Renovating A Small Yard

A small yard can hold more than a patio, a few plants and some grass. With the right design and some clever moves to visually expand your space, you can add more features than you might imagine.

In many ways, renovating a small yard is no different than tackling a larger space — you’ll still collect inspiration photos, establish a budget and hire a professional, among many other things. However, given more limited square footage and the likelihood of closer neighbors, you’ll have to prioritize what you want, think about multiuse features and consider adding screening or noise-mitigating features.

If you’re ready to renovate your outdoor space, here is how to navigate the process through the planning and conceptual phases, and how to get from your current look to one that fits your life and style.

Assess Your Existing Outdoor Space

Walk around your yard and note what’s already there. You might even consider making a basic sketch of your space, including any existing features such as patios.

Take a look at what works well in your yard. That might include a patio or deck or any paths. Are there good views you’d like to preserve? Do you have plantings or other landscaping that you like?

Indicate any trouble spots. Do you need to screen an unpleasant view or provide privacy from the neighbors? Do you want protection from overly hot areas, whether with a shade structure or additional trees? Are there issues with drainage or slopes?

Check the weather patterns as well. Are there spots where the sun is blazingly hot for a good portion of the day, or ones that are always cool or cold? Is there a prevailing wind most afternoons, or do things stay relatively calm?

Think About What You Want

Make a list of the features you would want in your ideal yard. Envision your dream space, both how it will look and how it will function. Then ask yourself some questions.

  •  Who will be using it regularly?
  •  Do you want an area for sports and games?
  •  Would you like a great entertainment spot?
  •  Is there a feature you’ve always wanted, such as a pool or hot tub, a thriving vegetable garden or a swing designed for relaxing with a good book?

Once you’ve created your wish list, it’s time to prioritize. Think about day-to-day living and how you’ll use your space. Then divide your list into the must-haves and the nice-to-haves.

Consider possible compromises that could allow you to add a few more dream items to your space. A full-size outdoor kitchen may be out of reach, both in budget and size, but a grill with a countertop or bar area nearby might be doable. You may not have room for a pool where you could swim laps, but a plunge pool or spa may satisfy your wish for a place to relax in the water.

Finally, take a hard look at your budget and determine how much you can afford to spend on your landscape renovation. You can do some research to get an idea of costs, but the landscape pro you work with will be better able to give you a realistic picture of what you can achieve with your budget. You also can think about where you’d like to invest in your landscape renovation and where you might be able to save.

Gather And Refine Your Ideas

Now comes the fun part. Find photos of outdoor spaces you like. Mix photos of full landscapes with those showing small details you admire.

At this point, don’t feel like you need to stick to photos of only smaller spaces. Images of larger landscapes can help inspire your project too. Keep in mind, though, that specific features might not be possible to include, or certain results achieved, in limited square footage.

Once you have a good collection of photos, sort through what you’ve gathered and evaluate what you like about each landscape and detail. It will give you and your designer a clearer idea of the direction you want to go in.

Find A Professional

Got your ideas and a preliminary budget? Look for a design pro to help with your project. Both landscape architects and landscape designers can provide a complete design.

There are a number of ways you can work with a designer. A design consultation can get you started, or you can hire a designer to complete a concept design or create a site plan to take you further along. Finally, your designer may also oversee the installation.

Your project may require a landscape architect if there are grading and drainage issues, retaining or structural walls, or features such as a large driveway and turnaround. Other issues that may require a landscape architect include mitigations for wetlands or protected sites, or the possibility of floods, wildfires, mudslides or hurricanes.

You also can work with a landscape design-build firm, which can carry your project from the design phase through installation. A full-service landscape design firm also may be able to provide continued maintenance once the project wraps up.

Explore Small Yard Design Ideas

A number of design moves can make a small yard feel more expansive. Consider whether any of the following options could suit your overall look and style. 

* Choose a simple palette of a few colors for hardscape, furnishings and plantings that repeat throughout the space. This will draw your eye through the yard and make the space feel unified and larger.


* Lay a path at an angle to make a narrow yard feel wider.

* Install a circular path to draw the eye around the yard, rather than through it. Having the end of a path disappear behind a landscape feature gives the sense that there are more areas of the yard to explore.

* Create a destination with a patio or a deck sited halfway through or at the far end of a small yard, rather than right outside your door. It will draw people through the space.

* Highlight a view that’s beyond the borders of your space to expand the sense of spaciousness.

