For the less-than-green-thumbed among us, the thought of creating a garden of our own can be daunting. Even a relatively small-scale balcony garden seems beyond reach. But getting your apartment terrace or balcony to look like an oasis of green isn’t necessarily as hard as you think. These 10 tips will have you well on the way to growing an urban patch of perfection.
1. Do your research
Before anything else, it’s essential to check the load-bearing capacity of your balcony with your body corporate or building supervisor. Once you know that, look at your balcony’s orientation – which direction does it face? How much sun does it get every day? Is it really windy? These factors will all determine plant choice.
2. Consider how you’ll use the space
Really think about what you want to use the area for. Is it primarily a quiet spot to enjoy a cup of coffee and take in the view? Or do you want to entertain lots of friends? If it’s the former, you might only need a small wrought-iron table and chairs; for the latter, consider an extendable table and folding chairs that you can stow when they’re not being used.
3. Think about continuity
The key to creating great indoor-outdoor spaces is continuity. ”An outdoor space should have some correlation to your interior, especially if it is very near or connected to the indoors,” says Terrace Outdoor Living’s Paul Joseph Hopper. If your interiors are minimal and neutral-toned, so your balcony garden should be, too.
4. Start small
If gardening is new to you, take baby steps. “Don’t undermine your intentions by starting too big as too many plants and the maintenance required can overwhelm a new gardener,” says garden writer Isabelle Palmer.
5. Keep it simple
Don’t be tempted to clutter your outdoor area. “Before you know it, your little courtyard or balcony is crowded and messy, too hard to maintain and not inviting,” says Hopper. Limiting your colour palette will help, too. Palmer recommends using no more than three shades for your plants, or different tones of one colour, to keep the space looking serene. (This doesn’t include green, of course.)
6. Add green drama
Hopper favours plants with lots of sculptural appeal. His current favourites? “I love the big, beautiful leaves of a Monstera deliciosa or Strelitzia nicolae, the sculptural branches of a frangipani and the super-trendy Ficus lyrata,” he says. If you want a garden to pop with colour all year round, you’ll need to add some annuals (plants that last for a year) or perennials (plants that live for two or more years) to your crop.
7. Go vertical
Vertical gardens have been trending for several years, and with good reason. Not only do they look striking, vertical gardens also take up very little floor space – making them ideal for balconies and terraces. Vertical garden hardware is readily available, and what you plant is only limited by your imagination.
8. Choose larger pots
Once you’ve checked your load-bearing capacity, remember that larger pots not only look more dramatic, they’re better for your plants, too. Research has found that doubling pot size makes plants grown 40 per cent larger. “Aesthetically, the proportions of bigger pots look better as well,” Palmer says. Make sure your pots have appropriately sized saucers too, to limit water damage to your balcony’s surface.
9. Light it up
Nothing adds atmosphere to an outdoor space more than lighting. Creating an inviting night-time ambience is also dead simple and inexpensive. “Candles and suspended lanterns are always pretty and we love ropes of LED lights which you can weave through branches or hang from beams,” says Hopper.
10. Dress your pots
You can add style to your potted plants with a layer of “top dressing” – anything from sculptural pebbles or pieces of slate to more rustic wood bark chips. It will unify the look of your pots, and also helps to stop water evaporating from the soil’s surface.
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Three experts offer their best space-saving advice and tips.
Let’s face it: an apartment is unlikely to have the same storage capacity as a house with a double garage and shed. That presents some challenges, particularly for those downsizing from a large family house in the suburbs to apartment living in the city. So, whether you’re a downsizer or simply someone with a lot of stuff, these five expert tips will give you plenty of room to breathe.
Edit, edit, edit
Moving into new digs presents the perfect opportunity to undertake a ruthless edit of your belongings. “Now is the time to let go of things that you have been holding on to for any number of reasons,” says stylist and professional organiser Sarah Shanahan. “Once the purging has been done, you can be happy in the knowledge that the things you are taking are really loved. Your possessions need to spark some sort of joy to make it to the next address.” Stylist Carmen Parker agrees: “Decluttering is the key to a smooth transition into a smaller space.”
Made to measure
It’s absolutely essential that you measure every room in your new apartment before you move in. “That way, you will have a much clearer idea of what you can take with you and what needs to be sold before you move,” says Parker. Bulky oversized furniture is unlikely to be a good fit for a smaller space. “Really choose your furniture items wisely,” Parker advises. “Whatever your style, bring only what fits and don’t crowd your new apartment with big items or too many pieces.”
