Garden Designers Round Table: Small Spaces

| June 22, 2010 | 22 Comments

There are small spaces and small spaces. 

We thought it would be helpful to talk about a real project for this post rather than the general design principles that we use in such spaces. 

There are of coure the recognised tricks of the trade. 

But no small spaces in books of designs are as small as those which you encounter on real design jobs! 

And here we do mean small! 


As part of a design for the whole property our clients asked us to design this: 


Effectively a narrow passageway between an office and a retaining wall, overhung by a steep bank.  


3.1 metres wide at the front narrowing to just 1 metre at the back and 7.8metres long! 

Double doors into the office and utilities were a further encumbrance: 


Our clients had already commissioned metal grilles for either end: 


And our brief was to create a cosy, recreational space where they could take breaks from office life or entertain clients. 

So no challenge really! 

Cornwall is often billed as the UK’s Riviera, but although mild is frequently grey and cool. 

Aside from the very lack of space, the dim, cold, linear nature of the site was an obvious handicap. 

Our immediate thoughts were that: 

stripes broaden, taking floor surfaces up walls increases perceived space and that no one should sit in a row as though waiting for a bus without something to look at! 

Our vision: 

was of a small italian courtyard, lined with warm tinted limestone, a strong but simple floor pattern and at least some integral seating to make for pleasant conversation. 

We also sought to create some distractions from office life in the form of artwork and water and to use foliage to suggest warmer climates: 


Two tones of ‘Porta D’ portuguese limestone, cream and darker cream, will be used to line floor and walls. A diagonal deeper stripe will make the space more dynamic and less linear. 


Two fixed, cantilevered, bronze finished metal seats are mounted on triangular limestone plinths, the middle one of which acts as a low coffee table.  The walls carry  a bronze metalwork panel by a favourite artist and a niche where a fountain dribbles into a small limestone bowl. The mild south west climate allows Trachycarpus palms and the aspidistras that you often see outside italian houses. 

Job done! 

Except that having mentioned to our clients that their house, elsewhere on their property, didn’t face the best view they decided to knock their house down and rebuild. 

A project of this magnitude naturally took precedence over the cosy courtyard.  

So it is a ‘watch this space’ for completion! 

Check out the blogs of our illustrious cousins across the pond for their big thoughts about small spaces: 

Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicao IL  

 Jenny Petersen: J Petersen Garden Design : Austin TX  

Laura Livengood Schaub : Interleafings : San Jose, CA  

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX 

Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA  

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA  

 Susan Schlenger : Landscape Design Advice : Hampton, NJ   

Tara Dillard : : Atlanta, GA 

Lesley and Robert

Category: Design Bites, Project Updates, Reviews of Gardens and Shows, The Planty Stuff

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  1. Your floor layout is golden. Optical illusion that seems to expand the space. I love it. You worked in all the important elements- seating, plants and art.

    Too bad the courtyard was short lived. I will look for “part 2” of this project- rebuilding the garden.

    Shirley Bovshow

  2. Lovely solution, I especially like the diagonal paving; it really does give the illusion of a larger space. Your drawings are great (I’ve made exactly one axonometric drawing, for my final in school and it traumatized me for life, so well done!)

    It would be fun to assign a small, challenging space like this to our group and let each of us have a go…Susan, Scott, file that idea!

  3. Wow, what a challenging project! I especially like the limestone wedge-shaped plinths, in assorted sizes, that will give the space a much more 3-D, sculptural feel. Can’t wait to see the installation! Thanks!

  4. Lesley says:

    Dear Shirley, thanks for your encouraging comments. I think this type of project is great because it really challenges you and makes you work extra hard to find a solution. Once they have their major building work they will sure be back for the garden and for this. We will keep you posted.
    Best Wishes

  5. Lesley says:

    Dear Laura,
    Thanks for your supportive comments. yes axons are hell at first, but \i do think that they get easier with time and practise. They do have the effect of testing your ideas for you and also of plunging the client into the design too!

    Love the idea of us all finding the answer to the same problem because our solutions would all be different and all valid. Fascinating! Make a note of that one – it is GENIUS!
    Best Wishes

  6. Pam/Digging says:

    Great design. That diagonal flooring is a great trick, and I love how you incorporated built-in seating and tables to save space. I hope it gets installed one day.

  7. Lesley says:

    Yes, it made us think, but that is good! We should never resort to trotting out the same old answers after all. And I am of course sure that none of the Knights of the Round Table do that!
    Thanks so much for commenting.
    Best Wishes

  8. Lesley says:

    Thanks SO much for your encouraging comment.
    Various aspects of the whole property were so intriguing and we worked quite hard in a number of areas with a number of stimulating problems. But the larger task of the whole house being central to the site, and being the major task, kind of overtook every one! We got our pay and they liked what we did, but you want to see it done and in place. I am sure however that they will be back to us at some point. I do not think that any of the work we do, however hard it may be, is ever really wasted, do you?
    Thanks for your interest!
    Best Wishes

  9. Perfect! Knock down the house to better the view. I hope you got the commission for the new garden!

  10. Very nice! I love this type of post where designers actually explain what they’re doing and WHY. Tile in the diagonal is a designer’s best friend in a narrow space like this, but I’m intrigued by the idea of the deeper stripe you have running through. Would that have been a third tile color or something else altogether?

  11. Wow – LOVE the before pictures as they really convey the difficulty designers are faced with when creating inviting spaces in such small areas. I can’t wait to see the finished project as this is very inspiring! The built-in table and chairs are brilliant, too.

  12. After seeing the design, I can’t WAIT to see the finished product! I love how you used the diagonal flooring to open the space up–that’s one of my favorites tricks as well. And what a great idea to build out the low seating and side table–brilliant! Great job.

  13. Lesley says:

    Guess we are duty bound to give the best long term advice!
    Thanks for your comment.
    Excellent traffic volume by the way!
    Best Wishes

  14. Anette says:

    Talk about a difficult task! But you seem to have solved the challenge beautifully. I really like the way you’ve used diagonal flooring to “soften” the place and give it some atmosphere. This flooring gives the place a completely different look and breaks the other, straight lines. Together with the well-chosen plants and the chairs everything now looks great. Nice job, Lesley :-)


  15. Lesley says:

    Deeper cream.
    Thanks for your comments!
    Yes, the tried and tested designer’s secrets do work.
    Best Wishes

  16. Lesley says:

    Thank you for your enthusiastic support. Yes a lot is expected of us designers isn’t it, but here at the Round Table us Knights know how to deliver!
    Looking forward to reading the other posts tonight!
    Best Wishes

  17. Lesley says:

    Jenny, thanks for your favourable comments. Us creative bods put ourselves out there on the line and the positive views of your peers really make a lot of difference.
    Best Wishes

  18. Leslie,
    You certainly maximized that minimal space! I love how you added chairs for chatting, artwork and even a water feature into that small, linear space. What a nice cozy courtyard you created…even if they did knock the house down!

  19. Lesley says:

    Yes, not one of the easiest ones! But thanks for your approving comments. Often the reward from difficult jobs seems heightened doesn’t it?
    Best Wishes
    Robert and Lesley

  20. Lesley says:

    Thanks for your approval. Responses from your peers are always valued!
    Best Wishes
    Robert and Lesley

  21. carolyn says:

    Amazing how you created so much in so little a space. Knock down and rebuild? At least they listened to your good advice.

  22. Lesley says:

    Well, you do have to give your best advice. Thanks for your encouraging comments!
    Best Wishes