19 Courtyard garden ideas that maximise small, paved outdoor spaces

Take inspiration from these super stylish courtyard garden ideas, from wild and tropical looks to manicured Mediterranean designs and even courtyard gardens that have merged with the indoors to form part of the living room or spa bathroom...

courtyard garden ideas - outdoor living room with rug and outdoor lighting
(Image credit: Future)

The below courtyard garden ideas will help you make the most of whatever outdoor space you have. 

The Romans got it right with their internal courtyard gardens, which created tranquil spots to add light and ventilation. Today’s courtyards may be smaller but they’re no less beneficial, flooding the heart of the home with natural light and bringing the outside in.

From blurring the boundaries between indoors and out by creating an outdoor living room and adding a retractable glass roof, to re-wilding the courtyard and framing it as a feature to be enjoyed from indoors, there is plenty you can do with this small garden space.

Whether you have a tiny light-well garden or a more generous outdoor space at the centre of the home, there's bound to be some courtyard garden ideas here that work for you.

1. Use a small courtyard garden as an outdoor living room

This courtyard garden is set up like an outdoor living room, complete with rug, wall lights and pendant lighting, and comfy, upholstered seating. Potted and trailing plants add greenery – but without the mud. Find similar outdoor seating ideas in our guide to the best garden furniture

2. Create a tropical oasis for a dose of escapism

Tropical is topical in urban settings where a slice of escapism extends the holiday vibe beyond the summer months. Invest in large pots for your plants, and think along the lines of yuccas, agaves and olive trees. In this snug courtyard garden, a pergola provides extra growing space as well as shade for the tropical-inspired sofa. 

courtyard garden ideas

Get the look: Palmeral fabric, £95m, House of Hackney. For composite decking, try Millboard.

(Image credit: Future)

3. Offer something for every time of day

With a centre courtyard garden that connects with almost every room of the house, this home oozes California-style indoor/outdoor living.

Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors allow you to enjoy the indoors and the out all at once, and make the most of this U-shaped house. There's a relaxed coffee table area that's perfect for reading the morning papers over a cup of coffee, then there's a large al-fresco dining area for balmy summer evenings.

courtyard garden

(Image credit: Future)

Because this centre courtyard was the main wow-factor, interior designer Anne Carr wanted to be able to enter and see the space from most of the rooms, making it a better space for entertaining. She added french doors to three of the rooms that faced the courtyard.

She added a fountain to the courtyard garden to provide a pleasant and serene sound. For the outdoor furniture she used a mix of materials and furniture from different shops, along with a few vintage pieces, to create a homely ambience. She was adamant to avoid the matchy-matchy look that comes with buying sets of outdoor furniture.

Explore more of this home here...

4. Plant pretty olive groves for a clean, low maintenance Mediterranean look

You don't need to have a picturesque house in Provence (like architect Michaelis Boyd's summer home below) in order to offer a Mediterranean look.

modern home in Provence

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

This open-plan family home brings the outside in via courtyard gardens and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, with rooms opening up onto small courtyard gardens filled with olive groves.

The whole house is centred around two courtyard gardens with a glass corridor / hallway slotted between them, framing views on both sides.

The olive trees with gravel and up-lighters create a very clean, low-maintenance and elegant look.

5. Extend the feeling of space by having materials flow from the indoors out

Slate flooring extends from the ground floor snug into the courtyard garden through a wall of Crittall doors in the Bloomsbury townhouse below. This tricks the eye with a sense of continuity, merging the indoor and outdoor spaces.

This dining space feels like it's being extended into the patio, especially when the doors can be kept open in summer. 

The wood ceiling carries through the partition, flowing from the living and dining spaces into the courtyard garden to create a covered area. Aside from blurring the boundary between the indoors and out, it also means the doors can stay open during warmer months, regardless of whether it's raining.

small garden ideas

(Image credit: Armelle Habib)

Curved glazing makes it easier to move around this corner of the house, which is one of the main junctions, sitting between the kitchen, the two living spaces and the garden. By rounding it off, it takes up less space and feels more human and usable.

The only thing that would have made this space flow even better is if the terrazzo flooring had continued into the outdoor space, unifying it.

