Design magazines and home decorating catalogs tend to feature sprawling backyards with big wooden decks and room for everything from decorative fountains to artificial ponds.
But few of us have that much outdoor space.
Still, with a few strategic choices, you can create something truly special out of even the smallest yard or porch, says Los Angeles-based designer Brian Patrick Flynn.
Here, he and two other design experts -- small-space specialist Kyle Schuneman and landscape designer Chris Lambton -- offer advice on the best furnishings, plants and decorating strategies for making the most of a small yard, modest deck or petite patio.
Go flexible and mobile
"With a small outdoor space, I really like to think double duty," says Schuneman, author of "The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces." Look for seating that has hidden storage space inside and tall planters that add privacy.
And choose items that can easily be moved, such as lightweight flowerpots or planters on wheels, says Lambton, host of the gardening design series "Going Yard" on HGTV. "It's an easy DIY thing," he says, to buy an assortment of inexpensive plastic pots and paint them to match your outdoor décor.
If planters are lightweight or on wheels, you can move them to get proper sunlight at different times of day, and rearrange them if you're entertaining guests and need more space. And, Lambton says, they can be moved inside to a sunny window or doorway when cold weather arrives.
Choose the right furniture
"The easiest way to make small outdoor spaces appear smaller is to fill them with lots of pieces," says Flynn, founder of the design website decordemon.com.
"Instead, go big with sectionals, or flank perfectly square or rectangular areas with identical love seats or sofas. This not only maximizes the seating potential, but it also keeps the space from becoming too busy or even chopped up. In my outdoor living room, I used a U-shaped outdoor sectional which seats up to seven comfortably."
When arranging furniture, consider the view: If the home's exterior is more attractive than the outdoor view, Flynn says, consider positioning seats so you'll face your house rather than looking away from it.
All three designers say your choice of plants is especially important when space is limited.
Choose plants with a purpose: "Lavender's great," Lambton says, because it's attractive, easy to grow and deters bugs. Marigolds will also help keep insects away.
Lambton also suggests putting up a trellis as a privacy wall, and planting it with colorful wisteria or climbing hydrangea. Or choose a tall holly or cypress plant in a large planter.