Ask Xorin: Backyard Bliss

02/22/2011 02:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Ask Xorin" is a weekly home and self improvement column created by award-winning architectural conservator, designer and philanthropist Xorin Balbes and best selling author Sandra Bark. For more info visit the official TempleHome website.

Dear Xorin,

In a busy city, I consider myself lucky to have a balcony. My third floor apartment is small and without much architectural charm, and the balcony overlooks a parking lot so there isn't much of a view. Still, in the warmer months, having my morning cup of coffee outdoors makes me feel like I live in a palace. That being the case, I'd like to do whatever I can to improve the "backyard" that I have.

Right now, I've got a small grill out there and a couple of lounge chairs. The floor is concrete. The railing is iron. Please help me turn this square of raw space into an oasis!

Do you have any suggestions for maximizing balcony pleasantness?

Third Floor Backyard

Dear Third Floor,

Having a balcony in the city is such a wonderful thing. A connection to the outdoors exists right out your balcony door, and creating a space that maximizes this potential is a must. My first instinct is that potted plants or trees would be an ideal way to turn your balcony into a living, breathing, third-floor garden. (Check with your superintendent and make sure you can do this without creating a safety issue.)

Seek out taller, fuller trees and plants that will give you a verdant focal point that will ease and soothe whether you are in your apartment or outside reveling in your urban oasis. (Climate sensitive plants can be brought indoors for the winter.) For a closer connection to nature's abundance, you can also include some herbs, like basil, chives, mint and rosemary, turning your garden into a culinary wonderland.

Comfortable, useful seating is a must for enjoying and sharing any space. You mention a grill and lounge chairs. How about adding a café table and chairs? This will give you a place to enjoy your cup of coffee in the mornings, a grilled feast and a glass of wine in the evenings...

Other touches you might enjoy: a mat on the ground makes a patio feel even more purposeful and pulled together. Chimes draw your attention when the wind blows, adding a lilt of music to your garden, even in your very busy city. A small statue or art piece adds a feeling for thoughtful detail that you say your home lacks. A water element or fountain, if space (and your landlord) allows, adds the soothing sound of flowing water. And lights keep the focus within your space at night.

Yours in a balanced inner and outer life,


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