6. Create a sunken courtyard to brighten surrounding rooms across two floors or more

Architecture studio De Rosee Sa came up with an innovative solution to transform this converted garage into a light and modern home. They created a private courtyard garden at basement level, which was accessed through the bedrooms. But the upstairs living spaces all face onto this courtyard space with floor-to-ceiling windows and internal balconies, connecting the two floors and letting in lots of natural light at the rear of the home.

converted garage

(Image credit: De Rosee Sa)

It demonstrates how a small courtyard space can feed light into four spaces at two heights; the kitchen, dining room, corridor and kids room above, as well as the master suite below.

converted garage

(Image credit: De Rosee Sa)

Additional courtyard gardens were added ad raised ground level, providing views through the entire length of the converted garage home.

converted garage

(Image credit: De Rosee Sa)

7. Brave a Brutalist look

This Brutalist home in the countryside is centred around a sunken courtyard that reflects the rest of the home's raw, minimalist, interior.

It offers just a handful of potted trees and one al fresco dining area. Despite its minimalist look, it's still a secluded sun-trap for summer lunches.

brutalist architecture

(Image credit: The Modern House)

A staircase leads up from the courtyard onto an impressive roof terrace with infinity swimming pool.

Explore more of the property here.

brutalist architecture

(Image credit: The Modern House)

8. Add a glass roof for a weather-proof, year-round garden space

A courtyard garden is the centrepiece for this beautiful former Victorian Dairy in London

Design project - former dairy with courtyard garden

(Image credit: Imperfect Interiors / Photography: Chris Snook)

A retractable glass roof means that this space can be enjoyed year-round, whatever the weather. It's perfect for this London home, where six months of the year it's too cold, wet and grey to sit outside.

Design project - former dairy with courtyard garden

(Image credit: Imperfect Interiors / Photography: Chris Snook)

Design project - former dairy with courtyard garden

(Image credit: Imperfect Interiors / Photography: Chris Snook)

9. Make the most of a small courtyard by planting vertically

This courtyard garden may be small, but a sea of green against the wall makes it feel like a greener and lusher outdoor space.

small garden ideas

(Image credit: James Merrell)

10. Add colour or pattern with tiles

Tiles are waterproof – so why don't people use them outdoors more often? Swap out tired flooring, grey concrete or stained walls with vibrant, glossy tiles.

Teal tiles add shiny colour to the courtyard garden below, creating a clean look and bouncing light around while injecting a generous dose of colour. We also love the tiled floor, adding pattern while still leaving a frame of original brick paving stones around the edges.

small garden ideas

(Image credit: Barbara Corsico)

Similarly, the below courtyard garden also incorporates a patterned tiles floor, with a feature wall of wall tiles. Here, plain white and black hexagon tiles were used to spell out a message. The owners left room for a blackboard so the kids can doodle. There are also hooks to hang a hammock from, helping to make the most of this small garden space.

small garden ideas

Get the look: For a similar tiled blackboard wall, go to Freeman & Whitehouse.

(Image credit: Image Photography / Anna Stathaki)

11. Frame a courtyard with wall-to-wall windows

Rather than just having a door opening to a small courtyard, make the most of the feature with wall-to-wall windows. This not only frames the view, but also lets in lots of light.

The internal courtyard below is a central focal point to the property's layout. Day True was able to maximise the view of the courtyard through almost every room in the apartment, flooding light into the home and achieving balance throughout.

Explore more of this home here.

smart glass

(Image credit: Day True)

12. Landscape your courtyard garden as you would a regular garden

If the whole home is wrapped around a courtyard garden, with at least three sides / walls opening onto it, then why not make it a stunning feature to look at?

The below urban garden has been landscaped with country garden design in mind, using box hedge, planted trees, and even a trickling fountain.

courtyard garden ideas with fountain

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

13. Add greenery to a stone courtyard with pots and climbers

The courtyard garden below might be all stone, but it's not lacking in greenery; potted boxus balls, and trailing plants on the internal balcony gives this space a green garden feel.

courtyard garden with bistro table

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

There's a potted herb garden too.

courtyard garden ideas with balcony

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

14. Make the most of basement light-wells

If you have a basement light-well to help let in light downstairs, transform it into a courtyard-inspired space. 

