Backyard Ideas — 15 Brilliant Ways to Make the Outdoors Fun and Functional

These backyard ideas showcase several interesting ways to utilize this space for lounging, dining, socializing and more

A backyard with a dining space
(Image credit: Dan Preston. Studio credit Tom Eckersley Architects)

These backyard ideas prove that you can have everything — from a perfectly landscaped garden to a luxury resort-worthy, charming lounging area as long as you plan it out appropriately. Think of these spaces as an extension of your home and decorate and design them as extra functional rooms to accommodate your interests.

'Use this space to add modern, minimal forms for comfort and a clutter-free look, and let the landscaping do the talking,' says Julia Mack, founder of Julia Mack Design.

If you're looking for inspiration, here are some great ideas to get you started.

1. Design a lanai for an outdoor lounge area

An outdoor lanai

(Image credit: Paige Rumore Photography. Studio credit Brad Ramsey Interiors)

Want to turn your backyard into a haven? A lanai could be the answer. 'These are screened in or enclosed for an insect repellent, a weather-safe extension of your home,' says Dan Mazzarini, principal and creative director at BHDM Design + ARCHIVE by Dan Mazzarni.

'This is a terrific addition to any home because it creates an outdoor ‘room’ to enjoy a morning coffee, afternoon nap, or an evening dinner party,' says Julia Mack, founder of Julia Mack Design. 'It is the perfect solution for increasing your enjoyment of the seasons, by giving you a respite from daily life plus added financial value to your investment in your home.'

2. Make a pool part of the design 

An outdoor area with a pool

(Image credit: Lance Gerber. Studio credit Joshua Smith Inc)

'Clean lines and simple designs are trending right now,' says Thomas Flint, founder of his eponymous New Jersey landscape design company. 'The sound of the water; the mirror-like images that are reflected off the water, and lighting are all things that should be considered when adding a swimming pool to an outdoor living space.'

If you want to give your small backyard pool an edge, 'consider installing fiber-optic stars at the bottom of the pool for a beautiful night-time effect,' says Thomas.

3. Bring in a hot tub

A backyard with a hot tub

(Image credit: Karyn Millet. Studio credit Raili CA Design)

Nothing says luxury better than an at-home spa. If you want to create a hotel ambience at home, make use of the outdoors with a jacuzzi, and spend the cold winter evenings sitting snug in your tub.

'Beyond its physical advantages, the sauna serves as a tranquil space for reflection, mental clarity, and introspection,' avers Michael Amantea of Amantea Architects. 'It offers the perfect environment to quiet the mind and reconnect with the inner self through meditation and mindfulness practices. Additionally, an outdoor home sauna can become a communal activity, providing friends and family with a space to connect and socialize.'

4. Install whimsical hanging lights

An outdoor dining room with hanging lights

(Image credit: Julie Soefer Photography. Studio credit Marie Flanigan Interiors)

Want to add a dainty touch to the outdoor dining room? Consider rattan or wicker lanterns, that throw a diffused light and a warm glow, making the outdoors feel instantly elevated.

'The ultimate vibe of this Southern California home was whimsical, laidback, and of course, cool,' says Marie Flanigan, founder of Marie Flanigan Interiors. 'Hanging lighting in the tree was a natural choice, as the tree branches lend themselves perfectly to lighting the alfresco scene.' The sun-bleached raffia pendants here have an orb-like effect that doesn’t disrupt the backyard’s natural splendor.

5. Add comfortable, low seating

A backyard with low seating chairs and a coffee table

(Image credit: Roger Davies. Studio credit Natasha Baradaran)

For the ideal outdoor living room, consider low chairs and a coffee table to create the perfect setup for lounging, or afternoon tea. Choose pieces that are weather-proof such as teak, wicker or steel, and add pillows and upholstery to soften the look of the seating.

'I like to design the exterior of my projects with a series of outside moments,' says Natasha Baradaran, founder and creative visionary behind Natasha Baradaran Interior Design. 'I work with landscape architects to find harmony with planting materials and special outdoor pieces like our 'Baguette' Coffee Table that we made for outdoors for this project.'

6. Landscape the area with tall trees

An outdoor space with lush, tall trees and round dining

(Image credit: Julie Soefer. Studio credit Marie Flannigan Interiors)

If you have a lovely seating area in your small backyard and want to add some privacy to your space, consider adding tall trees and plants that will give the exteriors some privacy.