Designing two distinct zones, such as a dining space and a gathering spot or a play area, gives a sense of purpose to even the smallest space. If you’re dealing with a slope, consider a small retaining wall as a design feature that also adds separation.

Tip: Two is the optimum number of zones for a small yard. It provides separation without overwhelming the space.

Decide On The Concept Design

Taking your landscape from ideas to reality starts with developing the concept design. Use your ideas to create a preliminary plan. This two- or three-dimensional drawing will be to scale and will show the new layout and major design elements. At this point, it may be fairly simple or can be quite detailed, indicating materials and plantings.

Review all aspects of the plan, from large installations to small details, to be sure you understand how the final design will look in real life.

Some questions you’ll want to ask yourself and your design pro:

* How do the various components work together, and how you will access areas throughout the space?

* Are the walkways and drives large enough so they don’t feel cramped? Is there sufficient room for features, from grills to swimming pools, and for furnishings such as dining tables and lounges?

* Does the look fit your style and work with your architecture? Is the plant palette what you want for your garden?

* Can you imagine yourself in the space?

Choose Materials And Accessories

Throughout this process, you’ll have been saving inspiration photos and you’ll likely already have an idea how you want your space to look.

Now you’ll need to select the materials and accessories for your landscape. These include everything from hardscape and plants to extra features and finishing details.

As you finalize your plans, check out your options and see how they fit with your style, your design and your budget. Things to consider:

  •  Hardscape options for decks, patios, paths and retaining walls
  •  Structural materials for screens, pergolas, abors, fences and gates
  •  Fireplace and fire pit 
  •  Outdoor kitchen and grill
  •  Lighting
  •  Spa and small pool
  •  Water feature
  •  Storage areas
  •  Plant choices such as ground cover, trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers 
  •  Outdoor furnishings 

Finalize The Details

Once you’ve decided on a concept plan, it’s time to get all the pieces in place. Your plan will go through several revisions as it is polished. When you have made all the changes, you will have a final plan to follow.

One of the details that will need to be considered during this process is which permits and permissions you will need, if applicable. If you’re planning a major renovation, be sure that you determine the location of gas, power and plumbing lines. These all should be carefully marked.

A knowledgeable professional will be able to guide this portion of the process, as he or she will be familiar with local planning departments, permit requirements and any other logistical issues you’ll need to address.

Hire A Landscape Contractor

If you don’t already have a licensed landscape contractor for your project, and you want one to do the installation. You’ll want to interview potential contractors and give them the scope of work, even if the plans aren’t final. Designers often can recommend contractors they’ve successfully worked with in the past. Interview at least three to get a good idea of your options.

When looking for a contractor, follow the same process as for choosing a landscape architect or designer. Also ask about insurance and bonds for any subcontractors, as well as about a contact person for questions and problems that may arise.

Plan Construction and Timeline

Before work begins, familiarize yourself with how the project should unfold and how long it will take from start to finish. Think about the disruption to your yard and access to your home, as well as about construction hours; staging areas for materials; outside contractors for electrical, plumbing and irrigation systems; and who will be your contact person for questions or problems.

You’ll also want to be aware of possible setbacks that may cause the timeline to change. These may range from weather delays to subcontractor availability to supply chain issues. Ask about backup plans if problems arise.

If you are saving part of your landscape, especially trees or bushes, ensure that those areas are marked and protected from damage, especially during demolition. 

Make A Post-Completion List

After the paving has been laid, the lighting has been installed, the plantings have been put in place and the finishing touches have been added, walk through your yard and note anything that is still unfinished. Provide the person responsible for correcting any mistakes with a list of items that need to be fixed and ask for a final finish date.

Also, you’ll want to think about and plan for maintenance. The hardscape materials and plantings will need ongoing care. Some landscape design and landscape construction companies provide maintenance services, which may be part of your service agreement with the pro. You also can ask your designer or contractor for maintenance recommendations or contacts.


Organize Your Living Room On Any Budget

The living room is one of the most heavily used, multifunctional spaces in a house. It’s commonly used for movie nights, playdates, arts & crafts, book clubs, homework, naps and more. This makes it a difficult room to keep organized and clutter free.

When tackling an organizing project you need to prioritize storage for the activity of highest need. You may consider all that takes place in your living room as high priority. To keep from getting overwhelmed, focus on creating systems that will be easy for you and your family to follow and maintain. 

What to Do Before You Start

Remove items that don’t belong in your living room and return them to their proper place in the house. Then take some time to decide what will remain and what you may want to declutter.

