October 22, 2021


Making living better

Transform a tiny outside space: make small outdoor gardens, balconies and terraces cosy in winter lockdowns

3 min read

Stay-at-home is the mantra once again, as the capital lives through lockdown 2.0 – the autumn/winter edition.

And this time round ingenious Londoners are using every scrap of space outside their doors as a home-expander and escape valve.

You can do something with even the tiniest footprint, a big dollop of imagination and a relatively low spend.

Market researcher Pippa Keen turned the communal walkway to her Islington flat into a “fake balcony”, with a little foldable table and chairs, now adding candles and blankets – “just a tiny space I overlooked until this year”.

From £20: Cuprinol Garden Shades are dyes in lovely colours that can coat wood and terracotta diy.com

“Blur the boundaries between outside and in,” says interior designer Shanade McAllister-Fisher, with a small balcony off a flat in a Georgian townhouse in Maida Vale. “You need flexible furniture for a tight space” — hers is from Ikea, up-styled with a luxury outdoor fabric from Kirkby with purple piping. A fringe of black planters (from Clifton Nurseries) gives a little privacy.

They are filled with lavender — a hardy English variety for evergreen silver-grey leaves and relaxing scent from the dried flowers right through winter.

Unsurprisingly, cosy garden stuff is selling out again fast — patio heaters are now on January delivery.


£199: Extra large Azteca Mexican chimenea, with BBQ grill, dobbies.com

Fire pits are feisty, festive, essentially elemental and relatively cheap — though they are not suitable for balconies and you should check before using on a deck. Add a griddle for smoky sausages and burgers. The cognoscenti love authentic Indian Kadai bowls hand-beaten from thick steel or made from recycled oil drums (from £95; kadai.co.uk).

The more ambitious of us now have the time to make pizza. The best gadgets are designed by cooks and Ooni is the brand for starter ovens, perfected by a Finnish couple now living in Edinburgh (from £229, portable and charcoal/ wood fired; uk.ooni.com).

Folksy chimeneas with a round belly plus smokestack can still be found at B&Q. City-smart are new minimalist models at made.com (black with brass base; £169). But you will still need plenty of blankets — washable is best — and maybe a hot water bottle, too.

Soften everything up with cushions — stuff them into a big basket to bring inside when it rains. Eco outdoor furnishings are made from old plastic bottles at Weaver Green (cushions from £30; blankets, £45; rugs from £40; weavergreen.com).


Feel-good comfort: eco brand Weaver Green makes outdoor furnishings from plastic bottles. Juno Navy Cushion, £61, weavergreen.com

And if you’ve nothing more than a front step you can still catch a few winter rays and wave at the neighbours from a waterproof beanbag (50 per cent off at beanbagbazaar.co.uk — there’s even one for toddlers).

Candles in jam jars or hurricane lamps will provide atmospheric lighting for long, dark evenings. Add festoons or strings of fairy lights (try lighting-direct.co.uk). Always check any electric fittings are safe to use outside — faults could be lethal — at electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk and use a registered professional for installations.

Painting outside space

Harness a fine day for a paint makeover but match your paint to what you are painting because there are lots of different types.

And remember, prep, prep, prep — all surfaces should be dry, clean and smooth.

Cuprinol has a designer palette of wood stains in “nature’s neutrals” — £20 for 2.5 litres from B&Q, open during lockdown (think sheds, furniture and fences).

Add pops of gloss on revamped planters and an old chair or two. A black fence makes small spaces seem bigger – use Ducksback, £11 for a generous five litres (B&Q again) as it’s a great background for plants.


No flower bed?

Make a raised planter cheaply with painted concrete blocks or find slot-together wood at Robert Dyas (also open through lockdown), or have a look at smarter/bespoke options from woodblocx.co.uk.

Happily, London’s garden centres are still open. Stuff planters with winter pansies, cyclamen, glossy-leaved camellias, “handsome heuchuras” with multi-coloured leaves and evergreens and berries – browse gardeningexpress.co.uk.

Try popping in a Christmas rose or three (hellebores) for exquisitely optimistic blooms through December and into the New Year.

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