'Birds of paradise are medium-to-large trees and have dramatic, large fronds that start narrow at the base and branch outward into a 'V' shape,' says Kat Aul Cervoni, landscape designer and founder of Staghorn NYC and The Cultivation by Kat. 'Alternatively, Dracaena Marginata is a unique tropical plant with very narrow, sometimes curvy stems/trunks topped with sprays of long thin pompoms of foliage. I love the multi-stem options as they give the best dimension without taking up very much space. These are available in unique color variegations, including some with pink-ish foliage.'

7. Design an outdoor fireplace 

an outdoor fireplace design with a seating area

(Image credit: Vanessa Lentine. Design: Pure Salt Interiors)

While deck ideas with firepits are often not conducive for a social outdoor seating space, consider, instead the outdoor fireplace

‘You can’t go wrong with either option, but we love a fireplace for the elevated and unique look it provides an outdoor space,’ says Aly Morford, co-founder of Pure Salt Interiors. ‘It feels both classic and unexpected to have a full fireplace in your yard, and we love the versatility and opportunity the variety of different finishes and materials can offer. And from a functional standpoint, fireplaces allow for easy gathering and entertaining – it’s a built-in zone for guests to congregate and enjoy.'

Getting seating right around an outdoor fireplace is key, however. ‘Just like your indoor living area, outdoor seating arrangements work best when you mix in a few styles of furniture – a sofa or two with an accent chair, all angled towards the feature fireplace, allowing for easy gathering and a beautiful design statement,’ suggests Leigh Lincoln, Pure Salt Interiors' other co-founder.

8.  Introduce pattern through creative flooring  

an under cover outdoor seating area with a circular fireplace

(Image credit: Aaron Leitz. Design: Lucas Interior)

Plain pavers and standard decks have their place in any well-designed backyard, but there are also some inventive, invigorating patio flooring ideas you can employ to make this element sing in your design.  

‘Using eclectic tiles in this home was a way to bring interesting patterns and colors into the palette,’ explains David Lucas, co-founder of Lucas Interior. ‘We created the effect of an area rug with tile within the covered outdoor space as a way to define the room and bring in warmth. We purposefully set up this type of opportunity throughout this home so that we could explore different patterns and color combinations in an organized and cohesive way.' 

9. Grow vegetables

a modern vegetable garden design in the backyard

(Image credit: Adam Potts. Design: Christian Douglas)

Vegetable gardens might not sound like the most exciting outdoor trend, but there’s more to adopting these practices than simply living the good life. 

‘Small-scale food production is future thinking,’ says landscaper designer and edible garden specialist Christian Douglas. ‘Growing a portion of produce at home and supporting local farms for the rest is the sweet spot. As a company of designers and organic farmers, we spend our days exploring opportunities of integrating food in well-designed, beautiful homes.’

‘Going beyond vegetables is key – there are so many fruits, berries, herbs that look gorgeous sown into an ornamental landscape,’ says Christian. 

10. Cook outdoor in style

an outdoor kitchen design with a built-in grill

(Image credit: Vanessa Lentine. Design: Pure Salt Interiors)

The outdoor kitchen has to be the defining backyard idea of the moment. Al fresco eating has become such a part of the DNA of our outdoor spaces, that wheeling out a BBQ every time you want to gather friends and family in your yard just doesn’t cut it anymore. Having one in-built in your garden and side yard will reap benefits for years.

‘Living and dining outdoors is such a big part of Southern California culture, and influenced our design POV, so I knew for my own home that I wanted unique zones in my backyard to facilitate different living opportunities and maximize every inch of my yard,’ says Leigh.

‘The outdoor kitchen was designed to feel warm and inviting, and encourage my family and friends to sit and stay awhile – I especially love the Saltillo tile,' says Leigh. 'This was a ‘risky’ design decision as my home is not a Spanish style build, but I love bringing in this unique element to create a feeling of my favorite retreat and allow my home to feel like a getaway every day.’

11. Plan a broken plan outdoor space

An outdoor space with a small pool, a seating area and lush greenery

(Image credit: Douglas Friedman)

This idea of creating zones in your backyard is one that’s transformed garden design in recent times. This can be signified by small garden ideas like level changes, for example, changes in flooring materials, or just distinct groupings of furniture in different styles. 

