Throw away the plastic chairs and picnic table that have seen better days, and see how to turn an outdoor area into a summer sitting room
1. Create shelter
The most significant enhancement you can make to your outdoor spaces is to create flexible shelter from the elements. When spring brings burning sun, blowing winds, a tropical downpour and cool evenings – possibly all in the same day – good shelter allows you to spend more time comfortably outside. A covered pergola is just as effective as a roof extension if your budget is on the tighter side.
This outdoor room has overhead louvres, which can control sun exposure and completely close off for a dry, comfortable space. Unlike a fixed roof, louvres also provide great ventilation when the weather is hot, allowing warm air to be vented out of the space.
Exterior shutters for sections of the walls provide flexible control to block out wind and rain, allow breezes for ventilation, and moderate the sun.
2. Add heat
Once you have achieved a flexible, sheltered space, the next step is to provide heating, as in most parts of the country evenings are still cool. One way to maximise the use of your outdoor room is an open wood fire, which, as well as creating a wonderful ambience and heat, can also be designed for cooking – even if it’s just marshmallows.
An easier option is a gas fireplace. You get the pretty flames, but without the hassle of chopping or storing wood. And it’s easy to light, so it provides instant heat with nearly the same ambience. Flueless models give you the flexibility of designing a hearth with no chimney, and you can choose from river rocks, coal embers, or even fake logs to suit your style.
PRO TIP: Ensure you seek professional advice on the size of the surround space for the gas fitting you choose, as you will need to ensure sufficient clearance for the heat capacity of the fire. If your place is near the sea, be sure to specify salt-resistant materials, although some rust is inevitable when they’re kept outdoors.
3. Bring on the light
As with interiors, the right lighting can make or break your outdoor space. Sure, candles on the table are pretty, but do not overlook the opportunities to create more atmosphere in your outdoor room. If you have a solid roof over your space, you have the opportunity for feature pendant lighting. Just be sure that they are certified for outdoor use. In a larger outdoor room with a ceiling lining the overhead roof, you can also use ceiling-mounted LED downlights, great for washing light down a wall or creating general illumination. However, as in a living room, when using downlights it’s important to complement them with feature and ambient lighting.
4. Furnish with care
This is where you can really turn your outdoor space into a proper living area. Just like inside your home, comfort and functionality are paramount when choosing the furniture for your outdoor room. Think about how you will use your space. Will it change depending on the season? Do you want pieces for summer sunbathing or to cosy up on a sunny winter’s day? Provide flexibility to accommodate varying numbers of people, and think about what will work for formal and informal gatherings. Ottomans, side tables and coffee tables also add functionality, and create more of an ‘interior’ style for your outdoor area. They also provide extra seating or somewhere to put your feet up when you’re ready to unwind.
While quality is always important when buying any furniture, it’s even more critical with outdoor furniture exposed to the extremes of sun, rain and wind. There have been huge advances in fabric technology, however, meaning you can leave upholstered pieces outside all year round. Outdoor fabrics now come in more than just plains, stripes or seaside geometrics, and being largely acrylic, are UV-, mildew- and stain-resistant, as well as durable and easy to keep clean.
PRO TIP: Always specify an all-weather, quick-dry foam for your seat cushions, as it has a mesh bottom that allows the water to drain out.
This is where you can really amp up the indoor look in the outdoors. Don’t think that just because this is an exterior space that you can’t accessorise. If you have the shelter elements in place, don’t hold back. Start with rugs; you’ll find a large selection of rugs specifically designed to handle the outdoor elements. Made from fibres such as nylon, polyester, polypropylene, and even bamboo, they are often treated to be mold- and fade-resistant, and are durable, light-fast and quick drying. A rug helps to anchor a seating area and, most importantly, adds colour and pattern.
Layer up with throws and beautiful blankets that you can change out with the progress of the season. Start with cosy woollen throws as the winter turns into spring, and transition to a beautiful Turkish cotton throw in the summer. Even on the hottest day, it’s nice to have a bit of cover during that all-important afternoon nap.
In a small space or a quirky garden room, mirrors are a wonderful addition. They help to bounce light around a shady corner, and reflect twinkly candlelight for those long summer evenings around the dining table. Thinking outside the square in terms of the shape and design of your outdoor mirror can achieve wonderful results, adding architecture where there is none. Line up some of your favourite ceramics, and pot up coloured annuals or herbs for tables or empty corners, and you’ll be happy to live outdoors all summer long.