Creative and beautiful ways to utilize building setbacks

Creative and beautiful ways to utilize building setbacks

What are setbacks?

You may have wondered, why leave so much space around a building, when you can utilize building setbacks for so many other activities. But the authorities, depending on where you live, make you follow some basic rules for a building design, whether you like it or not. You have to follow these building codes for design and then get your design approved by the relevant authorities.

One of the most important code, which you are supposed to follow are the building setbacks. These are the spaces around the building, where you are not allowed to build or cover them in any case. They are really important for your building. Without these spaces your building won’t breathe. And all you will have inside is a dark and dead space.

These setbacks can be designed really creatively once you stop perceiving them as dead or negative spaces. How you utilize these spaces will have a huge impact not only on your surroundings but also on the spaces inside. When these spaces become a part of your daily household activities, your interior spaces will also unfold and blend with the outdoors, consequently resulting in you drawing your curtains and letting your interior breathing fresh air and absorbing the warmth of daylight.


Now we have some creative ideas to help you re-imagine the currently dead spaces around your house.  We will try to focus more on side yards. Because in most cases, people do find some purpose for their backyards. But yes. The side yards are hugely ignored.

Some of these ideas may still apply, even if you are living in an apartment, and all you have got is a tiny terrace for an open space.

Extending the inside out.

We, the architects, cannot just focus enough on how important it is to extend and blend the inside of your spaces with the outside through flexibility in design. If you are lucky, you can blend your living room with your pool and lawn. But most of us have a very limited square footage, which we need to utilize very carefully. Blending any interior space with the outdoors, especially when the said outdoor space is just a few feet wide is bold and will require a lot of considerations before you remove your peripheral wall. You can consider this option, either if you are up for utilizing your backyard, which is usually wider than the side yards, or if you have a corner plot and your side passage is not obstructed by your neighbors.

How to achieve it?

One way to achieve this is, if you utilize this space for gardening and landscaping and opening your views towards it. You may consider removing your peripheral wall and fixing large glass doors or some open-able screens.

But if you want to utilize this space for some other use, you might need to install some temporary roof structure, like skylight on MS frames or wooden pergolas covered with fiber glass sheets to cover this space from the top, and then you can remove your peripheral wall altogether. 

Edible Garden

Another amazing thing which your setbacks can be utilized for is the edible gardening. Here you may use the technique of vertical gardening to make the most of this lean strip. Growing your own herbs and lemons in your side yard. Isn’t that amazing?

Adding a water body!

A water body in any space induces a very calm and tranquil environment. It does not only provide a beautiful sight, but also buffers from outside, thus bringing thermal and acoustic comfort. Then again. This one is the most risky of all the options. The bigger the water body, more maintenance it will require. An alternate to it can be providing a water wall or a sculptural fountain.


If you feel like your side passage or backyard is being obstructed by neighboring buildings, you don’t need to go for grassy and green patches.  You can have this space hardscaped with rocks or wood or a combination of both. You can lay a pathway with pebbles and stone. Or if your space allows then install a wooden deck covered with pergolas at the top. Hardscaping is by far the easiest and almost maintenance free solution so far. You can of corse place different plants in pots which don’t require much of sunlight.

BBQ Areas

BBQ area is more like an activity area, and cannot be managed in a lean side yard. You will require your backyard for this purpose. To have a bbq area in your backyard, raise a wooden deck in a corner and cover it with pergolas or any shade of your choice. You can have a very nice, semi covered gathering space, where you can entertain your friends on weekends.

Activity area for kids

If you have a small home with kids, you should definitely incorporate some of their outdoor activities within your house, so they get their exposure, even when you feel like staying home all evening. If you want to utilize your sideyard for kids, you can simply landscape a hopscotch, hang a swing there or just use it for cycling. The best idea is to keep this space flexible and use it for multiple activities, so your kids don’t get bored.

Don’t limit yourself to decorating your backyard with colorful plastic toys, to attract your kids outside. Just provide them with a child friendly space and leave the rest to their imagination.

Corner plots

In case of a corner plot, don’t confine yourself within your plot. You have extra margin of landscaping the area outside your property line, so when your trees grow old, they won’t only provide a shade on the road, but will also provide privacy from outside views.


Since we are taking advantage of very compact, tiny and almost ignored spaces, it is very important for it to be very well lit. You should invest in multiple light fixtures on walls and at floor level. Run LED light strips along the landscaping. Hang fairy lights over your windows. Make sure your setbacks are well lit even at night, only then will they look like a part of your home.

Join The Discussion

Compare listings