Furnishing a balcony: it all depends on the exposure

Thomas Bott

A balcony is the ideal alternative to a garden as a place of retreat. It has many advantages, including the fact that the view is usually better due to the elevated position. But for a balcony to be really comfortable, it needs the right furnishings. Here you can find out how to furnish your balcony according to the circumstances, and what you need to consider.

A woman is sitting on a balcony. There is a laptop on the table in front of her. She is surrounded by balcony plants.
© Getty Images / Mareen Fischinger

In this article

Furnishing a balcony: differences in exposure

First of all, it’s important to note that the position of the balcony plays a key role in its design. Depending on the direction it faces, in will be in the sun in the morning, in the evening or maybe even all day long. In a hot summer, this can quickly become a problem because it may simply be too warm outside to enjoy the fresh air. The way in which the exposure affects the hours of sunshine is explained below.

  • North: you should expect permanent shade, because north-facing balconies don’t usually get any sun at all. This means that it remains quite cool throughout the day and moisture stays in place for a long time.
  • South: the exact opposite of a north-facing balcony. A balcony with southern exposure is in the sunshine almost all day long. It can become very warm, and moisture dries extremely quickly.
  • West: a west-facing balcony is perfect for watching the sunset and enjoying the warm rays of the sun until late in the evening. Moisture will remain until the afternoon.
  • East: a balcony with eastern exposure is particularly suitable for sipping your morning coffee in the sun. It becomes shady in the afternoon. Moisture dries early in the day but settles quickly in the evening.

It all depends on the exposure: how to design your balcony

As you can see, the direction a balcony faces makes a big difference. Furnishing tips vary accordingly. After all, sun and humidity also play a role in the choice of furniture.

A picture of a balcony with a glass railing. The focus is on the metal balcony furniture; there is a table with a plant and a lamp on it.

A north-facing balcony is a shady place that has to contend with a lot of humidity and not much light. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

Furnishing a north-facing balcony: a shady place

Even a north-facing balcony can be a pleasant place to spend a few quiet hours outside. Especially in very high temperatures, a north balcony can be lovely and cool. Set up a small reading corner on your balcony – or turn it into a kind of outdoor office. But make sure you always choose the right furniture. Chairs and tables should ideally be made of high-quality plastic. This is primarily due to humidity. Rainwater and dew don’t dry well. Furniture made of plastic can readily withstand moisture and simply be left to dry. Wood, on the other hand, quickly becomes rotten, while metal is prone to corrosion.

When it comes to colors, it’s worth opting for lighter shades that are better at reflecting the little light there is available. But be careful with white furniture, as it only looks good when it is spotlessly clean. As soon as the first dirt sets in, the attractiveness quickly fades. Yellow, blue or reddish pastel shades are better. They create a summery atmosphere all year round, even without direct sunlight.

Furnishing a south-facing balcony: ideal for sun worshipers

A south balcony is in the sun almost all day long. This obviously makes it perfect for people who like sunbathing. A couch should therefore be part of the standard equipment. If you want to have some shade from time to time, it’s worth buying a sun sail or shade. Alternatively, some items of furniture, such as outdoor chairs, exist with their own small built-in canopy. A wicker beach chair can give your balcony a seaside feeling. Since moisture is less of an issue, you are much more flexible in your choice of materials. Wood and metal are not a problem on a south balcony.

In terms of color design, dark colors are more prominent on the sunnier side of buildings. They contrast with all the brightness and make the sun a little less blinding. Dark shades of gray and blue are particularly suitable for furniture. Cushions are easier to keep in good condition on south-facing balconies thanks to the low humidity. They are a good way to add some splashes of color.

Upholstered furniture on a spacious south-facing balcony with a view of the mountains. The railing is made of glass and therefore completely transparent.

The sun shines all day long on south-facing balconies. This means it’s dry enough to put out upholstered furniture. At night, you should still take it back indoors with you.

Furnishing a west-facing balcony: sun at the end of the day

A west-facing balcony enables you to enjoy the perfect end to the day: if you’ve been out and about all day, a sunny, dry place awaits you in the evening. Lounge furniture and larger groups of seats are ideal. The seating area should be as comfortable as possible so that you can stretch your legs. If you have quite a small balcony, a soft outdoor armchair with a small side table might be enough. In the early morning hours, you will still have to contend with humidity and the residual coolness of the night. In the afternoon, on the other hand, you may even need to use a sun sail or shade to keep off the sun – but make sure it doesn’t obstruct your view of the sunset in the evening.

