Design Crew

Posted on Sat, 9 Jun 2012 by midcenturyjo

Got a problem? Need some help? Just standing there shaking your head? Don’t know what to do? You’re not alone. Send us a link to photos of your design quandary and let the Desire to Inspire design crew help you…. that’s you lot… the readers! This week’s problem is from Mercy in Edinburgh.

I have a balcony facing Holyrood Park and all its glory. However, it is a blank canvas – concrete floor and black railing. Ideally, I would like to create a green haven for al fresco dining, sun bathing on rare sunny days and star glazing cove at night. The railing offer no privacy and it would be great to avoid any glaring eyes. The design would need to require minimal care as I would not have time to trim, pluck, weed,…. Tips welcomed.

(These photos) taken on a wet Summer (!) evening. Balcony is east facing and normally gets the morning sun. Oh a couple of other areas to address as part of the balcony’s revamp:< birds flying over. Great to watch but they can drop their remnants! balcony looks into neighbour’s bathroom window!

christa says:

I would make a 'corner' of horizontal slat wall on your wall and on the sid to screen the view of the neighbor's window while creating a nice outdoor feeling. Put a small padded outdoor bench against your wall in this corner. Put a narrow wood shelf along the entire front railing, with 2 modern chairs/stools pulled up to it on the other end of the balcony. Get 3 bright pots for plants, and pick out the plants that need the least amount of attention from your local nursery (I don't know what grows well in Scotland). If you really can't deal with pots, get an outdoor lamp and a bright pillow or 2 for your seating. Put one item (one of those candle mirror hanging things would be good) up higher on the slat wall to give it a bit of height.

Keep it simple, small in scale, and don't put very many things out there, that will make it feel smaller.

Fiona says:

My suggestion is to check out Swedish real estate sites like because they always have cool balconies that they have zhushed for their photo shoots. Check here on the blog using search words like swedish and apartment and although there are a lot of entries you will find apartments with beautiful small balconies that Jo and Kim have featured before. Finally if you lived here in Australia (and I know you don't) you could buy something like this for the end of the balcony with the view of the neighbours window. Maybe you could track something down like it in Scotland?

Mariel says:

If you do not want to spend much, I would suggest plants — lots of plants — in white Ikea planters and a small round table and chair — perhaps in wood — that folds away when you need space for entertaining. If you need some sun protection, then add a folding parasol — in a bright happy design. You can set this up in an afternoon. Have fun decorating!

rambler says:

Really?! This is worse than the ostensibly clueless architecture student last time.
“How to make your balcony into an oasis” may be one of the most popular topics across print media, ever. Not to mention the abundance of online inspiration and information. Mercy, I am certain you have some ideas yourself. Why don’t you give this blank canvas (=optimal condition, imo) your best try, and then ask for improvement ideas and for proposals for specific problems. Maybe you would like to continue my mini brain-storm session in order to get going:

A reet-mat all along the railing (on inside or outside) as screen (cheap, natural, aesthetic)!
Possibly a (DIY) bamboo-stick trellis (just towards your neighbor or sides + top); folding outdoor (café) chairs, drop-leaf table hung on the railing (IKEA); possibly an outdoor rug; colorful accessories like Balinese temple flags, Tibetan prayer flags, windmills; solar lamps stuck into flower-pots, or fairy lights strung along the railing or trellis, or outdoor lanterns.

Regarding the low-maintenance plantation you could just ask the experts in the local garden centres for advice! Hanging and climbing plants (for railing and trellis) – there are fast-growing, especially decorative, edible, and evergreen varieties; plants that are native to your climate region (ecological, lower maintenance); integrate useful plants like tomatoes, wood strawberries, herbs (for tea, too), insect repellant plants; intersperse with fragrant plants…

Lin says:

I'm disappointed that this is what you've chosen to post as a "design challenge" for your readers. I thought nothing could have been more ridiculous than last week's apartment but I stand corrected. This is worse.

SueE says:

Have you guys ever heard the phrase "If you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing at all?" Yeesh….

Obviously, the first thing you need to deal with is the privacy issue which requires something tall at either end of the balcony. A row of three tall, narrow trees in pots would look lovely. Cypress trees, I believe, are most commonly used for this purpose but like Christa said you have to find out what grows well where you are.

Another thing that would look good is a folding screen. A nice example of a cheap-n-easy DIY screen can be found here (scan down, it's there!):

What you put in between depends on how you plan to use it most often. Do you live alone? If so than I would get a single lounger and a side table just big enough for a plate and a glass of wine.

If there's two of you, than there's a bistro set for any look you want:

Classic teak…


French cafe…

The others are right, there is plenty of inspiration on the web. Play around with different phrases in Google Images. Here is a collection of pics I found:

Have fun!

Annie says:

Wow Rambler and Lin, this is supposed to be (and is) an approachable and friendly (and fun!) design challenge to help people out with their every day design challenges in their every day homes. Please post us links to your fabulous mansions with absolutely no design flaws, or do as Sue E suggests and follow your mother's advice … if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all!

Everyone else, I thought you offered some really cool suggestions and links! I think Christa's slat wall idea might look great – If it was my place I would definitely go for that idea. And hang a some window boxes on the outside of the balcony with grass in them, and one of those wrought iron tealight holders (with the many tealight spots, like this ) on the slat wall so you can have some romance at night but not have clutter on the small table.

MoHole says:

Plant beans right now! It's the beginning of summer, the perfect time to plant, and they'll grow like crazy. Space a medium sized box or planter box every meter or so and put a couple bean seeds in each. By mid July your railing will be covered in trellised beans. No weeding or maintenance required. It'll be a lovely lush green backdrop for the rest of the good ideas that have been put forward.

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