Small Yard, Big Impact: Innovative Ideas to Maximize Your Outdoor Space

Living in or near a big city comes with countless perks – a quick commute, endless arts and culture, incredible restaurants, and a buzz that’s impossible to replicate. But one of the trade-offs often is outdoor space.

So if your yard or patio or deck is less than expansive, consider these enhancements to stretch a little square footage into a lot of room for outdoor living.

Plunge Pools

Image credit: JOHN BESSLER

What once was a luxurious addition to high-end resort suites is now popping up in backyards everywhere. Consider a plunge pool if you don’t have space for a full-size pool – or simply don’t want to give up a huge chunk of your yard. Ranging from 6.5’ to 10’ wide and as small as 10’ long, it’s easy to configure a smaller space to accommodate this summery feature. You’ll have a great spot to cool off when the temperature rises. And even in the off-season, plunge pools are another great visual addition to your outdoor space.

Another perk: small plunge pools use less water and chemicals than traditional pools, making them more eco-friendly.

Fire Pits

With a firepit, you can get more use out of your yard, especially during the colder months, and that makes it a great amenity for the Midwest. A fire pit is a perfect focal point for a small yard, adding a fun visual element that instantly sets a mood. Surround your fire pit with a few Adirondack chairs or benches, and you have an (almost) all-season hangout.

Vertical Gardens

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One of the basics of small-space living is to make the most of every inch – and to think outside the box. Vertical gardens check all of these boxes.

Vertical gardens can brighten a yard while utilizing wall or fence space that would otherwise go unused. Not only does this open up the ground level of your yard, but it instantly makes the area seem bigger.  Pro tip: Beans, squash, and tomatoes thrive in Chicagoland’s climate – and are ideal for vertical gardening.


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While your standard greenhouse may not be feasible in a small yard, a compact greenhouse like the Urban Greenhouse by Yardistry will give your yard more space to grow. These mini greenhouses have a unique, fresh look, adding more personality to your outdoor space.

Not only do they look good, but a mini greenhouse has many functional benefits. For starters, greenhouses help protect vulnerable plants from big temperature swings and damaging weather events like high winds and hail —something we know all too well in Chicagoland.


When used strategically, lighting can give your yard more depth, making it appear larger and more inviting. This is a great addition to a smaller yard and is very easy to implement.

If you’re looking to install backyard lighting, keep in mind that you don’t need to go overboard. A few light fixtures along paths or near a focal point, like a tree or seating cluster will do the trick.

If going green is high on your list, check out the wide range of solar-powered outdoor lights. From pathway post lights to chic lanterns and hanging patio lights, there are countless options out there, some with charging capabilities for supplemental power. With an average of 176 cloudy days per year in Chicago, hybrid lighting fixtures may be the way to go.

Layering the Landscape

Layering your landscape is an effective – and stunning – strategy. This approach involves arranging plants from the shortest to the tallest, creating a tiered effect that maximizes visual depth and transforms the space into a rich, multi-dimensional garden.

To get started, lay down ground covers, then put seasonal flowers in the front, gradually working up to larger shrubs and statement trees towards the back. This technique gives the illusion of a larger area and ensures that each plant gets its moment in the sun, making your smaller backyard a lush retreat.


What small-space tips did we miss? Share your favorites in the comments below.

Written by @properties
@properties Christie’s International Real Estate is Chicagoland’s #1 brokerage. Through our affiliation with Christie’s International Real Estate, our network spans nearly 50 countries. No matter your real estate needs, we’ve got you covered.