Determine where things will go. Most organizing projects start with planning how you want to use your space and then continue with decluttering items you don’t want or need. Consider the activities that will take place in this room. As you clean up, you’ll discover what will fit and where to store it.

Consider storing certain categories of items in another part of the house if your space is limited. For example, kids’ art supplies can take up a lot of room but are often easily corralled in containers. Perhaps these containers can live in the garage or a side closet and be pulled out as needed.

Reduce visual and physical clutter. As a general guideline to paring down, assess what you have, determine what you need or use, dispose of the excess, donate, recycle or trash and then decide on a storage method and home for each category.

You may come across items you don’t use but can’t part with, categorize these items as “sentimental” and store them away from your main space. If they’re not items you use regularly.

Managing Common Living Room Items

Blankets And Throws 

If you like to keep extra blankets handy for friends and family, store them in a lidded container in another location to be retrieved as needed. This will not only keep your entertaining blankets clean but also free up space in your living room.

Children’s Toys And Art Supplies 

Children’s toys and art supplies accumulate quickly, and young children change quickly. Get rid of the items they’ve outgrown.

Consider What Your Child Uses Now

If you have more than you need for the foreseeable future, you may want to donate the extras to someone in need. To keep your living room clutter-free, try categorizing and sorting the remaining toys and art supplies into bins, keeping only a few accessible at a time and rotating in other boxes as necessary.

Small Decor 

Be sure the decor in your living room brings you visual joy. If you have too much, you may not be able to appreciate or even remember what you have displayed. Aim to give each piece its own personal space. Remove the items you no longer love. If you still have more than you prefer, consider storing some to be switched out throughout the year.

Books And Magazines 

It can be hard to let go of reading material. However, your space is too valuable to store books that you may or may not get around to reading. Similarly, if you can’t keep up with the influx of magazines, you may want to keep only the two or three most recent issues to prevent old ones from piling up.


Plants can give a space color, personality and life. The opposite can be true if your houseplants aren’t thriving or well taken care of. Make sure your living room offers the right growing environment for the plants you want to keep there. Relocate plants that aren’t doing well to a more suitable location.

Basic Improvements

Storage bins come in a variety of materials — bamboo, plastic, cardboard — and may work well for items you’ve decided to rotate in. If you have storage consoles or built-in cabinets, the bins can be hidden out of sight until ready for use. If you don’t have much storage space and don’t rotate items in too often, consider storing these containers in a different location.

Storage solutions can also serve as room decor. A large woven basket adds function as well as a warm, welcoming feel to the room.

Arranging your framed photos in a gallery wall or on shelves can help keep surfaces clear and create less clutter. Using frames in the same material and color will give the wall a sleek, cohesive look, while an eclectic variety of frames will feel casual and fun.

Sometimes temporary additional storage may be advantageous. If necessary, you may want to consider adding a small bookshelf, toy chest or toy organizer to keep your systems manageable and easy for your family members to maintain.

Midrange Solutions

Consider investment furniture pieces if you need permanent additional storage. A storage cabinet, armoire or media console can provide a lot of extra space. To make the most of any piece you purchase, adjust the shelves, if that’s an option, to suit your needs. Also measure the interior and using storage containers or bins that fit well. While a console or cabinet will offer extra storage space, careful space planning can ensure it doesn’t become a hidden dumping ground for miscellaneous items.

Multipurpose furniture can be a great compromise between form and function. Blankets might stow away nicely in a storage ottoman instead of in a large basket. Remotes and chargers could find a home in a coffee table with drawers. A lift-top coffee table can hide magazines and children’s art supplies.


Installing a modular shelf system in an unused or repurposed closet may help keep your living room clutter-free. If you decide to go this route, be sure to set up the closet so that returning each item to its place is fast and easy. Try to avoid stacking bins, as the extra step of moving the top bin to access the bottom bin may be a deterrent to putting things away.

Deluxe Improvements

A living room overhaul is an opportune time to address your storage needs. For custom-built furniture, have specific containers or baskets in mind or on hand to build around, instead of vice versa. The baskets’ contents can change over time as the family’s needs evolve.

Built-in window seats can increase living room storage. Before selecting the type of storage for a window seat, consider what you generally plan to store there and determine which method of storage — cabinets with doors, drawers or lift-top — would work best for you.

Work with a professional to see if there are any spaces around your living room that could be opened up for more storage, such as underneath a staircase.

If your plans include built-in bookshelves, consider if you want to cover part of the shelves with cabinet doors, as you may have some storage items you don’t want to be visible.

