Look closely at any apartment floorplan, and you’ll soon find your eyes moving to examine the balcony, the same rule when you’re inspecting a display apartment or sales centre or when viewing an existing apartment. Balconies and their cousins, winter gardens, tend to draw a lot of buyer attention, and that’s very understandable because they essentially make apartments more liveable and enjoyable spaces.

Sizes can vary of course. An 80-90sqm apartment might have a balcony space of 10-15sqm, and many are bigger 20-50sqm or even much bigger terraces over 100sqm can be attached to larger, often 3-bedroom apartments.

Regardless of design balconies or a winter garden can often add an extra 10-15% plus to the living space of an apartment, and so balcony access, aspect, size, amenity and privacy are important considerations. We find that buyers are very attuned to how they will use this valuable outdoor space.

There’s no doubt that buyers imagine in their minds the idea of a relaxed weekend brunch enjoying their balcony with the cares of the world dispatched for another time and day. Balconies are places to relax, dream, unwind and entertain hopefully bathed in sunshine and with a view. Winter gardens do the same but they are more flexible being wind, noise and weather proof.

A Cheerful Space

As more people live in apartments, there’s a greater focus on balconies. In urban environments, it’s clear that there’s demand for outdoor space, both private and public. For inner city apartment dwellers access to both is important, and the market is responding. Balconies now come in all shapes and sizes connecting buyers to the outdoors, and they’re much more than just a few square metres of concrete.

The balcony is regarded as much more than an extra living room. They have become as important as the kitchen or living room, and buyers put a lot of effort into thinking about the best way a balcony might be used. A dark or poorly proportioned balcony with little privacy will have a negative impact and can sway buyers in their purchase.

Buyers are increasingly more alert to a balconies aspect when it’s sunny or in the shade, is the balcony private, a good space to have a coffee, a glass of wine or a meal or just sit and watch the clouds float by.

As apartments are tending to get smaller, buyers see this area as a place to relax after work, an important extension of their living space. The trend towards having large access glass doors, often called ‘ranch-sliders’ further enhancing the appeal of a good balcony.

Reflecting these trends there’s also a big increase in the variety and quality of furnishing that’s available to enhance the balcony space, it’s now very fashionable with leading designers turning out some stylish options.

And because they are weather proof you can apply even more creative solutions when furnishing a winter garden. You might not house musical instruments or a selection of rare plans, as people did in the early 19th century structures, but you can do a lot with the space. Duo at Central Park in Sydney has some good examples.

As much more detailed attention is being paid to outdoor space in development projects, what are some of the key points to consider, and are there any pitfalls?

Experience tells us that buyers think about balconies from three aspects – people, plants and pets, if all three thrive then the balcony must be pretty-well designed.  Buyers will also check out a balcony for access, solar-access (sunshine), privacy, views, services (water and gas), storage and the environment. Is it a relaxed, free-flowing space and that adds to the appeal?

Access is essential, and possibly the most attractive layouts allow an apartment’s internal and external spaces to merge to give the owner one big living space. Balconies that have access from several rooms are also very popular. A design where the bedrooms and living space all have direct access to a balcony is very popular. Such designs can even attract a price premium. Sometimes these are known as a ‘Jack & Jill’ layout because of the dual access.

These designs are very different from those of the 1960’s and 70’s when you might have only been able to squeeze through one single door to the balcony. Today balconies come in all spaces and sizes and are very appealing spaces that benefit from a lot of design and planning.

Solar access is another big issue, for the space to be comfortable to use all year round. So, the space is not too hot, not wet or a spot where you’ll be blown off your feet in the wind. Covered north-facing are great, but not every apartment can have just one aspect and buyers also like an easterly or western aspect.

Views are also important, and here again, we see the need to consider how a view works regarding privacy. The use of external shutters both fixed and movable designs are now commonly used and they do help to make balcony spaces much more inviting and private. Balcony shutters with varied designs also add to the general external appeal of a building, it’s a point buyers are very conscious of.

As balconies are becoming more a part of daily living space they need to have good services, drainage, electricity, gas and water and something that is less common, but a good idea is built-in storage.

A Stunning Oasis or a Place to Relax

Understanding how important balconies are to apartment buyers and how their design influences people, I’ve combed through lots of suggestions and picked a few of the best ideas to create an appealing balcony space:

Plants: look for plants that offer a good scale and try to plant for the seasons, be that a few tomato plants, a bay tree or spring flowers.

Furniture: think of furniture that will extend the colours and themes of your indoor furniture, that way the space will feel bigger. And keep furniture to scale so that it’s easy to move around the balcony space.

Lights: balconies are often used in the evening so think about the best way to light the area.

Shade: if you end up with built-in shutters that’s a bonus, otherwise allow for shade on hot summer days.

Floors: while not many new apartment balconies will have raw concrete, there’s a good option now to use outdoor rungs to give a balcony a touch of class. 

One final word, and that’s to always be aware that balcony areas cross over into aspects of common property, and so always check that any balcony furnishing or additions are ‘legal’ and always within the terms of a building’s by-laws.

Be aware that external walls facing into a balcony area will be common property, so adding external fittings or even fixing a mirror to the wall has to be checked, while adding a big element or improvement like awnings will require formal approval and council planning application, so it’s an area of special attention.

Balconies and winter gardens are big news, with some clever furnishings, planters and sunlight it’s a spot we all find appealing no matter the location or season.