Outdoor Living, An Open Brief?
As the fabulous Roy Ayres once said “Everybody loves the sunshine!”.
Unfortunately, it seems whoever is in charge of the weather for 2023 perhaps hasn’t heard that song. I originally intended this blog post to be the main subject of our July issue, but every time I sat down to write I would take one look out of the window and that would be that. I may as well have been trying to write an advert selling sand to the Saudis. It just wasn’t happening.
But, as much as we Brits love to moan about the weather, I believe that deep down we all love the rain a bit. We are, after all, an island nation, and it’s our maritime climate that provides us with such green and fertile outdoor spaces.
Something else I believe (and I may be on my own here, but whatever) if it weren’t for all the rain, we wouldn’t appreciate our days of sunshine anywhere near as much!
You already know where I’m going with this, so I’ll cut to the chase. Outdoor living is a privilege we get to enjoy all too little in this country. So when the opportunity presents itself, we generally want to grab it with both hands.
For many of us, the image of a dream house would not be complete without some sort of outside space we can call our own. Whether it’s a sprawling garden, a compact patio or a cosy balcony, an outdoor area for relaxation and entertainment is for some, as important as any other room in the home.
So how do we make the most of these potentially mood-boosting, stress-relieving oases of joy?
Well, with the right design elements and a little creativity, you could turn a basic outdoor space into a stylish open-air feature room that may elevate your house value just as much as your mood.
Interested? Jump on board and let’s dive into some design concepts and ideas that I hope will inspire you, whether you want to create a peaceful retreat for relaxation or a space for entertaining friends and family.
I’ll also cover some practical tips to help you overcome any challenges you may face along the way.
The Benefits Of An Outdoor Living Space
If you’re still reading, I’ll assume you agree that an outdoor living space offers numerous benefits that can greatly enhance our lifestyle. But of course, depending on our physical place and time of life, our perception of these benefits will differ.
It might simply be that our outside space allows us to enjoy the beauty of nature without sacrificing the comforts of home. Perhaps it’s all about sipping your first coffee of the day surrounded by the fresh morning air, hosting a dinner party under the stars, or – like me right now – enjoying the benefits of a laptop and taking your work out of the house.
Either way, spending time outdoors has been proven to have a positive impact on our mental and physical health. Fresh air and natural sunlight boost mood and energy levels, while the calming sounds of nature can help reduce stress and anxiety. A well-designed outdoor living space can become your personal retreat, a place where you can unwind and recharge after a long day.
And as I alluded to earlier, an outdoor living space can significantly increase the value of your property. Ever since the ‘P’ word back in 2020, homebuyers are increasingly looking for places with functional outdoor areas. Investing in your outdoor space adds value to your property and allows you to enjoy it while increasing its market price.
Where To Begin
Before designing your outdoor space, evaluate its strengths and limitations to create your ideal living area. Consider the size and shape of your space, as well as any existing features such as trees or structures.
Take note of the sunlight and shade it receives throughout the day. Will it be prone to wind or rain? All these factors will impact your choice of plants and where you position seating areas.
Next, think about the purpose of your outdoor space. Do you want a peaceful sanctuary for relaxation, a space for entertaining guests, or a combination of both? Knowing how you want to use your outdoor space will help you make smart choices for its design and function.
Finally, consider any practical considerations such as privacy, noise levels, and access to utilities. These factors will influence your choice of fencing, landscaping, and outdoor amenities. By thoroughly assessing your outdoor space, you can tailor your design to make the most of its unique characteristics.
Plan and Budget Your Project
Creating your dream outdoor living space doesn’t have to break the bank. With a well-planned budget, you can achieve stunning results while staying within your financial means. Decide how much money you want to spend on your outdoor space and divide it between furniture, accessories, landscaping, and lighting.
Find out how much materials and services cost nearby to get an accurate idea of what you’ll need to pay. Don’t forget to factor in any additional expenses such as permits or professional fees. If your budget is limited, consider prioritising certain elements and saving others for future upgrades.
Remember, a beautiful outdoor space doesn’t have to be expensive. By being creative and resourceful, you can find affordable alternatives that still offer style and quality. Set a budget that works for you, and stick to it throughout the planning and implementation process.
Design Your Outdoor Living Space
The exciting bit, where you get to unleash your creativity and bring your vision to life. Hardly surprising that many of us are tempted to gloss over the whole planning and budgeting phase, and start here.
I know it’s dull, but take it from someone who does this for a living, even a mediocre plan is better than no plan at all.
Done your plan, got your budget? Okay, let’s crack on.
Start by considering the overall style you want to achieve. Do you prefer a modern and minimalist look, or do you lean towards a more traditional and cosy atmosphere? Browse some magazines, websites, and social media for inspiration and create a mood board to help you visualise your ideas.
