Home Decorating How Malcolm Simmons Created an Outdoor Oasis in Less Than 80 SqFt

How Malcolm Simmons Created an Outdoor Oasis in Less Than 80 SqFt

In cities, even a tiny sliver of outdoor space is a dream. The designer shares how to make the most of yours.

“The deck is very old, but it backs up to a really beautiful shared garden space with me and my neighbors with a little creek back there, animals, and all sorts of things,” says DC-based designer – and Em Henderson mentee – Malcolm Simmons, who spent about a month and a half turning his 8 x 10-foot deck into the perfect outdoor entertaining area.

01.
Stop looking at your
space at eye level.

At eye level, a small space can seem daunting but don’t forget that you always have space above you. As a graphic designer turned interior designer, Simmons started planning for his small space by sketching a bird’s eye view in order to measure everything out and see how much space he was working with. Once you have that, he says, your options become more limited – making it much easier to find the right-sized furniture and decor. “Sourcing, researching, and measuring, measuring, measuring is key,” he says. “I wanted an outdoor entertaining space. Somebody else might want to use it for yoga or an outdoor kitchen.”

01.
Stop looking at your space at eye level.

At eye level, a small space can seem daunting but don’t forget that you always have space above you. As a graphic designer turned interior designer, Simmons started planning for his small space by sketching a bird’s eye view in order to measure everything out and see how much space he was working with. Once you have that, he says, your options become more limited – making it much easier to find the right-sized furniture and decor. “Sourcing, researching, and measuring, measuring, measuring is key,” he says. “I wanted an outdoor entertaining space. Somebody else might want to use it for yoga or an outdoor kitchen.”

02.
Play it safe with colors – go crazy with texture.

“I established a pretty neutral palette as a foundation,” says Simmons. This palette not only works with the surrounding nature, but with the rest of his classic, tailored, and collected home. “I wanted the deck to follow suit, so when I look outside the dining room window, which is on the other side of the deck, I feel as though the room extends a little bit when I open the door.”

A neutral palette, especially in a smaller space, can work wonders. “When you’re thinking about design and the elements and principles of it, a small space, to me, warrants a limited color palette and more neutral tones,” says Simmons. “I think, in a small space, what I like to do is just have one accent color or one accent piece that has a lot of color in it. I chose green because I thought it would mesh well with the greenery that I had going on elsewhere, that it would fit and make sense in that way.” But that being said, Simmons believes there are no “hard and fast rules” when it comes to color in a small space, and to go with colors that will make you happy.

03.
Get Crafty

Because Malcolm’s backyard is shared with his neighbors, he wanted to add more privacy. “I tried to find some kind of wall or fence or slatted wood structure that I could set up on the deck or something that’s reasonably priced or that I could actually afford,” he says. “This is something I do a lot. When I can’t find something that I want, I just make it myself.”

 

So he did what he calls “backward thinking,” and mocked up his ideal semi-privacy wall and from there figured out what it would take, and how to put it together to be the most functional for a small space. The structure would also need to not be permanent because of Simmons’s building’s HOA. He went to Home Depot and bought wood, hinges, and D-rings, and built himself a wall. “I’m not a carpenter, I’m not a woodworker, so I figured if I can do it, anybody can. And I’m proud to say it hasn’t budged since last summer.” In creating the moveable privacy wall, Malcolm was able to add lighting (something that was nonexistent), and hung ivy for added greenery and a garden.

04.
Bar carts are more practical than you think.

Number one on his list was good seating. “I needed to have as much seating as possible within reality,” he says. Then, there was the need for surfaces to place food and drinks on. “I opted for a bar cart outside to sit food options or drinks or what have you,” he says. “But I also use it for plants and earth stuff when I’m not entertaining, so it serves double duty. And the bottom shelf of the bar cart houses my gardening tools. So really figuring out what I could use that would serve multiple purposes.”

05.
Use Layers to Feel Grounded

“Decks and patios can often feel really hard and really uncomfortable, so it’s important to create softness to contrast against the harsher elements outside,” says Simmons. “My suggestion would be to spend the time to find something that is going to last well outside but also has a layer of comfort or warmth to it.” Simmons layered Annie Selke’s Two Toned Platinum/White Indoor/Outdoor rug, with an existing gray rug, and added our Hobnail Striped Black Indoor/Outdoor pillow  “to really create this really cozy environment.”

06.
Make it your own!

Now that you’ve laid out your functional and bigger pieces, you can have fun with the details. For Malcolm, two things come to mind: greenery and lighting. “Plants and greenery to bridge the gap between your indoor and outdoor space,” he says. “It should be like a middle ground.” For lighting, Simmons purchased battery-operated string lights so there’s no ugly extension cord, and strung them from his DIY privacy wall across his deck to his home.

 

“It definitely feels like a space that’s tailored to me and I value and appreciate the work that I put into it, which makes me like it even more.”

06.
Make it your own!

Now that you’ve laid out your functional and bigger pieces, you can have fun with the details. For Malcolm, two things come to mind: greenery and lighting. “Plants and greenery to bridge the gap between your indoor and outdoor space,” he says. “It should be like a middle ground.” For lighting, Simmons purchased battery-operated string lights so there’s no ugly extension cord, and strung them from his DIY privacy wall across his deck to his home.

 

“It definitely feels like a space that’s tailored to me and I value and appreciate the work that I put into it, which makes me like it even more.”

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