A friend emailed asking if I would design a DIY balcony canopy kit for a condo complex. Its function would be to provide sun protection and improve curb appeal. It would bring uniformity to the exterior façade, as all of the residents would be asked to adopt the system or use nothing at all.
Currently, each condo owner with a balcony facing west has to deal with the issue of the scorching afternoon sun in their own individual way. And the overall result has become quite unsightly. Thus, design-minded residents on the board of the homeowner’s association are in the process of forming a “balcony committee!”
I am glad my friend turned to me. It’s a fun challenge for DIY Ally. I am usually good at stuff like this. Actually, taking something readily available and repurposing it by customizing is a hobby of mine (take a look at a free downloadable ideaBook 02 Upcycling IKEA).
However, this time it’s different. No customization is allowed. It has to be 100% off-the-shelf. People should be able to get all of the components at a store, assemble, and install without turning to a welder or a seamstress. At least, that’s the starting point.
Step one: identify design inspiration
To unload ideas, I do not refer to existing examples of awnings by going on Houzz. Instead, to chart the design direction, I put together a mood board or an inspiration collage from magazine clippings (see cover image). I envision a canopy as a sail, hovering over. The intent is crystalizing. I am inclined to design a balcony canopy that feels light and promotes a sense of effortlessness.
Step two: consider the project’s scope
Once I conjure up this image, I can begin to think about translating it into the actual, well-functioning contraption.
I have to be concerned with:
- Attachment to the wall
- Availability of hardware and materials
Step three: focus on the design objective
I drive to The Home Depot near me. At this point, I do not quite know what I am looking for. I’ve ruled out using lumber, though. I start walking the isles. At some point, I notice a frame made of galvanized tubing. It’s a chain-link gate.
Aha! I can do something like that. Instead of chain-link, a piece of fabric can be stretched on a frame. The frame can be made out of copper pipe. I rush to the plumbing department to see what’s available in terms of corners and connectors. Seems doable.
Step four: keep in mind DIY constraints
Next concern is various constraints of the physical installation. Each resident is supposed to DYI it or hire a handyman. It should be very straightforward and easy to do.
I have the building wall to attach the canopy to along one side. What about the other two corners? Obviously, I’d like to avoid introducing additional bulky structure to support the balcony canopy. Can I float it in the air? It can be cantilevered on brackets. But nothing I like is readily available.
Step five: approach every challenge as an opportunity (balcony canopy or anything else, for this matter)
Of course, it would be easy to have a welder make something minimal up. But that’s not allowed. No problem. DIY Ally in me sees every challenge as an opportunity. I buy a few sample copper connectors and leave The Home Depot. I am not worried. I know that I will come up with a solution. I just have to give myself a chance to incubate.
Step six: don’t settle on the very first idea — keep refining
OK! I got it. The balcony canopy can be suspended on cables! That would be an elegant solution, quite easy to DIY. Next question is how to attach the fabric to it. One way would be to have folding tabs with heavy-duty Velcro. Uh! I just thought of something else. What about you? Do you have other thoughts? Please send your suggestions here.