Next, think about the layout of your outdoor area. You can approach this just like you would any open-plan space, by dividing it into different zones based on their intended use, such as dining, lounging, cooking, etc.
Use furniture and accessories to create distinct areas, making sure you leave enough space for the flow of movement between them.
Choose your materials, bearing in mind some items will need to withstand the elements. From natural stone and wood to metal and synthetic materials, there are endless possibilities here to suit your style and budget. Don’t be afraid to mix and match textures and finishes to add visual interest and create a unique look.
Personally, I’m a fan of wood and metal (and of course a bit of ceramic). I find that the more natural the material, the easier it is to blend various pieces with each other. And the more they lend themselves to outdoor spaces.
This is a great time to visit vintage dealers and reclamation yards. Not only can you find items with an authentic ‘pre-weathered’ look, but you’ll also find inspiration for ways to upcycle pieces that may have started life with a completely different purpose. We’ve all seen the funky things that can be done with old pallets and scaffolding boards.
Choosing Furniture and Accessories
Furniture and accessories play a crucial role in creating a comfortable and inviting outdoor living space. When selecting furniture, prioritise comfort and durability. Opt for pieces with weather-resistant materials and cushions that can withstand outdoor conditions.
Consider also the size and scale of your space. Oversized pieces can overwhelm a small space, while small furniture can get lost in a large area. Aim to create a balance between functionality and aesthetics.
When it comes to accessories, think about pieces that enhance the functionality as well as the ambience of your outdoor area. Install a heater (or a fire pit if you have that luxury) to extend the usability of your space during cooler months. Fixed seating such as benches is great for incorporating storage solutions to keep your essentials organised. Throw pillows, rugs, and artwork add personality and a well-placed mirror is perfect for creating the illusion of greater space.
Lighting and Ambience
Lighting is an essential aspect of creating the right ambience in your outdoor living space. It not only enhances the functionality of your outdoor area but also sets the mood for different occasions. Consider a combination of task lighting, ambient lighting, and accent lighting to create a well-balanced and visually appealing space.
For functional areas such as cooking and dining, install task lighting that’s sufficient for the task at hand. Consider options such as pendant lights, wall-mounted fixtures, or built-in lighting solutions. Ensure that the lighting is well positioned to avoid casting shadows or causing glare.
Ambient lighting is key in creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. Use soft and diffused lighting options such as string lights, lanterns, or wall sconces. Ooh, did someone say Porcelain Lighting? 😉 Consider installing dimmers or timers to adjust the brightness and create different moods.
Finally, try some accent lighting to highlight architectural features, plants, or artwork. Use spotlights to draw attention to specific elements and create a focal point. Experiment with different lighting techniques to create depth and drama.
Landscaping and Plants
If space allows, think about incorporating landscaping and plants wherever possible. I’ve written before about the concept of biophilia and the concept of bringing the outdoors indoors. That whole strategy of using greenery to add colour, texture, and life to your area is just as relevant here. Whether you have a large garden or a small balcony, there are plenty of options to suit your space.
Start by considering the climate and choose plants that are well-suited to your local environment, to ensure their long-term health and growth. Try to Incorporate a variety of plants, mixing different heights, colours, and textures to create visual interest and depth. Vertical gardening techniques such as trellises and hanging baskets are a great way to maximise space in smaller areas.
When planning our garden we knew we wanted a Mediterranean feel. The plot is a triangle shape with a beautiful view overlooking fields which we wanted to make the most of. Our final design created a dining area, a firepit with benches around it (using old railway sleepers which we found in the garden) and a BBQ area, all centred around a beautiful olive tree.
We also knew we wanted the same floor tiles inside and outside to give that seamless ‘inside / outside’ feel. We chose the large rectangular Hendre Creme porcelain tiles from Mandarin Stone as they come in both an indoor and an outdoor version (the outdoor version has a higher slip rating).
The planting was mainly made up of olives, rosemary and lavender which as well as complementing our mediterranean theme also produced a wonderful scent. We also included some alliums to maintain a purple, green and white colour scheme.
One of the best things about having an outdoor living space is the opportunity to dine ‘al fresco’. And if you’re lucky enough to have the space, being able to cook outside as well is such a bonus. It might be that a portable barbecue is all you have room for, but it makes all the difference.
On the other hand, if you have more space to spare, invest in an outdoor kitchen with built-in grill, sink, and storage space or a pizza oven and suddenly you’re at a whole new level of outdoor entertaining. Consider your lifestyle and the type of gatherings you envision having in your outdoor space. If you love hosting large parties, a spacious dining table with ample seating is a must. If you prefer intimate gatherings, a cosy bistro-style arrangement or a built-in bar counter may be more suitable.
Whatever setup you opt for, don’t forget the main focus here is comfort. With any luck, you and your guests will be hanging out here late into the evening, so make sure to create a comfortable seating area that encourages the clock to be ignored and the conversation to flow as easily as the wine.