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Design Ideas for Outdoor Living on Small Lots

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House Review

Design Ideas for Outdoor Living on Small Lots

These home designs offer creative solutions for small-footprint homes, enabling them to make the most of outdoor living opportunities despite their compact size

By Larry W. Garnett, FAIBD, House Review Lead Designer July 10, 2020
roof deck at Live at Downtown Superior designed by DTJ Design
The roof deck at Live at Downtown Superior designed by DTJ Design. | Photo: Eric Lucero
This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Pro Builder.

Carefully designed outdoor areas that enhance the adjacent indoor space are an important aspect of modern living. Now, with more concern for healthy outdoor activities and recreation areas, these spaces become not only more important to smaller-footprint homes, but also more challenging. 

This month, our design team responded with some diverse solutions, including a townhome with an enclosed rear yard that offers spaces for outdoor cooking, dining, and relaxing, all in only 180 square feet, and an even higher-density project with an amazing outdoor entertaining area on the fourth floor. You’ll also find a design that relies on a traditionally spacious front porch for a friendly but safe outdoor space, along with four single-family homes utilizing side yards for private outdoor living areas.

We always appreciate any comments or questions.

Live at Downtown Superior

DESIGNER: Seth Hart, DTJ Design, shart@dtjdesign.com, 303.443.7333

DIMENSIONS: Width: 20 feet; Depth: 38 feet; Living area: 1,715 sf

Designed for Wonderland Homes as part of a new town center just outside of Boulder, Colo., these townhouses have a small building envelope that doesn’t allow for any outdoor living at grade, so we opted to go up to provide that amenity. 

Specifically, this unit utilizes a roof deck to create spacious outdoor living with multiple zones for entertaining, while taking full advantage of the western views.

A small landing space at the fourth floor accommodates a beverage center, sink, and dishwasher for added convenience. The roof deck offers a built-in barbecue and fire pit to help accessorize the space to the buyer’s preferences.

exterior aerial view of Live at Downtown Superior designed by DTJ Design
Photo: Eric Lucero


Live at Downtown Superior home plan by DTJ Design


A  Beverage center and storage at the top of the stairs for added convenience

B  Optional built-in barbecue

C  Air-conditioning condensers are screened by a small enclosure to maintain visual and auditory relief 

Wood-look tile decking over pedestals provides a beautiful aesthetic and is durable and easy to maintain

4-Pack Cluster 

ARCHITECT: Kevin Crook, Kevin L. Crook Architect, kcrook@klcarch.com, 949.660.1587

DIMENSIONS: Width: 136 feet; Depth: 120 feet; Living area: 1,667 to 2,085 sf

These four single-family detached homes each have generous outdoor space on a small footprint. The front two homes have a driveway oriented to the street, while the rear homes have driveways that share a common drive aisle.

The open living spaces provide both visual and physical connection to the covered outdoor spaces. The covered outdoor living provides a private, furnishable space for residents to enjoy that is oriented to the uncovered outdoor living area. The yards of the front two homes have reciprocal-use easements, and the adjacent home’s garage-side blank wall—without any windows or openings—defines the yard. The rear two homes have conventional rear yards, with a fence defining their perimeter. Refuse storage is tucked around the corner to provide maximum usable yard space.

indoor-outdoor connection at the 4-Pack Cluster home design by Kevin L. Crook Architect
Photo: Alex Crook Photography


4-Pack Cluster home design by Kevin L. Crook Architect


A  Open living spaces

B  Covered outdoor spaces

C  Uncovered outdoor living area 

Blank side wall helps define the yard

Reciprocal use easements

F  Refuse storage location maximizes usable yard space 


ARCHITECT: Donald F. Evans, AIA, The Evans Group, devans@theevansgroup.com, 407.650.8770 

DIMENSIONS: Width: 18 feet; Depth: 55 feet; Living area: 1.630 sf

For this attached home, a “small footprint” is defined as 18 feet wide by 10 feet deep. What kind of lifestyle can you provide in just 180 square feet?

Well, a lot actually: a summer kitchen complete with built-in barbecue grill, sink, and an under-counter refrigerator, a dining table, a comfortable seating area, lounges, and a hot tub.

Finishes include brick pavers, stone detailing, lap siding, and exterior lighting. A retractable awning above the sliding glass door creates another room to the home with added sun protection.

exterior of Summerville homes designed by Donald F. Evans Artchitect
Image: courtesy The Evans Group


Summerville house plan by architect Donald F. Evans


A  Open floor plan with gourmet kitchen, dining, and living areas

First-floor suite

Exterior living space veranda

Second floor with two bedrooms and kid zone play area

courtyard at Summerville home designed by Donald F. Evans
Photo: courtesy The Evans Group


ARCHITECT: Todd Hallett, AIA, TK Design & Associates, thallett@tkhomedesign.com, 248.446.1960

DIMENSIONS: Width: 43 feet; Depth: 81 feet; Living area: 3,243 sf

Unlike most outdoor spaces that are tucked away, this home’s main outdoor living area is the large, wrap-around porch. Sited in town and across a park, this street-side outdoor space welcomes the surrounding activity.

With plenty of room for family activities and entertaining, homeowners can also mingle with neighbors or cozy up by the fireplace, all while being comfortably protected under their porch roof. For privacy, a more intimate patio provides additional outdoor living.

Cindy home exterior designed by TK Design Associates
Photo: John Carlson / Carlson Productions


Cindy first floor house plan for small footprint by designer Todd Hallett


A two-way, indoor-outdoor fireplace adds a cozy touch to the great room and porch

B  The open floor plan is perfect for entertaining. Ample windows add natural light and blur the distinction between indoor and outdoor spaces

C  A quaint, private patio

Two-sided view enables the master bedroom to live larger

Flexible bonus room offers several possibilities 

Cindy second floor house plan for small footprint by designer Todd Hallett



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