Café designers discovered a while ago that a bar is a space-saving bit of furniture. Whether you lean against it, or pull up a stool, a bar takes less floor space than a table and chairs. With space-saving a driving force in balcony design, bars are hot. Here’s a small one, designed by Rupert Baywil for Australian Garden Show Sydney. (I also love that hairy green wall of lomandra!). Rupert won a gold medal from the judges for his clever use of space.
Kim Earl, from Melbourne-based Candeo Design, also won a gold medal for her balcony garden at Australian Garden Show Sydney earlier this month. This is her use of a bar as space-saver.
Kim says the bar is a good solution to narrow spaces. “We’ve also looked at a folding bar, though we haven’t got to build that one yet,” she told me. David Lloyd has. His Balco table is half bar-half table and folds down to be out of the way when not needed. Lloyd, a former farmer, was inspired to design it to get the most from the view and the space on his narrow Coogee balcony. Balco is affordable, at $399, and comes flat-packed for that extra sense of DIY satisfaction.
Successful balcony design starts with decisions about function, says Earl. The bar versus table debate is irrelevant if the purpose of a balcony garden is not eating and drinking. Other considerations before you get the wallet out: how much greenery do you want to look at and look after; what indoor themes in materials, colours or styles could be taken onto the balcony to extend the sense of space; and how much privacy is required? To give privacy to her AGSS garden, Earl used screens by Outdeco, which are lasercut from pressed Australian hardwood tailings. They come in a range of patterns with different privacy ratings, at around $100 a panel. Finally, she advises, commit to nothing before checking body corporate rules for outdoor spaces, the maximum load of the balcony and the logistics for getting furniture, pots and plants on to the space.
Overwhelmed already? If you ditch the DIY and call in a professional, expect to spend a few thousand on a neat budget makeover with a new floor, screens, green walls, furniture and plants. If you go it alone take care with plant choices. Balconies aren’t just shrunk backyards; they face different environmental conditions to a grounded garden. Wind is the critical factor, and the higher the balcony the worse the wind. Earl says succulents and grasses are go-to plants for exposed spots. Limonium perezii, also called statice or sea lavender, is a hardy flowering choice. These plants can be used in layers to create protected spots for more fragile choices.
For balconies overhung by other balconies, as Earl imagined for her AGSS garden, or enclosed on three sides, plants with a reputation as indoor survivors do well. She chose bamboo and golden cane palms, mother-in-laws’ tongue (Sanseveria) and devil’s ivy (Epipremnum) – adding them to liriope, lomandra and Philodendron ‘Xandadu’ for a lush green fringe around, on top and under the bar.