Bring the Indoors Outdoors – 365 Days of the Year

The inside-outside garden is all about creating flow from your inside to your outdoor space, so one naturally blends into the other and the garden feels like an extension of your home. This has become all the more important since the pandemic, with outdoor entertaining listed as a top trend for 2021 by interiors website Houzz.

“Over the past year, there’s not been much to go out and see, so making your garden into a multi-dimensional kind of fifth room is growing in importance – somewhere your kids can play, where you can work or relax, have a family barbecue or grow your own veg,” says Isabelle Palmer of The Balcony Gardener, in London, who specialises in designing small urban gardens.  

Give me shelter


Now that we’re all spending more time in the garden in all weathers, it’s worth considering some form of cover or awning over a patio or terrace. You will want to make sure it is durable and that the design complements your home and garden.

Aluminium louvred roof canopies, or pergolas, will offer shade from the sun, shelter from the rain, and are low-maintenance. You can choose a fixed or retractable cover with louvred slats operated by remote control. You can even find patio covers with LED lighting, heating and sound systems incorporated – though expect to pay thousands of pounds for top-of-the range covers.

Alternatively, if you’re a competent DIY’er and are looking for a cheaper option, you could build a timber pergola, or a glass or Perspex cover. 

Remember that patio roofs also offer privacy from neighbours in upstairs rooms and that glass or Perspex will be more exposed, can provide little shade and can be difficult to clean, and that a timber pergola will need regular maintenance.

You should not need planning permission for a patio cover so long as it is single height (not more than 2.5m high) and is at the back of a house, which should not be a listed building. If you live in a flat, you will need to contact the leaseholder for permission. 

Become an outdoor chef


Outdoor kitchens have become popular since the pandemic, offering the chance to dine with friends and family safely when lockdown restrictions are not so tight. 

Rather than having to carry all the food, crockery and glasses from the kitchen to a table by the barbecue, homeowners are building outdoor kitchens with storage for a separate set of glasses, crockery and cutlery, so they can be more spontaneous about cooking al fresco.  

“There are lots of new ways to cook outdoors, so you need storage for extra grills and pizza stoves. It should not be about carrying everything down from the kitchen – it’s more glamping than camping,” says garden designer Debs Winrow of Garden House Design in West Sussex. 

“Everybody wants to have drinks outside, and cocktails are very in vogue now people are at home more. We are often asked to replicate the look, feel and vibe of a cocktail bar.”

Illuminate your garden


Set aside a budget for outdoor lighting, which instantly creates a different atmosphere. There are so many areas of the garden that can benefit from lighting without using too much energy. Whether you use string lights to decorate a patio or highlight a tree, stakes or rope lighting to edge a pathway or floor-mounted LED lights for decking, there is a wide range of solar-powered, LED and low-voltage ‘plug and play’ lighting to buy.

“Many people now have large windows at the back of the house, so rather than looking out into the darkness, you can enjoy a beautifully lit garden, with trees, plants or paths that have a beam of light across them. Suddenly your garden comes to life and you can enjoy it 365 days of the year,” says Debs.

Comfy sofas rather than formal dining


Think about how you can benefit from inside-outside living throughout the year, not just during the summer months. You can use your garden in a different way in winter – with comfy sofas around a firepit instead of sun loungers and a parasol.

“Whether the area is covered or not, we encourage people to change their garden furniture from season to season,” says Debs. 

“You might have a dining table on your top patio for the summer months to dine out, but in the winter, you might put sofas around a firepit. You can then dress the room with lots of candles and make it really cosy. You can just have some cocktails out there before you go inside for dinner. 

“We’re finding that people aren’t replicating another set of dining outdoors. It’s better to have a different look and more casual dining, just having some nibbles and drinks on coffee tables.”

Add a splash of colour


To blend the indoors with outside, consider taking a couple of colours from the room the garden leads off as a starting point – containers and tubs on a patio or decking that highlight hues from the room will help to blend the two areas together.

On the other hand, if you have a stark modern kitchen in a neutral shade or you have inherited colours you don’t particularly like, you may prefer to start with a blank canvas.

White might be a good choice for container gardening on the patio. “There’s a trend toward introducing white flowers, as they create an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity,” adds Isabelle.

On the other hand, Debs says it might be an opportunity to introduce bold colours you might often shy away from.

“Sometimes people will be a bit more adventurous outdoors, so they will go for a colour that they would never wear themselves or have on their walls – a hot pink coming through your planting plan in the summer can look great. You can be a bit more whimsical and romantic than you might be inside your home.”

Don’t forget the flooring


Flooring is one of the easiest ways to create a natural flow between home and garden. If you have a slate floor in the kitchen, which opens on to the garden, continuing with slate paving slabs designed for outside will help to blend these two areas. You can create a similar feel in a living room where a wooden floor can lead out on to timber decking, using the same size planks indoors and out.

For a hard-wearing finish, Isabelle recommends composite timber-style decking such as Enhance Grain from Millboard, which has a smoother finish than some timbers. It comes in contemporary finishes such as Brushed Basalt, Smoked Oak and Burnt Cedar.

“It is very much about styling interior and exterior flooring that can work together, because you want durability and low maintenance outside. It’s about mixing like materials that blend in style, colour, texture and size,” adds Debs.

Add a touch of textiles


Using soft furnishings outdoors – from throws and cushions to rugs – is growing in popularity.

You can also add outdoor rugs for a bit of texture, offering a softer finish to decks, terraces and patios. These rugs, which are often made of polypropylene, can cost as little as £10 and are designed to withstand rain and sunshine. Dunelm, Ikea, and Wayfair all offer a good selection.

Debs advises: “Bring out items that are in your home for the day and then take them back in at night. Just dress your garden according to whatever it is that you’re going to do that day. And if your patio or terrace is covered, you can leave cushions on your outdoor sofas overnight.

“Memories of past holidays can influence you too, so you could go for the look of a beautiful hotel with rattan furniture and hand-thrown pottery or it might be a really cool bar in Ibiza with glossy surfaces and leather sofas.”

Whether you prefer the cosy warmth of candles and throws or a sleek nightclub vibe, enjoying a meal in your outdoor kitchen or just a drink on the patio, embrace the idea of using your garden day and night, all year round, make the most of that extra fifth room.

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