This Texan property designed by Christina Simon at Mark Ashby Design and the landscape architect Ten Eyck offers the perfect example of how to zone a garden, creating two discrete and separate seating areas for different uses.  'Of course, gardens are, by nature, open plan, and the idea of a broken plan garden usually doesn’t involve adding in large screening fences of hedges from the rest of the outdoor space, but rather making clear distinctions between areas of use,' says Christina. 

12. Create a sunken seating area

a stylish sunken outdoor seating area in a backyard

(Image credit: Aaron Leitz. Design: Lucas Interior)

You might remember the ‘conversation pit’ as a throwback living room trend from the 70s, but it’s been reimagined (carpet-free, of course) as a lust-worthy outdoor seating idea for backyards. 

‘Sunken seating areas create an opportunity for intimate gathering,’ explains David Lucas of Lucas Interior. ‘There is something about being nestled into the earth that gives a sense of security and calm.’ 

‘In this home we used a sunken seating area within the entry courtyard as a way to divide the functions between active circulation and passive repose,' says David. 'Rather than using loose furniture, we built in the seating for a more clean-lined, architectural finish that feels tailored to the garden.'

13. Introduce smart watering 

a lush garden space and a glass-covered seating area

(Image credit: The Rich Brothers)

Smart gardening is a growing area, and one that can be worthwhile considering, especially when it comes to watering your plants. 

'Invest in an irrigation system,’ suggest Mel Brasier and Garrett Mage of The Manscapers. ‘It is a bit of an investment upfront, but it will add an extra layer of insurance to the lifespan of the plants. Irrigation also makes travel possible without having to be tied down to a daily watering routine.'  

‘Many city dwellers opt for the 'leaky hose' type of irrigation,’ says landscape designer David Andersen. ‘This is a continuous hose that snakes through the planting with evenly-spaced holes that allow the water to seep out. This system is then simply covered over with mulch.’  

With these easy-to-implement seating, fireplace, tiling, landscaping and shading ideas, give your backyard a fresh, welcoming appeal. 

14. Consider an outdoor dining room

an outdoor garden surrounded by trees, and a seating area

(Image credit: Dane Tashima. Design: Manscapers NY)

Indoor-outdoor living is a garden trend that's been around for a while, but thinking your outdoor space as an extension of your living area has never been higher on the agenda for most homes. 

'We develop and build the space around what the client will use it for, so we often mirror what is going on inside, on the outside,’ says The Manscapers’ James DeSantis. 'If you have a big sliding glass door, it looks like you are doubling that space. Your living room becomes two living rooms,’ 

‘Also, bring some of your interior textiles outside– bring out some pillows and some blankets and throws,' says James. 'Decorate your coffee table with things that you cherish from your interior and take it outside. It’s a great way to use your space.' 

15. Tie in the deck with the exterior of the property

a backyard deck with warm lighting

(Image credit: Travis Rhoads Photography. Design: Seed Studio Landscape Design)

When it comes to backyard desk ideas, you can add warmth to your space with a natural flooring that creates a great contrast to starker paving slabs. But choosing the right style is important. ‘I tend to work to integrate the deck with the type of wood used on the residence,’ says Steve Ritchey of Seed Studio Landscape Design. 

‘If there's no specific architectural wood to coordinate with my current go-to is Thermory Ash,' says Seve. 'It ages well and needs no finish, and is very durable surface.' When it comes to garden trends to avoid, he has a few suggestions when it comes to specifying a deck. ‘I don't recommend tropical hardwoods on environmental grounds, or composite decking,’ he says.

How can I make my backyard look better?

Fill up your space with as many plants as you can: they don’t have to be high maintenance – trees and evergreen shrubs will soon gain height and volume. If they provide food and flavor, then so much the better. 

'People want to connect with nature and be enclosed in their multi-purpose green oasis,' says Isabelle Palmer of The Balcony Gardener. 'They want it to be somewhere to work, relax and entertain – perhaps with compartmentalized zones for kids and adults. That’s a lot to ask, but it can be done: strangely, the more you divide it up, the bigger it will seem.' 

How can I make my backyard nice on a budget?

There are many ways to make the backyard feel elevated but on a budget. Consider adding smart patio chairs and tables; add color through upholstery to give the space a smart, fresh look. Tall trees and lush plants also contribute to the look of the outdoors – an economical yet effective way to make the backyard feel sophisticated. 

That apart, consider adding fencing (perhaps paint it to give color to the outdoors), building a pergola, or adding water features to the exteriors.

3 products to enhance the backyard 

Hugh Metcalf
Editor of

Hugh is the  Editor of From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2024.

With contributions from