Originally Published on October 16, 2023. Last Updated on December 5, 2023.
Balconies are small enclosed exterior areas on the upper floor of a home or apartment building. Some are even quite famous (waving royalty and Juliet Capulet’s soliloquy come to mind).
From a design and styling standpoint, most residential balconies don’t get as much air time as other alfresco areas like patios or porches. They’re typically small, narrow, or not as easily accessible. As such, these outdoor spaces pose unique layout challenges, offer limited storage, and can lack the privacy offered by landscaping or fences. All too often, their potential goes unnoticed.
But if you know where to look and how to optimize every inch, designing your balcony can be something like uncovering a hidden gem. With seven easy steps for successful balcony styling and helpful advice throughout, consider this article your treasure map.
1. Find Purpose
Before you hit the hardware store or start adding to your shopping cart, figure out the balcony’s primary purpose. Do you mostly host friends on the weekends? Need somewhere to take your afternoon meetings? Craving more meals alfresco? Get clear about function then let form follow. Here are some ideas to help spark inspiration:
- For the ultimate versatility, look for rectangular or round bistro sets that accommodate at least two. Drop-leaf tables and folding chairs are superb options for when more friends or the in-laws stop by.
- Transform your balcony into the coolest cantina in town by affixing a bar table to your railing—or opt for a narrow freestanding bar table—and add barstools.
- Pair comfortable lounge chairs with C-tables for light bites with a sunset view.
- A coffee table encircled by floor cushions offers a cozy place for casual dining and after-work cocktails.
Long, narrow floor plans call for long, narrow furniture. A chaise lounge and coordinating side table make the perfect setup for an urban oasis or beachfront balcony. If space allows, put one on either end of your balcony, facing inward, to encourage conversation. For the most versatility, choose adjustable styles that can fold or stack.
Make your balcony a great escape with cozy seating you can curl up in. A small corner sectional, single papasan chair, or even a hammock will feel extra inviting, even if it’s only you and a book going out there. Don’t forget a side table or shelf for your cup of tea.
2. Measure Twice, Buy Once
Before you spend time and money buying furniture and decor, understand exactly what you’re working with. For this step, all you need is a pencil, some paper, measuring tape, and a little time. First, make a rough sketch of your floor plan and note the measurements of your perimeter, inches between outlets, and distance from floor to ceiling. After double-checking your dimensions, make a final sketch on graph paper and circle any usable square footage.
Since balconies tend to be rectangular and narrow, you want to double-check that you have enough clearance to walk around furniture. Here are our recommended minimum space requirements for various types of outdoor furniture:
- A porch or daybed swing requires 3–4 feet of distance to both the front and back and 12–14 inches of clearance on either side to ensure it won’t bump into walls or other furniture.
- Chaise lounges should have 2–3 feet of clearance on either side so guests have plenty of room to stand, sit, and walk around them.
- Rocking chairs and gliders need 2–3 feet of free space on all sides so they won’t bump into anything and so guests can easily move around them.
- At least three feet of clearance is needed on all sides of dining, counter, and bar tables so there’s enough room to pull out chairs.
3. Start with Multifunctional Furniture
Above all else, you’ll need comfortable furniture to fully enjoy your balcony. What styles you choose will be largely influenced by the main purpose determined in Step 1. But to get the most use out of your balcony, we suggest opting for furniture that can wear many hats. A dining set for date night and WFH hours, benches with built-in storage, and large ottomans all pack a big multifunctional punch.
4. Add Accents
Once you’ve decided on your main furniture, focus on decorative accent pieces that also add to the space’s livability. Whatever you can do to optimize comfort and let your personal style shine—without overwhelming your balcony’s limited square footage.
Railing Planter Boxes
One of our favorite ways to decorate a balcony is with plants. And if you can leverage your existing railing to do so—even better. Create cohesion with planter boxes and brackets that match the railing itself or mix contrasting materials and aesthetics for an eclectic look. Fill your vessels with culinary herbs, trailing plants, or verdant ferns.
A rug is a great way to add style and softness underfoot. It also helps define your seating or dining area. Since it will be exposed to the elements, find an indoor/outdoor rug that dries quickly, resistant to fading, and can be sprayed off with a hose.
Give your balcony a break from sun rays and those drizzly days by bringing an umbrella into the mix. If layout allows, a full-sized umbrella will offer the most protection. If not, try a semi-circle freestanding style or a retractable awning.
5. Designate Space for Everything
A small balcony will accumulate clutter quickly without proper storage. To keep things tidy, make sure every outdoor essential has a home.
Consoles, coffee tables, and benches with open interior compartments go above and beyond, serving their original purposes while also stowing cushions, kids’ toys, or serveware between uses.
If the fabrication of your exterior walls will allow it (or in some cases, if your landlord will), floating shelves are a great way to maximize your balcony’s vertical space. Display decor, show off succulents, or add small outdoor-friendly baskets to keep SPF, extra sunnies, and lip balm organized.
You may be steps away from your closet or coat rack, but why not have everything you need already outside? Max out your balcony time by keeping a sunhat, light jacket, or cozy blankets on wall hooks.
6. Prioritize Privacy
Now that the essentials are squared away, start thinking about the nice-to-haves. But as most balconies are in cities or apartment complexes, we’d argue that privacy is actually something of a must-have. Use tall plants, room dividers, or even curtains to create a sense of seclusion and curate your own little oasis away from the daily hustle and bustle.
7. Incorporate Ambient Lighting
Since floor and surface space are limited, overhead lights are a balcony’s best friend. Draw the eye up and define the room with string lights hung around the perimeter. For a magazine-worthy look, use statement pendant lights above your dining table or side tables. And if you’re after some extra privacy (but don’t want to totally block the view), you can hang tightly stacked fairy lights directly above your railing for an enchanting effect.
More Balcony Style Inspiration
Here are some candid shots from real customers who brought POLYWOOD to their small balcony or petite patio.