Q: The house my husband and I are renting is on a corner lot. We want some patio furniture, but: There is no backyard except a narrow walkway between the house and a fence, the front yard is small and close to the sidewalk, and the side yard is big but has no access from the house. My dream is to have an outdoor dining/gathering area, but how can I do this?
A: Outdoor living and furniture is a big deal right now. You'd be surprised how inviting you can make any outdoor space feel without it needing to be huge. Just have a corner for chairs and lighting.
A fence would help, but contrary to what you might think, being fully enclosed from the street behind a thick wall isn't actually inviting. What you really want is to see the action on the street, while you remain separate, protected a little. You know how you feel when you sit on your favorite restaurant's porch? Study how these places work, and see if you can figure out why they feel comfortable. Generally there is some sense of enclosure on at least two sides, with an interesting view or feature toward the middle.
Since you are renting, you might not want to add permanent landscaping features, but you can have large plants or small trees in pots that you can move to your next place. If there is already a tree in the yard, let that be the anchor. Create "corners" with this or another huge plant — as big as you can afford — and smaller plants extending to the sides. If you have two or three corners, you can easily create a "room" by stringing party lights in between the posts, or extending from the posts to a single point at the house or a large tree, to give the sense of a cozy "tent."
Like any room inside your home, your outside rooms should also have a focal feature to help organize the space. A fire pot, water feature, pizza oven, trellis, a view into the distance or even to a pretty tree in the neighborhood will work. If it's in your yard, however, you can place some lighting around this feature so it looks great even after dark.
Think about adding a variety of places to sit, depending on your mood and how many people will use the space. And, depending on your climate, have some seating in the sun, in the shade, some at a bench or sitting wall, and a small table for two or a larger table big enough for all your friends.
You and your friends will be so busy enjoying yourselves, you won't notice the yard is small. Have fun, and let me know what you end up with.