Before + After: Courtyard Renovation

A long, narrow courtyard gets a fresh makeover with style, simplicity and practicality in mind.

Long, narrow spaces are particularly hard to design, and if you add a tall wall, it compounds the challenge. For Janie Allen, this exact scenario was a design dilemma that had stumped her for years. She had decided that it was a space that she would only want to view from the inside of her house by looking out the window, but not one that she would like to enjoy by sitting in or walking through. When she called me for help with the design, she was open to ideas and allowed me to come up with ways to dress up the space for her to enjoy. Together, we were able to strike the right balance of style, simplicity, and practicality for Janie to enjoy both from inside her kitchen window to sitting outside in cooler weather.

BEFORE: A tall wall in need of repair and a fresh coat of paint, an AC unit sticking out into the space, and stained concrete needed attention before adding new furniture, accessories, and plants.

Janie’s courtyard space is long and narrow, with tall walls, so it’s easy to feel enclosed in the space. It’s also common to want to cover the walls with a lot of things to make the wall not seem so expansive or enclosed, but I think that is a mistake. Instead, we repeated a pattern of old windows with window boxes hung below, and large planted hollies to add height on the wall. It’s a very simple design but it works to break up the wall without being overly chaotic.

In addition, every long narrow space needs a focal point and seating, so we created a seating area as the focal point, and used striped and a blue floral pattern for visual interest to draw the eye to the end of the space.

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AFTER: At the opposite end of the courtyard, we created a second seating area with wall plantings and a large planted boxwood at the foot of each chair.

AFTER: Janie already had window boxes on the real windows in her courtyard space, but I wanted to dress them up a bit by adding real working shutters and a second layer of windowbox for a fuller look.

How to get the look:

  • Keep it simple! Choose a few elements to include in the space and repeat them throughout your long narrow space.
  • Choose a focal point at the end of the long, narrow space, and use a pattern to draw the eye there
  • Add colorful flowers to bring life into the space.

Catherine Arensberg is an exterior designer who specializes in finding ways to create your ultimate outdoor space, no matter the budget. This space was designed for an episode of Catherine’s web series, Simple.Honest.Design. Janie’s courtyard episode will release Septermber 11, 2019. Learn more here:

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