From my postage stamp size New York City studio apartment balcony, I could peer out at a very “urban” view over looking the dumpsters in the parking lot below. It was a tight squeeze with my single chair and a tiny bistro table, with no room to spare for much else. Despite my cold concrete view, I would have liked to entertain even a single guest, but that was not an option. And with no storage, I had to store gardening tools and cushions in my clothes closet.

Fast forward and I am in a new city designing a slightly larger balcony. I’ll use over-the-railing planters to line the narrow space with assorted grasses and drought-resistant plants. I’ll place a small lime tree in a container that will fit perfectly in a disused niche.

By optimizing the small space with hard-working double duty furnishings and accessories, I’ll be able to create a multi functional urban outdoor living experience – a refuge for lounging, cooking, and entertaining for a small group. Furnishings more than one use will also reduce the number of required pieces, leaving more open floor space which will make the balcony appear more spacious.

An outdoor space provides the option of choosing energy-reducing solar powered items which are also a good option for spaces without electrical outlets.

Here’s how to become an indoor-outdoor change artist:

1. Modular furniture.
Pull an ottoman up against a chair and it becomes a chaise lounge. Remove the cushion and place it between two chairs and you have a side table. Three pieces in one.

2. Furniture with an integrated planter.
I’ve spotted loads these in all types of materials including industrial style concrete, wood, metal, and plastic. Some of these pieces are “tri-functional” with integrated planters as well as lighting.

3. Furniture that doubles as lighting.
Like furniture that multitasks as a table or chair and planter, illuminated outdoor chairs and tables work double time as furniture that casts a soft glow from within.

4. Illuminated planter that doubles as a lamp.
I love the way these planters illuminate a space while also casting light on the plants inside. Use small tabletop versions replace candles in lieu of candles, and larger ones to provide the entire space with soft ambient light.

5. Table with integrated fire pit.
When it’s not in use as a fire pit, you place a top over the open pit and it becomes a table. For a space with a bit more leg room, there are prefab fire bowls with a surrounding ledge that’s perfect for setting down hors d’oeuvres or drinks.

6. Furniture with hidden storage.
Consider benches and side tables with hidden storage to stow cushions and garden tools.

7. Umbrella that is also a planter or cooler.
Patio umbrellas come in small sizes and some double as planters.

8. Umbrellas that have both light and heating functions.
Umbrellas with heating and lighting functions are commercially available, but it’s not too difficult to do it yourself. Instructions here.

9. Multi-purpose stool, table, planter, and cooler.
Depending on your particular needs, it’s seating, a table, planter or cooler. And it’s on casters, so you can move it with the sun.

10. Stool that also functions as side table.
Extra seating or a side table means extra space.

11. An elevated planter that is also a bar.
This elevated bar/planter doesn’t take up much room and doubles as seating, and for a small terrace, it an also function as a privacy screen.

12. Bench that converts to table.
This bench easily opens up to a picnic-style table and seating for four, but can also stay out of the way as seating.

What big ideas to you have for small outdoor spaces? We’d like to know!

About the Author:

Robin HortonAuthor, designer, speaker, and influencer Robin Plaskoff Horton, is Editor-in-Chief of Urban Gardens, the award-winning and Webby-nominated home and garden, sustainable living, and travel webzine. Mashable named Urban Gardens “One of the top 10 must-follow home and garden Twitter accounts” and Better Homes and Gardens Magazine named Urban Gardens one the top 10 garden blogs for 2015. Her trend spotting and product sourcing has earned her the moniker “coolspotter.” Robin has traveled the world as a brand ambassador to design events including The London Design Festival, Maison & Objet in Paris, Milan Design Week, Ambiente in Frankfurt, Germany, and invited by the city of Girona, Spain to co-create an outdoor public art installation made with plants for the annual Temps de Flors festival.

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