A bistro-style table and chairs plus potted plants makes this downstairs light-well a green and inviting space to sit with a morning coffee. A Victorian-style spiral staircase in the light well leads up to the main garden.

courtyard garden lightwell

Get the look: Premier Basements carried out the basement conversion The reclaimed floor tiles are from Bert & May.

(Image credit: Future)

15. Connect your courtyard to the bathroom for instant spa-vibes

Ever thought of a light well or courtyard garden not only as a light source but also as a connection to the outside? Here a tiny light-well garden connects with the bathroom space, creating an instant spa-like, luxe bathroom vibe.

Light Well

(Image credit: Photography: Joe Fletcher)

Similarly, the master bathroom below connects to a tiny light-well space to create a stunning spa-bathroom that's half inside, half outside, with a glass wall nestled neatly into the marble.

Half In / Half Out

(Image credit: Photography: Matthew Millman)

This shower is outside, with bathroom tiling that reaches all the way up to the top of this outdoor wall.

Outdoor Shower

(Image credit: Photography: Matthew Millman)

And finally, blurring the boundaries between inside and out, this modern bathroom below was designed to make the most of a secluded courtyard. Michelle Fieldsend of A Fresh Touch transformed it into a serene oasis using in-ground plantings, potted greenery and a living wall. In the bathroom itself, a strategically placed mirror reflects the lush vista. ‘I also purposely chose a dark, moody tile to create a beautiful contrast with the natural light,’ says Michelle. Even when it’s too chilly to keep the doors open, this bathroom is still at one with nature all year round.

Add a final wellbeing flourish with fresh seasonal herbs and flowers: ‘Plant spring bulbs to fill the air with perfume,’ says Caryn Hibbert, founder and creative director of Thyme. ‘Paper-white narcissi are always a favourite and can last for weeks.’

Get the look: Interior/exterior, A Fresh Touch. Similar tiles, Topps Tiles. Try the Duravit Luv washbowl, £399, CP Hart

16. Tiny courtyard? Offer a 'peep show' feature

This tieny-tiny courtyard style garden isn't one of the home's main outdoor living spaces, so it can be used as a stylish feature instead – free from practical tables and chairs.

Boulders and aloe vera are dotted around for a rustic look, and various windows offer views down into the space.

17. Incorporate the courtyard into your interior

The courtyard garden below was fully opened up with sliding doors that disappear into the walls. A retractable glass roof lets in plenty of fresh air and sunshine on sunnier days, but can also be sealed off. This way the courtyard garden is made to feel like part of the main house.

internal courtyard with living walls

(Image credit: Paul Massey)

You can soften hard edges with a stress-busting living wall, a system which uses a modular framework that can be tailored to your needs. ‘Whether you’re looking to improve air quality or create an acoustic barrier, we look at light levels and location to ensure plants will thrive,’ says Calvin Dalrymple, sustainable design consultant at ANS Global.

internal courtyard garden with living walls

Get the look: Similar bespoke living wall, ANS Global. Similar chair, 367 Hola, £954, Hannes Wettstein for Cassina

(Image credit: Paul Massey)

18. Plant tall, bushy palms for an instantly lush, tropical look

This Bodrum Bay house features glazed doors that open on to an internal courtyard filled with palms. It’s an unexpected explosion of greenery at the heart of the home.

internal courtyard with lush palms

(Image credit: James Merrell)

19. Use a courtyard garden to provide roof access

In the modern home below, a master bedroom opens onto a tiny courtyard garden. The main purpose of this space – other than letting in light and fresh air – is to provide access to the roof terrace.

tiny courtyard garden outside bedroom

(Image credit: James Merrell)

tiny courtyard garden with ladder

(Image credit: James Merrell)

tiny courtyard garden outside bedroom

(Image credit: James Merrell)
Lotte Brouwer

Lotte is the Digital Editor for Livingetc, and has been with the website since its launch. She has a background in online journalism and writing for SEO, with previous editor roles at Good Living, Good Housekeeping, Country & Townhouse, and BBC Good Food among others, as well as her own successful interiors blog. When she's not busy writing or tracking analytics, she's doing up houses, two of which have features in interior design magazines. She's just finished doing up her house in Wimbledon, and is eyeing up Bath for her next project.