Make balcony a summer extension of your condo’s interior
When you live in a shoebox, a balcony can expand your horizons — along with your square footage.
My partner, Christian, and I live in a small ground-floor condo in Toronto’s Liberty Village. This summer, I was determined to make our five-by-nine-foot patio feel like an extension of our condo’s interior, and turn it into a space we could work and play.
Previously, the patio housed a second-hand bistro set, which fit like a losing Tetris game, and Pinterest projects, such as a DIY pallet garden, that had quickly lost their novelty. Looking up for inspiration, I saw many of our neighbours were either using their balconies as storage units or had filled them with Costco-sized patio furniture better suited for sprawling suburban lawns.
So how can we condo-dwellers better use this summertime gift of space?
“You have to be realistic with your space and ask yourself what would you most like to use the balcony for during the short summer we have,” says Isabelle Boba, founder of LUX Interior Design Inc. that offers The Condo Quickie, an interior design service for condo units. “I can’t tell you how many people think they are going to have a dining table and hold dinner parties every night but then won’t have enough room for a comfortable sofa. Sometimes you have to choose.”
Christian and I started with recognizing our needs — he wanted an outdoor office and I wanted a garden oasis, and we both wanted to maintain a style that matched our interior: chic, comfortable and not afraid of colour.
The first step (and a step up, my bare feet love the new flooring) was wood patio tiles to cover the cement slabs reminiscent of unfinished basements ($26.99, Ikea).
“Another trend is outdoor carpets made from durable materials and fun patterns,” Boba says. “Once you lay down flooring, you can put a rug by the seating area and treat the space like an outdoor living room.”
For furniture, Boba suggests investing in all-weather wicker resin that can withstand winters, and freshening up the look each season with new pillows.
“I tend to use grey tones for fabrics and I say to my clients, let’s have a lot of fun with cushions.” But Boba warns that accessories need to be tightly secured or they might be gone with the wind.
Unlike with a backyard, condo residents must consider the units above and below them. Without protection from an overhanging balcony, our patio is exposed to what comes down, which includes cigarette butts. As much as I love the bohemian look of rugs and pillows, the risk of a fire is too great.
For Christian’s “office chair,” we opted for a fabric-free, oval-shaped Acapulco chair ($99.99, HomeSense) that adds an organic shape to an otherwise boxy space. In order to keep floor space free, we found the Hold It Mate System ($74.99 plus $19.99 to $59.99 for accessories, Sheridan Nurseries) that allowed us to latch a salvaged hickory desktop and additional planters directly onto the fence railing.
Since I am hesitant to light any fires (and break any fire codes), we have solar panel string lights for mood lighting we had ordered from Amazon last summerand, as Boba suggests, battery-operated candles for extra impact that we found at HomeSense.
Grey gardens? More like gay gardens. Inspired by the rainbow flag, my garden’s rainbow railing flowers show my support to LGBTQIA2-S community. I purposely kept all patio accessories, including washable paper planters ($22, uashmama.ca) in neutral colours; think black, white, green and terracotta — I consider the latter two neutrals for gardeners — because I knew my Sheridan Garden Classics begonias, geraniums and pansies would add colour and dimension.
Although modest in size, my edible garden will eventually provide at least a few local, organic and fresh meals. Whether you garden for esthetic reasons, food sources, environmental issues, mental health or all of the above, gardening adds a personal, tender touch to every space.
But balcony gardening is another area where it’s important to consider your neighbours, which is why I was drawn to the Elho Green Basics grow table that comes with a tray saucer to catch excess water ($79.99 and $19.99, Sheridan Nurseries).
“One thing we have heard from condo property managers who are trying to ban planting on balconies is that people water their plants and the water runs everywhere and makes a mess,” says Rhonda Teitel-Payne, the co-co-ordinator of Toronto Urban Growers. Since pots can dry out quickly, Teitel-Payne suggests subirrigated planters to manage watering.
Teitel-Payne also encourages people to experiment with the direction they grow. Vining tomatoes, beans and peas are great for vertical gardening that frees up limited floor space. I set up a Socker plant stand ($49.99, Ikea) that can support climbing plants while hiding an unsightly corner. Teitel-Payne also suggests pollinator plants to attract bees. “We need to create corridors, if you are growing vegetables; you need to do a little extra to encourage the pollinators to come up to you,” she says.
And while I dread the death of my annual flowers that comes with the first hard frost, I try to remind myself that this is the only room that I get to redecorate every spring.