You may have noticed that alfresco living is here to stay – perhaps one of the silver linings of global warming, at least in the short term. The good news is that if your home has some private outdoor space, whether it’s a small patio or a large lawned garden, you have an opportunity to create an outside living area for maximum relaxation for yourself and/or entertaining with friends and family.
Creating the ideal outdoor living space can be an exciting project and it doesn’t need to be hugely expensive. We’ve put together some handy hints and tips on how you might go about it.
1. Work with what you have
Take a good look at the outdoor space available to you and see how you could work with it. How big is your garden and what is the layout? Is the space open and overlooked or sheltered and private? How do you access your outside areas? Patio or bifold doors are perfect for linking the outside and inside. Are there any awkward sheds, garages or garden buildings you need to work around or any unsightly structures you wish to hide?
Having a larger garden obviously gives you more scope and more options for adding features and decorations such as statues, arbours or water features. Then again, just adding more ‘stuff’ isn’t necessarily the answer. A minimalist, low-maintenance garden can work just as well as a traditional English cottage garden design.
Before you do anything else, you need to work out how you want to use the space, and the rest follows from there.
2. Design your outdoor living room
Creating a cosy and inviting alfresco living room is the key area to focus on. A casual outdoor sitting and/or dining area is a great space for entertaining guests, hosting a garden party or a BBQ, or just somewhere for you and the family to unwind and recharge. Look for generously proportioned lounging furniture and a dining table and chairs to accommodate all family members and more – but make sure it doesn’t dominate the space.
Just as you would do inside your house, you should apply the same design rigour to the garden area. Create a cohesive ‘outdoor room’ scheme and colours that link to your interior styles, so your home has a harmonious flow whether you’re standing in the kitchen or sitting on the patio. A seamless theme will connect the outside and the inside of your home, blurring the lines.
3. Plenty of seating for all
There are countless ways to make lounging alfresco enjoyable and indulgent, with solutions available for all budgets – ranging from simple hammocks, deckchairs and weatherproof beanbags to hanging egg chairs and luxury outdoor sofa sets. If dining alfresco is more your thing, you might consider investing in a large table and chairs or a full dining set. If your garden is on the bijou side, a small bistro set could be a charming addition.
The material you choose for your garden furniture will affect the style and atmosphere of your outdoor space. Go for traditional wood for a more natural, organic feel, or metal for a more contemporary touch. Add plenty of colourful cushions to soften the hard materials and make the area cosy and appealing, while drawing the eye.
4. Protection from the elements
Assuming that you want to make the most out of your outdoor living room all year round, covered shelter is an absolute must. A simple parasol or shade sail may be sufficient for hot sunny days, but properly constructed gazebos or weatherproof aluminium pergolas will give you more bang for your buck whatever the weather while taking your garden design to the next level.
Choose a size and style that suit the overall proportions and general vibe of your garden and create a great functional outdoor getaway space that you can use in summer or wintertime. The most advanced pergolas have electric retractable roofs and added side screens to help you make the most of your garden at any time of the year.
5. Outdoor cooking in style
Summertime is barbecue time – somehow it always tastes better eating out in the garden with friends – and flitting in and out of the kitchen between cooking and serving is disruptive, especially when you have guests. If you entertain a lot, a proper BBQ is a minimum requirement. Go for a budget-friendly traditional coal-fired barbecue grill, or a no-mess, fuss-free gas BBQ. Even the smallest patio will fit a modest appliance.
However, if you’re not pushed for space and have a bit more room for manoeuvre in terms of budget for such a key garden upgrade, there are many more options you can go for. At the top end of the scale, there are fully fitted outdoor kitchens that can feature all sorts of luxuries including a full sink, cooker with extra grill plates, oven with warming drawers, dedicated pizza oven, beer fridge or wine cooler! Design your outdoor kitchen just as you would your main kitchen. The only limitation is your imagination.
6. Lighting and heating
Finally, for maximum convenience and comfort, your outdoor living area should be able to function day and night, summer and winter. This requires the addition of garden lighting to transform the space into a cosy haven after dark. Depending on the atmosphere you are hoping to create, you can use the right lighting scheme to highlight key garden features, create a twinkling oasis or just add illumination where it’s needed.
If you have a semi-indoor space, you could benefit from a gas fireplace that provides luxury and comfort for your summer gatherings. Chances are you don’t want to spend all your time outdoors; guests will want to mill around and sit indoors for a time as well. If you have a chiminea or fire pit outside, you can have a gas fireplace inside to create a focus for conversations and some warmth.
Additional heating will also help you extend the time you and your guests can spend comfortably in your private outdoor space. How about installing a chiminea or fire pit into a suitable area of your garden to bring a functional yet aesthetically stunning wow factor to the space? It’s the perfect focal point around which to congregate when the sun goes down, with optional marshmallows roasting over the open fire!0