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Spring has well and truly sprung, straight into summer, and sitting outside is now the best option (not just the only one). We’re filling our diaries with al fresco drinks, dinner parties and long-awaited milestone celebrations with friends and family, and what a joy that will be this summer when – we hope – social distancing becomes a thing of the past. Whether you have a small-but-perfectly-formed balcony, a terrace that makes you the envy of those with balconies or an actual garden (perhaps with a lawn, and space for a proper party or a competitive game of croquet), you’ll want to make sure it’s as comfortable as can be, and as stylish as the rest of your home. Read on for garden design inspiration and expert tips on how to upgrade your outdoor space.
Balconies: We’re taking a leaf out of Jess Evans from OKA’s book and her advice for balconies is simple: stick to the essentials. “You need somewhere comfortable to sit so choose clever pieces that can be adapted to your requirements – floor cushions or footstools can easily be stacked away or taken back inside when not in use.”
When it comes to (slightly) bigger items, it’s all about slimline and folding furniture. If you love the look and feel of a hanging chair, Cox & Cox have created a narrow version in grey or black. Harris Harris London’s Prahan design is everything you need from a balcony chair – light, very stylish and stackable – and we also love the brand’s Overend side table in solid Bath limestone (just 35cm wide, it weighs in at 100kg, FYI). If you’d like to add some colour, opt for Made’s colour-popping, and very reasonably priced, folding bistro set in blue.
Terraces: If yours is a roof terrace, or indeed, a suntrap at any time of day, a key piece of furniture is a sunbed, which can double up as seating to perch on in the evening. Amara’s wicker daybed is seriously comfy with the added bonus of a roof shade (we’re counting on a hot summer) and a compact design to suit smaller terraces.
If you have more space, Cox & Cox has created the perfect all-rounder. Its Hurst daybed looks, at first glance, like a smart little two-seater (showerproof cushions, all-weather rattan – check) but a pull-out footstool and retractable sun hood turn it into a double sun-lounger. Indian Ocean’s Pimlico Jazz chair comes in a statement tri-colour weave, adding pops of blue, teal and cerise to your outdoor space.
Gardens: “Entertaining outdoors is one of the greatest pleasures in life,” declares Emma Stevenson of Emma Stevenson Design. “Think of your garden as an extension of your home, rather than a separate space.” That, for us, means thinking about how long we spent choosing our living room sofa (a while...); outdoor furniture can bring just as much joy, and you’ll use it far more if you love it. What we really love is Cassina’s Trampoline furniture range, designed by the brilliant Patricia Urquiola; the Love Bed teamed with the matching armchairs and two-seater sofa would create a space we’d never want to leave. The same goes for Indian Ocean's California range; this is the brand for capacious dining sets and sofas that can seat your extended family.
Balconies: Emma Stevenson also recommends well-thought-through lighting as “a lovely way to attract the eye to a balcony at night, which can otherwise become a bit of a forgotten space”. While we do love fairy lights, Cox & Cox’s festoon lighting will provide better visibility once it’s pitch black outside, with an equally pretty aesthetic.
Terraces: As within rooms of your house, lighting can transform the nooks and crannies of even small outside spaces, and give them an entirely different night-time look. OKA’s Jess Evans suggesting adorning “all the surfaces you have with tea lights and pillar candles to create atmosphere – if it’s windy, then LEDs make the perfect back-up”. The next step: either wall lanterns or floor lights, a la Cox & Cox and Muse by Contardi.
Gardens: Let Mother Nature take centre stage; thread fairy lights through trees little and large, illuminate the latter with uplighters (white if you’re going for subtlety; colourful if you feel like a festival effect) and make sure your prettiest flowers and plant pots don’t stay in the shadows. Magical is what we’re going for – think church candles aplenty, of varying heights, and statement pendant lights. The Contardi Muse floor light is also available as a monochrome ceiling pendant, and we have our eye on Cassina’s blown glass sphere lights (pictured here with Cassina's Dine Out outdoor collection by Rodolfo Dordoni). Opt for 30cm or 50cm, with fumé transparent glass with green knots, or pink with rust-coloured knots.
Colin Gray, MD of Lavender Green Flowers in Chelsea and with decades of experience under his belt, suggests that you plant for a specific time of year: "With smaller London gardens it’s important to focus on the period during which you'll want be outside. Year-round colour is always possible, but we believe you should go for a seasonal statement, and really enjoy it." Read on for his top outdoor space-specific advice:
Balcony: "Use pots of differing height to add depth and texture, and keep to plants that behave and won’t need repotting after the first year. We favour botanical styles that give year-round lush greens and create a relaxing backdrop for the window in your living space; Agapanthus albiflora gives good foliage through the year then is a real statement in season. Plant ferns, fatsias, hostas (on a balcony you won’t have to worry about snails!) and herbs for cooking."
Terrace: "Add flashes of seasonal colour with bulbs like Orchid Narcissus, Tulipa spring green and tarda (plant them lower than you think so they come back the next year). Ornamental grasses will add height and movement but don’t use too many as you’ll have to cut back at the beginning of the year; include evergreen hardy shrubs like Pittosporum and Euphorbia polychroma. Let your planting overspill the paving and avoid hard lines to create an oasis of calm. Consider using climbers to make the space intimate and private, but don’t forget about scent; consider star jasmine or scented geraniums for lower borders. If you are lucky enough to have a south-facing wall in full sun then go with the much-revered wisteria."
Garden: "Create spaces for different seasons, plant winter colour and herbs close to the house and then create a bold naturalistic planting scheme that will deliver you an outdoor dining room. Use collections of trees to break up the space, provide privacy and add dappled shade; multi-stem Himalayan Birch trees for the striking bark or Amelanchier lamarckii (juneberry) for the change in canopy colour through the year. Perennials will steal the show with pops of colour; Crocosmia Lucifer, Verbena bonariensiss for height and Phlomis russelliana (Turkish sage) for bold colour and winter interest."
It’s all about treating your outdoor spaces as an extension of your home, says OKA’s Jess Evans, and choosing a colour palette for textiles outside: “These are essential for cosying up but also for creating a welcoming aesthetic. Throws are key for sitting out past sunset, whilst outdoor rugs are great for defining space – textured options add visual appeal as well as warming feet in the evenings.”
Balconies: Reflect the adjoining room’s decorative scheme on your balcony to create a sense of harmony, for example, picking out a colour or material with cushions and blankets. Made’s striped cocoon seats are perfect for this, as are reversible throws – all can double up as accessories indoors during the months you won’t be outside.
Especially clever for balconies is this bistro table, made for compact balconies in powder-coated steel. Slot it over the railing and fold up when you’re not using it to make the most of the space. Cocktail hour made even easier.
Terraces: Just as inside, Jess from OKA explains, mirrors are a great decorating tool in small outdoor spaces as they reflect light and make them appear bigger – choose a window style to create a ‘secret garden’ feel. Opt for as big a mirror as you can accommodate, or use several mirrors dotted around to reflect your favourite elements of your terrace; one of these might be a small but perfectly formed bar area, complete with al fresco drinks trolley.
Gardens: Create a barbecue area, a bar, a games lawn, a hammock hideaway… If you have plenty of space, the garden’s your oyster, and fun is first and foremost. A hanging tiipii is as great for the kids as the adults; reading favourite books, or the papers, enjoying a cool drink, taking a nap in the midday heat.
Think about what you’ll be using various spaces for, and what would be a practical addition too; a rattan drinks basket, for example, to save multiple trips back inside. At the other end of the scale, though, is this croquet set; completely non-essential but brilliantly fun.