5 small changes you can make to immediately elevate your backyard into a haven

Turn your backyard into a haven with these simple design tips and ideas

A backyard terrace with seating area overlooking a sea view
(Image credit: John Granen. Paul Moon Design)

Turning your backyard into a haven might be simpler than it sounds. No matter the size, even a mere slither of outdoor space can provide a moment of refuge. Sometimes it's as simple as a little rearranging and adding small touches here and there to create that escape.

'Think of your backyard as a moment in time,' says Stephanie Dale of Studio Webster Dale. 'It might just be an area of your backyard for quiet contemplation, a place for a coffee away from the chaos, or somewhere to catch up with friends. Different scenarios have their own focal point and opportunity to appreciate the sights, sounds, and smell of the outdoor space.' Read on for our five top tips for clearing the clutter and creating your own very own Garden of Eden.

Oonagh Turner
Oonagh Turner

Oonagh is an interiors writer and editor, and expert at keeping up with trends from the world of interior design. For this story, she's spoken to the landscape designers and architects who have worked on backyards to create small heavenly spaces for relaxation. 

1. Go tall and exotic with your plants

A backyard with tall and exotic plants

(Image credit: Richard Chivers. Yard Architects)

If you have a small backyard, tiny balcony or a patio lacking in grass, you might think that going subtle with planters is the key to helping your backyard's footprint seem larger. But the trick is to embrace the space and go big and bold with large plants that can help bring a touch of the exotic to your space, creating that haven feel. 

'If you don't have the current budget to replace older fences, or backyard structures or are unable to control unsightly neighboring buildings, use the space to plant large plants to act as a screen and bring the focus back to nature in the foreground,' says landscape architect, Christopher Dameron.

Either plant them in soil, straight in the ground, or pick a range of beautiful plant pots that can bring a sculptural element to your backyard. With banana plants, potted aloe vera, lush ferns, palms or the likes of the hardy Japanese aralia, you can create a cocooning enclosure where you can enjoy being surrounded in greenery. 

You might want to go even more hidden with a screen of tall bamboo, leading the eye upward and providing a great background for your plants, giving a jungle sanctuary vibe to the space.

Aloe vera plant from Home Depot
Editor's pick

Aloe vera plant from Home Depot

With a jungly feel, I love aloe vera. They're pretty hardy too and can grow outdoors, but keep them in a pot so you can take it inside when temperatures reach below 50°.

2. Add soft furnishings to your seating area

A backyard dining set-up

(Image credit: Laura Moss. Design: Ellie Mroz)

Soft furnishings help create a welcoming feel in any backyard. Outdoor furniture that is usually super durable and hard-wearing to last the outdoor conditions can be softened by bringing your indoor furnishings outside, or opting for weather-proof cushions.

Allow the living area indoors to spill into the outdoor zone and create a comfortable place for seating - perhaps with a backyard umbrella or outdoor shelter. 'This covered patio creates a quality time haven - whether it be for entertaining, family time or alone time,' says Ellie Mroz of Ellie Mroz Design

'This space can be enjoyed at least three seasons a year. The fresh coastal furnishings expand the home interior aesthetic to the outside.'

As well as the many cushions you'll need for an outdoor entertaining space, a rug might make a nice addition to your outdoor area too. Kit Kemp has collaborated with Annie Selke to create flat-woven and waterproof pieces that stand the test of time outside. 

Color block indoor/outdoor cushion from Ballard Designs
Editor's pick

Color block indoor/outdoor cushion from Ballard Designs

Simple and with a small color pop, these cushions will make a sweet addition to your outdoor sitting area. I like the lemon version for a joyous summery look.

3. Carve out a solo seating area

A porch with fitted swing

(Image credit: Laura Moss. Ellie Mroz Design)

To create your outdoor haven, a space for quiet contemplation on your own is essential. If you don't have space for a hanging swing, or anything to hang it off, you could hang a hammock between trees, add a beautiful bench facing a view or under the shade of a tree, or add a one-person outdoor chair, giving you that moment of privacy and your own outdoor spot to relax.

'A covered small porch is a great place that not only provides shade and a place to unwind but is also a perfect spot for these Serena & Lily hanging rattan chairs,' says Ellie. 

'We tethered them to the stone so they always face in the right direction - swaying and bobbing but not twisting and swinging. The two-way fireplace makes the space cozy all year round.'

4. Light your backyard path to lead the way

Outdoor lanterns light the way of the backyard path

(Image credit: Adam Potts. Design: Susan Skornicka)

Modern garden lighting is a great addition to your backyard, helping to visually lead the visitor down your backyard path and create a secret garden feel. Lanterns dotted throughout your outdoor space are a quick fix that helps the space come alive once the sun starts to set. 

'I love Japanese gardens and that is how I learned more about the importance of lanterns,' says Susan Skornicka. 'They are not used as functional lighting but more for ambiance and a symbol of transcendence.'

Black rattan lantern from Walmart
Editor's pick

Black rattan lantern from Walmart

Cheap and cheerful, these cute rattan lanterns will look nice along any pathway, or can be grouped together on an outdoor dining table as a tasteful centerpiece.

5. Create shade

A backyard with a parasol

(Image credit: Adam Potts. Design Susan Skornicka)

A parasol - or even the shade of a tree - should be considered if your seating area is in full sun, and will provide natural and calming dappled shade as the sun moves around the space.

'The umbrella in the outdoor living room was placed there for shade and protection, and to create a grounded feeling in that area,' explains Susan, who also designed this backyard. 

'It sits above the seating and blocks a bit of the afternoon sun while holding the space, creating a cohesive and safe feeling. The umbrella shape adds interest and is pretty to look at from all angles, often casting lovely shadows.'

For something more permanent, consider installing a pergola around a patio. You can try your hand at some DIY and erect a wooden frame, trailing plants like wisteria around the base to eventually create a floral canopy, or you can buy aluminum frames with fabric canopies to protect you from sunlight.

Premium cabana from B&P

Premium cabana from B&P

With a fun 70s look, this Business & Pleasure cabana enchants with its block colors. Pink, yellow, cream and green will bring a playful feel to any backyard. 

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.