Survey any condo community or apartment complex and you’ll quickly notice there are two types of urban dwellers — those who utilize their outdoor space, and those who do not. If you fall into the latter camp (monobloc plastic chairs and a rusty bicycle) but would prefer to join the ranks of the former (well-trimmed topiaries and a plush loveseat), property stylist Red Barrinuevo is here to help.
“Condo buyers always insist on having a balcony, and it adds to the cost of the unit,” says Barrinuevo, the Principal of Redesign4more, a Toronto-based home staging company. “You might as well use it!” Get his 10 tips on transforming a blah condo balcony into a dazzling urban oasis.
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1. Establish zones
Even if you have a postage stamp-sized balcony, it’s important to map out your space. “Zoning allows you to maximize functionality,” explains Barrinuevo. “If it’s a small balcony, think about what you’d like to use it for and what is most important to you. If you have a larger space, zoning is essential because there are many more possibilities to consider.” Should you add a water feature or a serving cart? A sectional or a children’s play area? Figure out how your outdoor space will function before making any other decisions.
Photo: James Bombales
2. Warm it up
Most condo balconies are simply slabs of concrete surrounded by glass. To add warmth to an outdoor space, Barrinuevo likes to use organic elements, such as wood floor decking or plant life. “These things will change the look of your balcony right away,” he says. When shopping for outdoor furniture, opt for natural and renewable materials such as teak, mahogany or rattan. Your space will go from cold and concrete to cozy and inviting in no time at all.
3. Choose small-scale furniture
“There are a lot of stores that sell condo-sized outdoor furniture that kind of mimics the pieces you have inside your home,” says Barrinuevo. Try a scaled-down sectional or a bench that can be pushed up against a wall. If you’re really limited on space, a drop-leaf table or comfy corner chair can work wonders.
4. Integrate storage
“If you want to add storage to your outdoor space, look for double-duty furniture,” says Barrinuevo. “Choose a coffee table with storage space underneath or a chest that can also serve a bench.” This allows you to tuck away accessories such as throw pillows, furniture covers and extra blankets.
Photo: James Bombales, design by Lisa Canning
5. Inject color wherever possible
“There are so many ways to add color to your outdoor space!” says Barrinuevo. His favorites? “Throw pillows, outdoor rugs, potted plants and accessories.” If your interior color scheme is a bit more muted, your outdoor space can be an opportunity to experiment with brighter colors. It’s less of a risk and fairly easy to change up if you grow tired of the look.
6. Focus on flooring
“Choosing floor coverings depends on how much you want to spend and your balcony’s exposure to the elements,” says Barrinuevo. “Outdoor tiles are fairly inexpensive, but if you’re willing to spend more money you could go with hardwood decking — it really looks like an extension of your living room.” Outdoor rugs are a renter-friendly option, which Barrinuevo says you can pick up at HomeSense, Walmart or on Wayfair for around $30. “You get a decent floor covering that’s trendy, too.”
7. Set the mood with outdoor lighting
“LED string lights and lanterns are great — I really like Edison bulb string lights or an outdoor chandelier centered above a dining table,” says Barrinuevo. If your building has restrictions on the types of lights you can hang (bah, humbug!), opt for a solar powered lantern that gives off an ambient glow.
Photo: James Bombales, design by Jackie Morra
8. Go with greenery
“On my balcony, I use faux boxwood — I love real plants, but faux is so easy and you can control the look,” says Barrinuevo. If you’ve got a green thumb, consider using majesty palms during the summer months. “They help with privacy and lend a tropical feel,” explains Barrinuevo. “A potted ficus tree, real or faux, is another great option.”
9. Create privacy
“Choose bigger plants to make your space feel more private,” notes Barrinuevo. Privacy screens are an easy way to keep away prying eyes. “You can find rolled bamboo panels or artificial ivy leaf screens at home improvement stores. These act as a curtain, but have a more natural feel.”
10. Use it or lose it
“The square footage of new condos is shrinking,” says Barrinuevo. “If you have a balcony, it can be a great way to extend your living space outside.” Think about what you lack on the inside, and make it happen on the outside. Do you need more space for entertaining, or crave a reading corner where you can unwind with a good book? “Get rid of the clutter and add functionality,” says Barrinuevo.