backyard swim spa

Designing a modern backyard: Maximizing small spaces

The big backyard is no longer the American standard. While some homebuyers still consider a sprawling lawn a must-have, others are opting to maximize their lot and prioritize indoor living space. But that shift doesn’t mean that Americans are forgoing outdoor living spaces. They are just getting smarter about how they design their small backyards.

The classic image of a vast, green backyard where children play and barbecues sizzle in the summer sun has been a staple of American suburban living for generations. It’s an embodiment of the American dream: a spacious, private outdoor oasis where families can relax, entertain, and connect with nature. However, as the real estate landscape evolves and urbanization continues, the size of the average American backyard is shrinking.

Land scarcity, rising property prices, and a growing awareness of environmental concerns have all played a part in encouraging homeowners to rethink their outdoor spaces. Today’s homebuyers are looking for properties that offer a balance between indoor and outdoor living.

However, downsizing of outdoor spaces doesn’t mean a sacrifice in the quality of outdoor living. In fact, it has sparked a wave of creativity and innovation, challenging homeowners and designers alike to make the most of every square foot. 

backyard swim spa
Photo courtesy Inside Out Design Build

How to maximize the modern backyard

Having a small backyard doesn’t mean you have to compromise on style and functionality. With smart design choices, you can transform even the smallest outdoor spaces into a modern oasis that you can use year-round.

Just check out this modern backyard project by Inside Out Design Build. The landscape design firm might be based in Vancouver, British Columbia, but the backyard swim spa project offers inspiration and ideas for homeowners everywhere.

But how do you start out your backyard project, especially when you have a smaller space? These design tips will help guide your backyard transformation.

Define your purpose 

Before diving into design decisions, clarify the purpose of your backyard. Do you want it to serve as a cozy retreat, an entertainment hub, or a garden oasis? Knowing your goals will help you make informed design choices.

Optimize available space

In small backyards, all available space becomes valuable real estate. It’s important to take advantage of walls, fences, and railings to incorporate vertical elements into your design. Install hanging planters, floating shelves, or a vertical garden to add greenery without sacrificing precious square footage.

Inside Out Design Build got creative when it came to the Vancouver backyard. Instead of the retaining wall becoming an obstacle to the design, it became a way to extend the deck and create an additional seating area.

Create functional zones

Dividing your backyard into different functional zones can enhance the overall design and make the space feel larger. For example, designate an area for seating and dining, a cozy corner for relaxation, and a small section for gardening. Use different flooring materials or planters to visually separate these zones while maintaining a cohesive design.

This Vancouver backyard features areas for outdoor relaxation, dining, entertainment, and even exercise. A Master Spas swim spa is the centerpiece of the space, serving multiple functions in the space. The homeowners can use it to relax and unwind or get in a quick swim when they don’t want to go to the gym. It can also be a place to reconnect with loved ones without the distraction of screens.  

Choose the right furniture

When selecting furniture for a small backyard, choose pieces that are scaled appropriately to the space. Compact, lightweight furniture with clean lines won’t overpower the area. Furniture with built-in storage, such as benches or ottomans, maximize functionality. Even foldable or stackable chairs and tables are particularly useful in smaller spaces, as they can be easily stored when not in use. 

The designers made the most out of the upper level deck area, selecting a modest bistro table and comfortable chaise for the space. The bistro set is the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning while you can soak up the summer sun on the chaise as you read a book. An offset umbrella provides shade as desired without taking up valuable space on the deck.

Incorporate minimalistic landscaping

Keep the landscaping simple and minimalistic to maintain a modern aesthetic in a small backyard. Choose low-maintenance plants and consider using raised beds or vertical planters to maximize greenery while saving space. Think strategically about the placement of trees and shrubs to create privacy and shade without overwhelming the area.

The multi-level deck and outdoor dining area at the Vancouver property didn’t leave much room for landscaping. Instead of trying to overwhelm the space with plants or trees, the designers chose simple but vibrant swaths of grass. The turf adds balance to the other materials in the backyard without much maintenance.

Create ambiance with lighting

Lighting plays a vital role in setting the mood and making a small backyard feel larger. Install strategically placed ambient lighting, such as string lights or lanterns, to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Consider integrating solar-powered lighting fixtures to save energy and eliminate the need for wiring.

The Vancouver backyard features string lights along the fence line. During the day, they almost disappear into the landscaping. But at night, they create a soft glow along the perimeter of the backyard. It’s the perfect amount of light for entertaining family and friends or going for a night swim. 

Use neutral colors

You don’t need a lot of color to make your backyard stand out. In fact, if you are trying to maximize the available space in your small backyard, a neutral color palette can create a sense of openness and airiness in small spaces. Light-colored furniture, cushions, and accessories can visually expand your backyard.

The black dining chairs and stone dining table, while dark, look at home against the modern house. The patio doors are framed in black and there are other black hued details on the home structure.  

backyard swim spa
Photo courtesy Inside Out Design Build

Swim spas: A modern alternative to a pool

Modern backyard design trends are all about enhancing your outdoor space to create a functional, beautiful, and sustainable oasis that complements your lifestyle. While traditional in-ground pools are lovely, they often come with high maintenance costs and take up a significant portion of your backyard. 

And for some homeowners, a backyard pool isn’t an option. Their backyard might be too small or they don’t feel practical because the climate limits the pool season.  

A Master Spas swim spa not only offers the benefits of a pool but offers a year-round escape.

Ease of installation

A backyard project like that by Inside Out Design Build can take anywhere between three to eight weeks depending on the scope of the project — even with the installation of a swim spa. By comparison, an in-ground pool project can take 12 weeks or more.

Master Spas swim spas can be installed in a day once the site is ready. With the Vancouver backyard project, Inside Out Design Build would have installed a concrete pad first. The custom deck would be installed after the swim spa had been delivered and put in place.

Space-conscious design

Master Spas swim spas come in a variety of dimensions, all of which are more space-efficient than traditional pools. There are 18-foot swim spas for homeowners who want a spacious area for swimming, water exercise, and recreation. A 15-foot swim spa, such as the H2X Trainer 15D, can be incorporated into most any modern backyard designs. 


The versatility of swim spas is one of the reasons they have become increasingly popular among homeowners. You can swim in place, exercise, relax, and enjoy time with friends and family. 

Master Spas swim spas have a jet system that creates a continuous water current, allowing users to swim in place. You can also use the water current for aqua jogging, water walking, and other fitness activities. 

In addition, swim spas have contoured therapy seats with massage jets. The hydromassage features can help soothe sore muscles, relieve stress, and promote relaxation. It’s like having a hot tub and a swimming pool in one.

Year-round use

Swimming in the winter? You don’t have to live in a warm climate or escape to the tropics. Thanks to their energy-efficient design, Master Spas swim spas can be used year-round. Full foam insulation protects the components while helping to maintain the water temperature. There’s also a built-in heater, allowing you to set the water to your preferred temperature. You can enjoy a refreshing swim in the summer or a soothing soak in the winter.

backyard swim spa
Photo courtesy Inside Out Design Build

How to buy a swim spa

Do you want to be able to swim, exercise, and relax at home? Having a Master Spas swim spa allows you to swim on your schedule while adding a fun factor to your backyard. You can click here to find out more about the benefits of hydrotherapy and relaxing in a hot tub. Or, contact your local Master Spas retailer to learn more about swim spa ownership. Wondering how much a swim spa costs? You can request a quote here.