can spare you a lot of the hassles involved in applying for, and obtaining, a building permit that is typically required when building a deck of varying heights.

The deck building industry has evolved in recent years to provide deck and backyard designers more options and accessories to work with, especially in a limited space. According to professional Deck Designer Jennifer Thiessen from Deck City in Winnipeg, Manitoba, “you can still have all the bells and whistles; you just have to do things on a smaller scale and with some creative planning and design elements.” Jennifer encourages her clients with smaller backyards to consider outdoor cooking and dining spaces in addition to a lounging area. After all, what’s the point of cooking in your yard if you can’t eat your food and relax afterward?

Start by creating a list of what you need vs. what you want in your small backyard.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

What amenities are critical to you and your family?

  • What is the main function for your new deck area? Is the focus going to be grilling and dining or lounging and relaxing?
  • Are you dreaming of a shady, comfortable, quiet place to sit and read?
  • Do you need to leave green space for children and pets?
  • Are you dreaming about a water feature? An oasis full of plants, bees, gardens and bird feeding stations?
  • Do you have natural shade trees or are you going to have to create something in the space like a pergola or umbrella?
  • What are the colours, textures and design details to match your house?
  • What are the existing local bylaws that are going to limit your build?

Budget constraints – as with any project budget is going to dictate how much you can put into the property now and what you can add later:

  • A comprehensive deck plan that is put together now could be carried out in a modular fashion as your budget allows and this will let you finish components of the design in the future with the least amount of hassle. A beautiful, well-planned deck area adds to your total living space and can enhance your property values too.
  • It’s not just deck materials you must think about in your budget but also landscaping, planters and plants, shade structures, barrier walls, privacy fencing, noise mitigation, dining and seating furniture, lighting, electrical and natural gas hookups, labor, etc.


Make a list of challenges you have in your yard already – these are going to be important considerations to work around:

  • What property constraints or obstacles will you have to work around?
    • Trees, flower beds you don’t want to be disturbed, utility locations (electrical outlets and natural gas), a shed or garage, a walkway to the back alley, garbage can and recycling bin storage zone, etc.
    • Are there power lines or other cables that you need to factor in?
    • What are your current soil conditions – will you need gravel, patio blocks or sod?
  • Where is your air conditioning unit located on the property? Is it going to create noise in your deck area? Do you have public utility structures on your yard that will have to be hidden or excluded from the design?
  • Will you need new fencing to create privacy in the space and to limit conflict with neighbors when you are using your deck for entertaining?
  • Is your yard a challenging shape? Is it a pie shape or a skinny rectangle?
  • How will you access the deck from the house? How will you get to the backyard/alley or your garage?
  • How will you create traffic flow?

Savvy tricks I have learned to help homeowners create a beautiful, functional backyard design
– by Jennifer Thiessen

  • Using several levels in the design can create nooks and crannies that add functionality to the plan – a double-sided wall does double duty
  • Use different textures and colors of materials to generate interest and break up space – use brick, different types of wood, mixed metal or composites, clothe or canvas shades, etc.
  • Use lots of color in your furniture choices – colorful cushions, decorative planters, plant colors, etc. can be inexpensive and very impactful
  • A privacy wall can double as a side wall for a pergola or shady covered zone or hold your herb garden or water feature
  • Patio stones laid out in a sweeping pattern can create different zones and move traffic throughout the space

  • Add interesting objects like old wagon wheels, a small antique tub, a ladder with plants on the rungs, a vertical garden can add space for your herb collection, use space dividers that are double-sided, put hooks and shelves up to add storage capacity, use a wooden box for storage and as a small work table
  • Plan your dining and cooking zones with thought to how many people you normally entertain. Stackable chairs, folding tables, bench seating that offers convenient storage are simple yet effective for saving on space
  • Use a water feature and foliage to deaden road noise or noise from air conditioners
  • Use cinder blocks, old pallets as plant stands or to create different heights in your plantings, faux grass mats can help define a small sitting area
  • Hanging baskets can contain more than flowers – think herbs, mini tomatoes
  • A small wooden screen can block off the garbage cans from view from the deck or can disguise a small storage area and still be a beautiful design element

“Planning a small backyard deck can be a lot of fun. The design possibilities are endless, and you can do great things even with a small yard and a small budget. We love the challenge of it, and the ideas keep coming” says Jennifer. “We encourage homeowners to put the time in up front on the planning so that the execution of the plan goes along better, and you get a result that you can enjoy and be proud of for years to come.”

Posted on August 20, 2018 at 9:42 pm

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