A courtyard is a home's garden living area that comes closest to being a true outdoor room. Provide the ultimate in privacy and design a space you'll love with these favorite courtyard ideas.

By Nicole Bradley
Updated July 23, 2020
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Courtyards are outdoor spaces that are completely or partially enclosed on all sides by a fence, wall, or even plants, resulting in the ultimate private outdoor oasis. Courtyards typically have no overhead covering and let sunlight in, which also allows for green space inside. The best thing about courtyards is that as long as you’re conscious about scale and dimensions, you can create a comfy outdoor living area in even the smallest spaces. Consider the following design aspects when refurbishing an existing courtyard or building a new one, including ideas for walls, flooring, landscaping, and more.

courtyard with chairs
Credit: Emily Followill

How to Add a Courtyard

If you plan to add a courtyard to your home, consider how it is oriented to the sun and how you will enter and exit from the house and garden. The more entries to the courtyard, the more likely you will use the space. No matter the material used, be sure the courtyard flooring drains away from the house. Before building a courtyard, you should also consider privacy. One option is to provide a partial canopy by extending the rafters of the roof over the new structure.

How to Add a Courtyard to an Existing Renovation

If you plan on adding onto your home, include a courtyard in your plans. It might not add as much cost to the project as you might think. For example, when adding a study, extra bedroom, or even an attached garage, you can add the same structure 15 or 20 feet from the house. The additional costs you will incur are for one wall (the one that will no longer be shared with the rest of the house) and the hallway required to connect the new structure to the existing house. You can then enclose the courtyard using a fence or dense hedge.

doors leading to courtyard
Credit: Brie Williams 

Plan Courtyard Views

The main concern for a courtyard is usually the view into it rather than out of it. As you design a courtyard, examine views from any windows (including those overhead) and doors that enter the courtyard. Also, if you have an attractive view from the courtyard, consider cutting a window in a wall of the courtyard to frame it. Putting windows in your courtyard’s walls or fences will also make the space feel bigger.

courtyard with sectional
Credit: Rob Cardillo

Enclosed Courtyard Wall Ideas

A distinguishing characteristic of a courtyard is the illusion that it has four walls. And the style of your courtyard is to some extent influenced by the walls that define it. However, these walls can be altered to create the setting you want. For example, to avoid a closed-in appearance, many homeowners opt to use low walls or partially see-through fencing. A vine-covered trellis or a hedge might close in a small space (perhaps less than 10 square feet) without making it feel claustrophobic. Another airy courtyard wall option is a DIY wall planter filled with herbs or small plants.

An open roof, canopy, or retractable awning adds even more sense of enclosure. Whatever structure you use should allow plenty of light into the courtyard to keep it inviting. Consider adding a temporary roof that covers the courtyard completely in winter. Not only will it extend the time you can use the area, but it will also protect the plants within.

large courtyard with 2 tables
Credit: Jean Allsopp 

Courtyard Landscaping Ideas

When choosing courtyard flooring, try to pick something that feels cohesive with your home and similar or complementary in color. Pay attention to the way the sun moves over your space and think about when you’ll spend the most time in your courtyard. If you’re looking forward to enjoying lunches al fresco and basking in the noon sun, install courtyard flooring that doesn’t absorb as much heat, such as natural paver stones or patio tiles. Composite deck tiles and cement tend to retain more heat.

Another courtyard design aspect to consider is scale. The absence of a roof will make a courtyard feel bigger than it is. However, a grouping of tables and chairs that feel comfortable on an open patio might look cramped in a walled courtyard. Scale also comes into play when selecting plants. In terms of both design and horticulture, it works better to have fewer, larger container gardens than many little pots that dry out quickly and blow over. Since there is less air circulation in an enclosed courtyard than, say, a backyard deck, avoid mildew growth by giving plants plenty of space to breathe and avoiding wet feet.

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