When moving into a smaller home, it’s important that you consider furniture items that serve more than one purpose. “For example,” says Parker, “a wall unit, built for storage, could also house a small desk space and the television. An ottoman with a removable top could be additional storage and could also serve as a coffee table.” Shanahan suggests bench seating with under-seat storage to stow bulky seasonal items such as blankets, quilts and beach towels.
Seek the light
Colour choice is paramount. Experts advise using a light, neutral base for small spaces, choosing larger pieces of furniture (rugs, couches) in similar colour tones, then adding pops of colour through smaller accessories. “This will create a cohesive look without it feeling overwhelming or claustrophobic,” says Parker. “Layers of texture in the same colour is a beautiful way to bring interest to a small space without making it busy.” Resene Paints Australia colour consultant Nikki Morris suggests using paint colours with a high light reflectance value (LRV), which can help reflect and bounce natural light around a room and give it the illusion of being brighter and more spacious.
Short and sweet
Finally, a few quick tips…
Decorative hooks that complement the style of the house add character and double as storage
Baskets and stylish boxes are great storage options and add to your home’s decor and warmth
Consider gallery walls to display family photos rather than cluttering a space with photo frames; choose similar frames for a calm, unified look
Use the height of the walls rather than the floor space … so, a tallboy over a shorter chest of drawers, bookshelves that go to the ceiling. “Vertical lines elongate the room and give the illusion of height and space,” says Parker
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More and more Australians are adopting apartment living. In fact, the latest Census found that there was one occupied apartment for every five occupied houses in 2016, compared with one for every seven in 1991.The Census also reported that 10 per cent (some 2.3 million) of Australians spent Census night in an apartment.
As numbers increase, so does the desire to live in something more, well, out-of-the-box. “The more people live in high-rise, the more they want their apartments to feel like home and not cold, impersonal spec boxes,” says Burley Katon Halliday’s director Iain Halliday, one of Australia’s leading interior designers.
“It’s all to do with a sense of homeliness, of being comfortable in your domestic environment,” he adds.
What does Halliday, the interior designer behind TOGA’s Surry Hills Village development, consider to be the hottest design trends for apartment living in 2019?
Here, his top five:
A butler’s pantry – a utility room off the kitchen for food preparation and storage – was once considered something of a luxury item. But they’re popping up everywhere, says Halliday, and are a great asset, particularly in apartments where space can be at a premium. “Everyone wants an open-plan kitchen where they can entertain their friends while they’re cooking and have a glass of wine,” Halliday says. “But the kettle, the toaster, the coffee maker and the juicer are all littering the benchtops and making the space look messy. With a butler’s pantry, all of those small appliances are housed in another location that is removed … and that’s a great thing.” The pantry doesn’t have to be huge: “You just need a utilitarian, practical space to stash all your mess.”
It’s time to embrace colour again – after years of developers sticking to white and off-white palettes. “There’s been this assumption that because apartments are not necessarily large spaces, then they must be white or off-white … people are starting to understand that this is not just a given any more.” Halliday favours subtle shades in particular, such as soft pinks and nude. “Colours like pinks are very flattering and pleasant to live with. And they have a flattering light – people look nice against those soft wall colours.”
For Halliday, a hard flooring option like terrazzo delivers both longevity and a sense of quality that carpet doesn’t necessarily deliver. “Terrazzo lasts a lifetime,” he says, “and it doesn’t fade or stain. Also, it doesn’t get smelly if you have pets – and a lot of people who live in apartments now do have pets.” Halliday used a soft white terrazzo on the floor of Surry Hills Village’s display apartment, along with limed oak, another product he favours. “I think everyone associates timber floors with brown or red wood, but they’re quite heavy to live with. These washed-out floors are quite fresh-looking and add a lightness to a room.”
Our love affair with metallics continues, but copper and bronze are the current shining stars, says Halliday. “Coloured metal finishes are definitely staying with us. They offer something very different from chrome and stainless steel, which people have used for years.” He has an enduring penchant for copper and bronze tapware. “It is incredibly beautiful,” he says. “People might think, oh it’s just a fashion, but I think it’s got longevity. And it adds such a definite punctuation to a kitchen or bathroom – it’s something your eye is drawn to.”
People might associate track lighting with the 1970s, but it’s making a resurgence, too. “The great thing about track lighting is that you can add lights to it and get more flexibility,” Halliday says. “If you’ve got an artwork or something special you want to highlight, you can do it very well with track-mounted spotlights.” Pendant lights can also be linked to the track: in Surry Hills Village, Halliday has done this with rice-paper lanterns. “They’re also very 1970s,” he laughs, “but they’re definitely coming back.”