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Designing Outdoor Summer Spaces

Suite Arquitetos - Casa Cor - Nature in Design
Suite Arquitetos - Casa Cor - Nature in Design

Almost everyone enjoys spending time outdoors when the weather is fine, and I’m always looking for ways to make my garden more inviting. One of the best ways to do this is to design a functional and stylish outdoor summer space that is a natural continuation of the indoor space. Many of the general rules of designing outdoor summer spaces are the same as used with an interior, with a few essential considerations.

When designing an outdoor living space, here are a few things I keep in mind. Firstly, think about the purpose of the space. Will it be used for entertaining, relaxing, or both? Once you’ve decided the purpose of the space, make a list of what’s essential and what’s desirable. Lighting, water features, and items such as a jacuzzi, fire-pit or barbecue, will require power and plumbing, this will all need installing before the hard-standing goes down – so make sure it’s in the design early on. In an area for entertaining, there must be plenty of seating. Eating outside is a special pleasure, so think about space for a dining table, and maybe a covered bar area or small kitchenette. If you’re looking for a space to relax, it will need comfortable seating, maybe sun-loungers and areas of shade.

Before rushing out to look for furniture, it’s very important to consider the climate. If it’s a hot climate, you’ll need to make sure the space is well-shaded and has plenty of water features to cool the air – make sure it’s moving water through a rill or fountain; stagnant water is paradise for mosquitos! If it’s a cold climate, you’ll need to make sure the space is well-protected – stone or brick walls are good for keeping the temperature up, and hedges are nature’s windbreakers.

No matter what the climate or budget, there are a few things you can do to design a beautiful and functional outdoor living space. Here are a few of my tips: 

Photo by Lindsey LaMont

1 - Drawing Existing Themes and Designs from Inside

Begin inside the house. Think about how you will access the space and how it could affect existing views. Look at interior styling and how that can be connected to the outside by extending lines or themes. A balcony or terrace adjacent to the house can be beautifully incorporated by simply extending existing lines outwards on floors or walls. I’ve learned that the most satisfying result is a space that feels like a continuation of the home, so spend time looking at how you can draw the inside to the outside seamlessly with lines, colors, and styles.

2 - Checking the Vistas and Practicality

Next, go outside. Take time to consider the views. Whether it’s a small terrace facing a wall or grand meadow with a panoramic vista, you will be sitting and looking at this – so what do you want your space to be facing when you position everything? Walk around looking from each angle to see what you can see. Remember, the best viewpoint for outdoor summer spaces might not be the most practical – do you really want to walk that far with a cup of tea each morning? At the same time try to log where the sun rises and sets at the times of the year and the hours when you want to use the space.

3 - Planning and Planting

Now it’s time to start drawing plans to envisage the layout. Try to measure as much as possible because the space will appear to shrink as soon as furniture is positioned, and plants mature. Think about the flow and make sure there’s enough space for people to move around comfortably. If your outdoor room is away from the house, think about walkways to the area; a straight path makes a space feel bigger, a curving walkway adds cosiness and frequently changes the aspect. Arches and arbors are a great way to make a garden space feel like an outdoor room, but too much can be overwhelming and restrict the light. With spaces that aren’t adjacent to the home I’d always seek advice from a horticultural expert before going any further. A climber or low hedge might look perfect in the plan, but you want to make sure you won’t need a machete to hack through after a couple of seasons!
Planning and Planting
Photo by Jan Canty

4 - Getting the Lighting Right

Don’t forget artificial lighting: if it’s a space for entertaining you’ll certainly need some kind of lighting after sunset. Make sure you take plenty of time to get the illumination right. Good lighting is essential to fully enjoying your outdoor living space and creating the mood. It can be very effective to mix a variety of lighting options, such as lamps, string lights, lanterns, and candles, to create a warm and inviting atmosphere.
Outdoor Lighting Design
Photo by Randy Fath

5 - Choosing Materials for Surfaces

When choosing materials for your outdoor living space, it’s very important to consider the climate and your budget. If you live in a hot climate, you’ll want to choose materials that are heat-resistant and won’t fade in the sun. If you live in a cold climate, you’ll want materials that are durable and won’t crack or chip in the cold. Stone paviours and vitrified porcelain tiles are great for paths and terraces, avoid marble unless the climate is very dry as it can be very slippery when wet. Gravel is superb for drainage if you have high rainfall, or uneven ground to cover.

6 - Selecting Materials for Furniture

Once you’ve constructed the hard-standing, it’s time to think of the furniture for your outdoor summer space. Don’t forget all the ideas from the planning stages, pulling the threads of a theme from inside the home will make the space feel more comfortable as if it’s a natural extension of the house. Again, consider the climate. Wooden furniture works well in most environments, because it rarely gets too hot or too cold, but will need an annual varnish to keep it strong. Stone or iron is very durable, but prone to getting very hot or cold in certain climates.

Outdoor furnishing
Photo by Collov Home Design

7 - Furnishing the Space

Add plenty of seating. No outdoor living space is complete without comfortable seating. Choose a variety of seating options, such as chairs, sofas, and ottomans, so that everyone can find a comfortable spot to relax. Attractive cushions, throws, maybe a rug or cabana drapes, can really lift a design with elegance and color, but make sure you have somewhere dry to store it when the rain comes! If you’re adding a dining area, choose a table and chairs that are the right size for your space and that will connect the overall style.

8 - Adding the Finishing Touches

Finally, add some greenery, plants in pots become ornaments and focal points. Plants easily add life and color to any outdoor space. Choose a variety of plants that will thrive in your climate and will provide shade and privacy but be careful to keep it relevant in size to the space. There is a huge range available of statuary and sculpture in all designs from classical to modern – this is a great chance to add a beautiful point of interest, just like you might add an antique indoors, except that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

With a little planning and effort, you can create a beautiful and functional outdoor living space that will be enjoyed for years to come.