With a little creativity and planning, you can achieve a functional and beautifully organized living room on nearly any budget.


Spring Cleaning

Freshening your house with a deep spring-cleaning right now can feel really good. If you’re ready to go beyond the basic vacuum-and-mop weekly clean, pick and choose from these deep-cleaning tasks, and get ready to enjoy your sparkling clean house.

Light Fixtures and Lamps

Ceiling-mounted light fixtures, fans and table lamps can accumulate an amazing amount of dust over time — which can dull the surface and block light. Get your light fixtures gleaming with a soft microfiber cloth or duster.

Doors, Knobs and Handles

It should take only a few minutes to go around the house giving knobs and handles a quick swipe with the cleaning product of your choice, but this little task can really make your space look cleaner. Give the front door some extra love by cleaning it inside and out with warm, soapy water on a well-wrung-out soft sponge, and dry it with a soft cloth.

Wall Scuffs and Dings

Using a damp, soft cloth and a bit of dish soap, or a product like Magic Eraser, swipe off scuff marks. Fill any dings in the wall and touch up with paint.

Tops of Window Frames

The baseboards are more likely to get cleaned during a cleaning spree, but what about the higher spots? Get out the stepladder and carefully get to work wiping away built-up dust and grime from the tops of window frames and upper moldings.


Shelves full of books and decorative objects can become quite dusty. Working shelf by shelf, remove the objects from one section, dust and return them. For bonus points, declutter your books and decor as you go.

Underneath Area Rugs

Move the furniture aside, roll up the rug and rug pad, and vacuum underneath. It sounds like a lot of work, but when you see what’s under there, you might be inspired to do this more frequently!

Picture Frames And Mirrors

Clean the glass fronts of picture frames and mirrors, and wipe away dust from the frames. Don’t spray picture frames, since liquid can potentially get in and damage the photo or artwork; use a barely dampened glass-cleaning cloth instead.

Upholstered Furniture

Get out the vacuum attachments and vacuum upholstered furniture, including under and between cushions. Rotate sofa cushions when possible for more even wear.

Oven And Range Hood

If you want to avoid oven cleaners, a thick paste of baking soda and water applied and left on overnight can do the trick — wipe it off with hot water the next day. Grease and dust tend to accumulate on the range hood. Stand on a step stool so you can see what you’re doing, and clear away the gunk using warm, soapy water.

Small Appliances

Spiffing up your microwave, toaster, blender and mixer doesn’t take long at all, but the cumulative effect of gleaming small appliances will make your kitchen really shine.


Light-colored grout looking icky? Remove grout discoloration and stains by scrubbing with oxygenated bleach.

Inside Kitchen Drawers

Never mind how the crumbs got in there; the important thing is to give your drawers a fresh start now. Remove everything, wipe out the drawers and return the items.

Food Storage Jars

Storing dry goods in sealed storage containers can help them stay fresh longer and prevent bug problems. But that doesn’t mean the stuff in your jars will never go bad. Inspect the contents of your canisters for freshness, check expiration dates and toss old or stale food. In the future, remove the last bits of food, for instance, flour before filling the canister with fresh food, then put the old bit back on top where it will get used up first.

Underneath Beds And Behind Furniture

Instead of sticking with the easy-to-reach spots when you vacuum this time, really get in there and hit the hidden, tucked-away places where dust goes to hide. Any allergy sufferers in your household will be grateful for the extra effort!

Laundry Room Dust

What is it about the laundry room? The areas on top of and around the washer and dryer tend to be some of the dustiest in the house. Vacuum around the appliances and wipe down the surfaces.

Vents And Hoses

If you don’t want to get in there and clean out your dryer hose yourself, hire a pro to do it for you. Whichever method you choose, it is important to get it done, because lint buildup inside your dryer and hose can potentially cause a fire.

Kids’ Toys

Little ones — especially toddlers who are still exploring the world by putting things in their mouths — can benefit from regular cleaning of toys, particularly when colds are going around. Hard plastic toys can get dunked in warm, soapy water, kids usually enjoy helping with this; most soft toys can handle a gentle wash in the machine but be sure to check labels first. “Loveys” and special stuffed animals should be hand washed and air dried, just to be on the safe side.

Shower and Tub Walls

It’s natural to focus more on the tub floor when doing a light cleaning of the bathroom, but the walls can get just as much soap scum buildup. To maximize the cleaning power of whatever product you like to use, leave it on for at least 10 minutes before scrubbing.