Speaking of sunsets, the sun usually paints reddish colors on a west balcony – especially late in the evening. The colors of the furniture should be designed accordingly. Orange and yellow are a good match. Alternatively, it’s possible to work with complementary colors. Tip: the complementary color of orange is cyan. Blue and slightly green or purple tones are ideal.

A woman sits on a west-facing balcony and watches the sun setting behind an Alpine panorama.

You can watch the sunset in the evening on a west-facing balcony. Make the balcony extra comfortable so that it corresponds to the atmosphere.

Furnishing an east-facing balcony: warmth for your first coffee

An east-facing balcony is the exact opposite of a west-facing one. It is just the right place for early risers. Enjoy a coffee out on your balcony first thing in the morning and it will soon become your favorite place for spending the first half of the day. The humidity will have disappeared from the balcony early on, which makes it usable well before lunchtime. A small coffee table with matching chairs works well, for example in a combination of wood and metal. This is especially true if you have a small balcony. A large balcony, on the other hand, could have a spacious table and chairs for eating meals in the fresh air. A sunshade helps on hot days, especially around noon.

The choice of colors depends a great deal on the time of use. Tip: bright furniture is a safe choice because it always creates enough light, even on shadowy evenings. Pastel shades are particularly suitable, just like on a north-facing balcony. Brown tones such as beige fit in well with the café theme.

An east-facing balcony is a great place to spend time, especially in the morning. You can have a coffee and read the newspaper in peace and quiet when the sun is shining.

A woman sits in a basket chair on an east-facing balcony and reads the newspaper. Flowering balcony plants can be seen around her.

Light: ideas for the right lighting

Lighting is of course particularly important for a north or east balcony. This is because they get hardly any sun, or if they do, then only in the morning. Darkness also falls quickly in the evening. If you want to be able to linger a little longer on your balcony, fit lights on the wall, set up small garden lamps or hang up a string of lights. Colored lights also create a homely atmosphere. Orange lamps generate visual warmth, for example.

Discreet lighting can also be an advantage on a south or west balcony because it will allow you to continue using the balcony late into the night. Tip: candles are a great alternative to electric lights, especially in the evening. They provide comfort and even warmth. You will find further suggestions in our article “In the right light: seven ideas for atmospheric lighting on the balcony”.

A man and a woman are sitting talking on a rectangular balcony tabletop. It is evening and the lights around them are on.

With the right lighting, you can relax on a balcony until late in the evening.

Privacy screen: protect yourself from prying eyes

Regardless of the direction the balcony faces, a privacy screen may be necessary. This is especially true when the balcony itself is kept quite open. After all, you don’t want the neighbors to watch you sunbathe. Plastic stretched across the side of the balcony is effective, irrespective of humidity. If your balcony faces east or south, opt for natural materials such as wood or natural fabric. They will dry faster in the sun and therefore stay attractive for longer. If the balcony is fairly low down and you are afraid of people looking at you from above, a sun sail or awning will help. These accessories will of course also offer good sun protection if necessary.

Plants: a natural, green look

Plants are the perfect balcony decoration. As you may have guessed, exposure again plays a major role. There are plants that only thrive in direct sunlight, while others even grow well in the shade. Here are a few tips for your balcony.

South balcony (sun): geraniums, petunias, lilies, daisies, citrus plants and many herbs such as oregano, basil and dill.

East/west balcony (half-shade): anemones, dahlias, lilac, chamomile, leek as well as herbs like lovage, mint and cress.

North balcony (shade): hosta, ferns, evergreens, lobelia as well as herbs including wild garlic, tarragon and parsley.

A woman sits on a chair on a balcony and admires all the potted plants around her.

Plants not only give your balcony a natural look, but also add a touch of color.

Balcony flooring: wood, tiles, carpet and more

It’s not only the furniture that is important for a balcony, but also the surface it stands on. Rugs and carpets are available for outdoor use, for instance. Although they are usually resistant to cold and moisture, they still take a long time to dry. This makes them less suitable for shady balconies. A floor made of wood, tiles or plain concrete is better. Find out which flooring options there are and what you should pay attention to in the article "Balcony tiles: materials, style, costs”.

Conclusion: spend time outside almost all year round

A balcony can be a source of joy for a large part of the year – at least if it’s facing the right direction. In the south, for example, you can enjoy the sun’s rays for a particularly long time. You can sit and relax in the fresh air from spring until well into the fall. In particularly hot summers, however, a balcony facing north is also a pleasure.

Whichever direction it faces, a balcony should always be designed appropriately. Look for furniture that is suitable for the intended purpose, and that is made of material for the relevant humidity conditions, depending on the exposure. You can create a wonderful atmosphere with colors and lighting. It doesn’t matter if you have only a small balcony, or a larger balcony with lots of space.

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