Inner City Small Courtyard design in New Zealand

Living in Auckland’s busy city suburbs can sometimes feel like being in constant motion — rarely a moment to breathe. Chosing a townhouse often starts with a decision for a low-mianatence outdoor space. But just imagine, having your very own personal retreat. An intimate courtyard that serves not just as an external space, but as a series of enchanting ‘garden rooms’, Where each area tells its story.

For Spatial Designer Jennie Dunlop, it’s all in a day’s work. Inner city courtyard design is one of her passions, and she has built a reputation for turning small gardens into liveable external spaces.

Seamless Integration of Outdoor Spaces

The magic starts by embracing the inherent architecture of your abode and integrating it with the green sanctuary of your courtyard. From villas to townhouses; apartments to flats, any outdoor space can be reconsidered. Just like rooms inside your house, each garden room can reflect a different mood, and narrative. It’s simply a matter of creating a seamless continuity from inside to out. A favourite example is from a St Mary’s Bay Townhouse which leant itself to a Balinese aesthetic.

To achieve a distinctively Pacific Rim feel, Jennie Dunlop takes inspiration from the style of architecture and complements it with modern influences. A favourite influence is the Balinese courtyard garden, which focuses on creating a harmonious and peaceful space that blends seamlessly into its tropical surroundings. Low-maintenance plants that thrive in New Zealand suit this style and create a backdrop for carefully curated outdoor furniture settings.

Taking inspiration from my travels in Asia and the Pacific Rim, I often incorporate aspects of Balinese exteriors or Japanese Zen garden into client design. Asian gardens are often thoughtfully centred around sculpture and water features. 

Creating Functional Zones

With careful planning, your small courtyard can cater to all your needs. Consider incorporating separate areas for relaxation, al fresco dining, and even a pocket-sized garden for planting. This might include citrus and herbs or seasonal strawberries, tomatoes or chillis. The zoning of your space helps to keep it uncluttered and ensures each area serves its purpose effectively and efficiently.

Creating a sense of openness is key in small courtyards, especially those in bustling city centres such as Auckland. Light-coloured materials with use of reflective materials can create an illusion of a larger space, bouncing light around your courtyard and evoking a breezy, airy and intimate atmosphere.

Ponsonby villa courtyard Jennie - Dunlop Design

A quiet oasis for a fix of sunshine

Ponsonby villa courtyard Jennie Dunlop Dunlop Design

A plunge pool is the ultimate inner city courtyard gem

The Story of Your Garden Rooms

Every great story has well-defined chapters, similarly, your courtyard could be segmented into various garden rooms. Perhaps a kitchen garden room near the back door, with the tantalising aroma of fresh herbs. Next, could be a tranquil water garden room featuring a calm pond, feeding into the narrative of tranquillity in the midst of urban hustle. Regardless of your choice, creating inviting places to sit, eat and entertain are what make a courtyard functional.

Courtyard St MarysbayTown House1 - Dunlop Design

Overcoming Auckland’s Unique Challenges

The narrative of designing garden rooms in Auckland wouldn’t be complete without overcoming the challenges of limited soil depth. But every great story has its obstacles, and overcoming them becomes part of the tale. The smart use of planters or raised beds could become an integral part of your courtyard’s fable, providing the stage for espaliered lemon trees or a screen of tall bamboo. While the focus for Dunlop Design is clever use of space and furniture, working in tandem with a good landscaper is useful. Ask us for our recommendations. Through thoughtful design and appropriate plant selection, the tranquillity and private oasis you crave can become your reality—your narrative of peaceful living.

A great way to bring the eye down is by using stylish greenery, wall art, pots and lighting to create interest in order to disguise ugly external elements like powerlines. Non-suckling bamboo is a good greenery choice for New Zealand courtyards.”

View the Courtyard Portfolio from Dunlop Design for more ideas. If you have a Courtyard project in mind, contact Jennie Dunlop for an initial chat.

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