How to transform a small outdoor space to make it feel larger

We have been hard at work this summer getting our little house ready to rent. Though we made many great improvements to the property, one of the best decisions we made was to transform a small, awkward space on the side of the house into a cozy, private retreat.

The kitchen in our little house opens out to a small area sandwiched between the side of the house and the edge of the yard as it slopes toward the parking lot next door. Though there were pavers in this area left from the previous owners, they were just loosely laid over the dirt and they were dangerous and difficult to walk on. The way the area was organized made it seem small and useless.

How to lay a backyard patio with pavers.

The previous owner had left patio pavers randomly placed in the weeds in the backyard. We repurposed the pavers into a functional and attractive patio.

Defining an Outdoor Space

We knew we needed to define the outdoor space to make it feel functional and comfortable, and that required two major tasks: creating a barrier from the neighboring apartment complex and making full use of the area next to the house.

We decided to put in a small run of privacy fence along the edge of the yard. The fence would help to hide an ugly dumpster for the apartments next door. It would also create a better view from the bedroom window. The fence would really define the space as well, much like creating an outdoor room. Once the fence was up, we could focus on making the best use of the area between the fence and the house by laying a proper, solid patio.


How to deal with ugly areas next to your home.

The apartments next door have an ugly dumpster that could be viewed from our back door and bedroom window. We decided to install a small run of privacy fence to hide the eyesore and to better-define the outdoor space.


A manual fence post digger is used to prepare holes for fence posts.

My dad manually digging the holes for the fence posts.


building a small run of privacy fence to define an outdoor space.

The fence post is secured using concrete and crushed limestone.

Building a Privacy Fence

The privacy fence didn’t need to be long. Michael and my dad decided to set three posts and create a 16-foot run of fencing just in the patio area. We were lucky to have a lot of trees and bushes that added extra privacy on either side of the fence. We were also lucky to have leftover materials from a fence project at my old home, so this project was very inexpensive.

My dad used his post-hole digger to manually dig the holes for the fence posts. He then set the 8-foot fence posts in a base of concrete and crushed limestone. After the posts had been set in the concrete, he screwed the stringers onto the posts and then nailed the pickets onto the stringers. He used a level to make sure that all of the materials were level and plum as he went along.

While my dad was hard at work on the fence, Michael was removing all of the pavers and digging up the area next to the house. We had discovered a buried concrete patio under the pavers and it was angled toward the house’s foundation. It needed to be broken up and removed so Michael worked at it with a sledge hammer and removed all of the concrete pieces. Though removing the slab was a pain, we were glad that we were able to stop water from being diverted toward the house’s foundation. We even repurposed some of the broken concrete pieces into stepping stones in the backyard. After the concrete had been removed, we then back-filled the area with dirt and raked it flat.


A do it yourself privacy fence is the perfect way to create a private backyard retreat.

Once the posts were set, they guys set to work on drilling in the stringers (the cross supports) and nailing in the pickets.


How to install a privacy fence.

The fence, almost finished. Notice how the pickets are all aligned and level across the top.

Building a Functional Patio

It was amazing to see how much our little space had been transformed just by installing a fence and creating a flat surface on which to walk (even if it was just dirt). The area already felt so much larger. We still had a lot of work to go however.

We laid down some landscaping plastic on top of the dirt and then poured crushed limestone over that. We ordered two tons of crushed limestone and ended up using a little more than a ton for our patio area and then used the rest for our driveway. Michael poured the limestone onto the plastic and I carefully raked it flat, using a level to make sure it was slightly sloping away from the house.

We repurposed all of our pavers, taking time to measure and plan the best way to lay them. We wanted to take the patio from the fence right up to the edge of the house to truly make the most of the space. We had different sizes and styles of pavers, so we had to think about the best way to combine them. We also poured crushed limestone in the areas around the patio so that we could extend the usable area and create walkways.


How to properly lay a patio near a house's foundation.

We laid down a layer of landscape plastic and then Michael poured crushed limestone on the top while I combed it out flat, making sure to create an angled grade so that water would run away from the house.


We sprinkled some sand under each paver as we laid it in place. We took time to make sure that it was laying flat and that no larger limestone pieces were causing it to wiggle or shift. Though we had already raked the limestone, we made sure to use a level when laying the pavers as well so that we knew the patio was sloping away from the foundation and directing water away from the house. We really took our time with this process and made sure that each paver was sturdy and placed well before moving on.

how to create a patio in a small space.

Use a level to make sure that the pavers are sloping slightly away from the house so that water will be diverted away from the foundation. Finish by sweeping paver-locking sand in between the paver cracks.


Once all the pavers were placed, we finished off the patio with some paver-locking sand. Actually, we didn’t have any paver locking sand but we did have some dry concrete and some playground sand so we mixed that together and swept it into the cracks. It acts much like paver-locking sand because the concrete will harden and secure the pavers in place in the same way.

I can’t tell you how much I love this transformation! The patio and fence created an extra outdoor living space for our rental and added so much value to the property. Though we enclosed the space, we made it feel bigger by defining it and giving it purpose, and the area now feels tranquil and private where it once was exposed and unusable. A tiny outdoor space that had no purpose is now ready for grilling and entertaining, and it just goes to show you what a little definition can do for a small outdoor area.

Create an outdoor living space even if you don't have much of a yard.

The private outdoor retreat, a perfect space for morning coffee, outdoor yoga, or grilling out.












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