An expert guide to balcony design

Get a better outlook from an upper storey by including a walk-on or Juliet design

By Andrea Manley | 6 May 2021

Balconies can range from a bespoke architect design that wraps around more than one side of a house to small, bolt-on retrofit systems. If you’re looking for balcony design ideas, this guide will help you decide on the aspect, material and build method to suit your needs, budget and the style of your house.

South-facing installations benefit from an abundance of light. But there are advantages to any orientation. ‘Even a balcony facing north will get morning and evening sunlight in the summer,’ says architect Adrian James.

balcony design ideas: This balcony serves as solar shading for the huge expanse of south facing glass

This balcony serves as solar shading for the huge expanse of south-facing glass. Photo: Bradley Quinn

Walk-on balcony designs

There are several ways to build a balcony. The method chosen depends on how you’d like it to look, the size you want and budget. A cantilevered balcony extends out from the house with no visible means of support. Usually made from concrete, steel or timber joists, it imposes a heavy weight load on the building. Building it into  the main structure is a relatively expensive option.

A balcony design with columns of metal or timber fixed into the ground is more straightforward and less costly. The posts take the balcony’s weight, conferring minimal load on the building. This type is suitable for retrofitting. Bolt-on systems using brackets or tie rods work effectively for smaller designs. This won’t have the physical or visual obstruction of column supports.

Designed for the view

A Juliet balcony has a frameless glass balustrade of toughened, laminated glass. This comprises two layers of toughened glass with an interlayer between them. A frameless balustrade without a handrail has an ionoplast interlayer that’s even stronger and stiffer. If both panes break the structure will stay upright and in situ. Most sliding door versions have the balustrade fixed internally, within the base track of the door frame. Bi-folding or hinged door designs that fold inwards have the balustrade fixed externally. Bolts go through the glass balustrade into the exterior wall surface. Or via specialist fixing clamps that connect the balustrade to the door frame.

large oak wrap-around balcony by Roderick James

A green oak balcony by Roderick James wraps around two sides of this oak-framed house. Photo: Matthew Heritage

Choose a frame

When considering balcony design ideas, think about whether you want a metal, concrete or timber frame. Hot-dip galvanising steel frames prevents rust and corrosion. Powder coating adds colour and a uniform finish. Cast aluminium is virtually indistinguishable from cast iron in look and feel. It is a good material for period-style balconies. It’s about one third the weight of cast iron and requires fewer structural posts. There’s also no need for extensive concrete foundations, which can save installation time and money. Timber frames look great on both traditional or modern homes. Choose from green oak, Douglas fir or larch. Oak is the strongest, requires very little maintenance and is one of the few materials that increases in strength with age, and is the most expensive option.