Small Courtyard Design Ideas

Peaceful Courtyard with Heirloom Sculpture & Curving Fountain

Creve Coeur Missouri

Giving up a yard and maintenance connected with a single-family house for a condominium can prove liberating. And it did for a couple who found a new home in a condo in a St. Louis suburb. On the plus side, it had a charming private courtyard; on the downside, brick walled it in on three sides–an historically appropriate material in that city, but in this case there was almost too much brick, which made it feel claustrophobic. Moreover, the courtyard had no greenery since it was paved in concrete, which also had cracked.

Wish List

  • Space for two to four to sit and enjoy views of a sculpture that had been passed down through the wife’s family
  • Add a water feature for pleasant sounds
  • Make the courtyard feel more connected with nature’s possibilities.
  • Will the small space limit what can be done?

The Site and its Challenges

We faced three main challenges in transforming this existing courtyard: get in equipment to break up the concrete since it was a tight site and do so without shattering any windows; create a much softer setting with plant materials and softer looking paving; and find a way to incorporate the family sculpture and new water feature without taking up too much of the footprint.

Landscape Design Solutions

New enclosure. To open up the courtyard and let it feel like it was breathing more, we removed some of the brick wall and replaced it with a handsome wrought iron fence that still serves as a partial screen for some privacy yet allows in light and views of the setting.

New hard- and softscape. After removing the existing cracked concrete and dry laid brick patio addition, we decided to install a more interesting mix of materials–an aggregate for the main area with brick trim–and lay them in a curving 42-inch-wide path that provides access to the condo’s interior and also enough space to sit. We framed the perimeters with planting beds, which we filled with a mix of hydrangeas, boxwood, liriope, a Japanese maple, and some arborvitae as a screen.

Sculpture and water combo. The sculpture was refurbished and set in a new curved water fountain  so it appears to float. The fountain was constructed deep enough so enough water remains even when it’s hot and some evaporates. The design was illuminated from below so it can be seen at night, yet is not garish with an overly strong glow.

       Driveway connector. To unify the area beyond the courtyard that leads to the driveway, we continued the combination aggregate-cum-brick path just outside the fence and planted some of the same softscape materials.

The Results

The courtyard now reflects a warm, inviting feeling, remains connected visually with the home because of the repetition of brick, yet introduces a bigger vocabulary of possibilities with the aggregate, plant materials, treasured family sculpture, and trickling of water. And all was achieved within a limited footprint, proving that a small scale is no deterrent to creativity.