Bathroom Shelves

Shampoo, lotions and soaps can leak onto shelves in the medicine cabinet and beneath the sink. Give your bathroom a fresh start by removing all products, wiping down the shelves and returning only the items you use.


Computer screens and flat-screen TVs can get spotty. Pick up a cleaning spray or wipes designed specifically for monitors, and give all your screens a cleaning. Use a can of compressed air to clean crumbs out of your keyboard.


April Check-List

Kick spring cleaning into high gear, with lengthening days and milder temperatures, April is a wonderful time to freshen up your home inside and out. 

Things to Check Off Your List In an Hour or Less

Keep Mosquitoes At Bay 

Having warmer weather and longer days means we’re entering mosquito season. Take preventative measures by regularly checking your property for standing water and emptying it. Any open containers empty flowerpots and saucers, a wheelbarrow can become mosquito breeding grounds when filled with rainwater, so store items like these upside down or in a shed.

Inspect Paths and Driveway 

Repeated freezing and thawing can take a toll on asphalt and concrete. Check your driveway and paths for cracks, scheduling repairs as needed.

Clean Out Trash Cans and Recycling Bins 

Take empty cans outside and spray them with a hose to start. Spritz inside and out with the cleaning spray of your choice. Let the bins sit for a few minutes before scrubbing them with a stiff-bristle brush. Rinse with the hose and leave them upside down to dry.

Check Safety Devices 

Test batteries on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, replacing them as needed. It’s also a good idea to periodically check for recalls of your home safety products.

Tackle These Tasks Over a Weekend

Clear Clutter

Create more space in your home by clearing out unloved items. If you have a lot to get rid of, hold a yard sale or contact a local charity to schedule a pickup — some will send a truck free of charge if you’re donating large items like furniture. If you have a lot of one type of item (for example, books or baby clothes), look for a consignment shop in your town where you may be able to sell them.

Schedule Cooling-System Maintenance

If you have central air conditioning, be sure to schedule professional maintenance before the start of summer. A properly maintained system cools better, uses less energy and lasts longer.

Spruce Up The Front Porch

Clean the patio floor, exterior windows, windowsills and front door. Wipe cobwebs from the ceiling and high corners, plant a pot of flowers. If you have patio furniture, clean it off and wash the cushions.

Test Sprinklers and Irrigation System

Take the time this month to test each part of or sprinklers or irrigation system, adjusting or repairing as needed. And if you don’t already have drip irrigation for your garden, consider putting it in — a properly installed system can save time and water.

Wash Windows

Welcome the spring sunshine by clearing dirt from windows inside and out. Take an extra moment to wipe the window frame and sill.

Clean and Inspect Screen Doors and Windows 

Pollen and dirt can also build up on window screens, so it’s a good idea to clean them once a year. For a quick cleaning, leave screens in place and vacuum with a dusting attachment. For a deeper cleaning, remove screens (mark which is which if cleaning multiple windows) and gently scrub with warm, soapy water. Rinse and let dry.

Before putting up window screens and screen doors, inspect each one for holes and rips — even small tears can let in mosquitoes. If you find any holes, repair them with a screen patch kit.

Clean Out The Garage

Can you park your car in your garage? If not, it may be time to make some more space.

Clear out the junk, and schedule time to take unused paint, motor oil and other hazardous items to a recycling center that accepts them.  Once your garage is cleaned out, consider adding wall-mounted storage to keep things neat and off the floor.

Wash Siding

Using a garden hose, attach a siding cleaning kit to clear away winter dirt from your home’s siding. If your siding could use a really deep cleaning, it can be tempting to use a pressure washer to get the job done quickly. But if you do, use it with care: avoid any pressure washer that comes with a 0-degree nozzle, because it can be too dangerous and wider nozzles can get the job done just as well.

Maintenance and Extras to Budget For

Clean Gutters and Downspouts 

Having your home’s gutters and downspouts cleaned and repaired if necessary is one of the important tasks to schedule this season. Clogged gutters during a rainy spring can cause water to pool, potentially damaging the roof and siding.

Boost Curb Appeal

Spring is a great time to make upgrades to your home’s exterior, and even small changes — like putting up bold house numbers and a shiny new mailbox — can make a big impact.

Maintain Wood Decks and Fences

Keep outdoor wood in top shape by staining or resealing it each spring. Check gates, fencing, decks, railings, pergolas and other outdoor structures, and make repairs as needed.

Keep An Eye Out For Termites

Lookout for termites in May and June. If you notice any, call a pest-control company.

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