About a year ago, when my husband and I were looking for our first apartment in LA, we set out to find a modern space in a relatively quiet neighborhood that had a pretty view of Downtown. What we found, finally, was a small apartment in the Arts District with a bare-bones balcony where we could envision late nights watching the colorful pillars of Downtown LA shining in the warm evening light.

The apartment was small (and when I say “small” I mean 510-square-feet small), so having that additional balcony area was a blessing. Growing up in Belarus, where winters start in October and end in late April, I could only dream about having a terrace where I might enjoy warm sunny days while reading a book or having breakfast. Most Belarus balconies are enclosed and insulated. They function more like an additional room than an outdoor space. And while I was more than happy to swap out my freezing cold country for a tiny corner of outdoor space in Southern California, our patio wasn’t especially inspiring. Could I make like a true Belarusian and turn this cold, concrete deck into an extension of our new home?

As a designer, I don’t like to rush things. I always lead with practicality, like those european landscape architects that wait to build park pathways until they see which ways the people like to walk. With our balcony, I took a couple of months to understand the light and how best we could utilize the space. I found a rug that was thick that provided insulation. I bought two extremely soft, well-made rattan chairs because my husband would only sit on the balcony if our chairs were good-quality and comfortable. I bought a table that wouldn’t take up too much space, and a wicker basket that could function as, both, storage and an additional tabletop.

Wanting to add some freshness and greenery, I brought a yucca tree home from IKEA. I’d always thought I had a black thumb (someone gave me a potted orchid once and I didn’t realize it was fake until I’d been watering it for well over a year), but this plant brought out the gardner in me. I enjoyed tending to it. It was a beautiful addition to the space, and its tall, happy leaves relaxed me after a long day at work. In time, I added more to my little concrete garden: a small palm, a fiddle leaf fig tree, some bamboo, some rosemary, and several succulents.

Our balcony is now a green, fragrant breakfast nook, den, office, and art studio. It’s where we eat meals and watch movies, and where I paint, pot plants, and labor the day away when I’m working from home. The palm tree provides perfect shade on a sunny day, the rosemary shrub scents the air, and the soft glow from downtown lulls me to sleep at night.

And what about that girl from Belarus that spent 6 months each year staring out the icy window of an insulated balcony?

She’s gone now. Replaced by a sun-worshipping, plant-loving, California convert.

Talk to us!