How to plan your outdoor living space
First up, you need to choose the best spot for your outdoor room - and designers say it's important to keep your mind open and consider all sorts of possibilities.
"Don't jump to limiting conclusions. Research the site, take measurements, note aspects of exposure over time and gather information of places that inspire you," landscape designer Trudy Crerar says. Tiny spaces and shady spaces can be made to work.
One thing to consider carefully however is that outdoor living spaces that are easily accessible to the indoors will naturally be used more often. "It simply feels like an extension of our home," landscape designer Dan Rutherford says. "If you have an enticing area that's a little further from the house, don't use it for your outdoor living. Use it as a 'visual destination.' "
A fabulous tree at the end of the garden might provide a lovely backdrop to your outdoor room.
BRINGING THE INDOORS OUT
A connection between the indoors and an exterior will give the sense of adding an extra room to your home.
Carrying decor colour or patterns through from the interior works well, landscape designer Erin Farrow says, as does using the same floor level as the house to allow a seamless flow, and having a "ceiling" on your outdoor space, like a pergola, a shade sail, or a louvred or glass roof.
"If you have concrete or timber floors, you can use a similar surface outside the house," Farrow says.
Making your outdoor space feel as comfortable as it would indoors is key, says interior designer Alex Walls of Alex & Corban Home.
"Even go as far as having outdoor coffee tables cushions and blankets," she says.
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Dan Rutherford adds: "I usually recommend modular outdoor sofas, because they can be reformatted to suit pretty much any space, they're comfortable to sit at, and you can even lie on them."
Timber dining tables dry reasonably quickly and are generally more comfortable to sit at than stone or glass, he says, and dining chairs with backs are more relaxing than benches.
Don't overlook the practical Alex Walls says.
"If you have an outdoor kitchen area, do you have a bench or food prep area? Do you have shelves and storage for items that are going to be kept outside? Make your outdoor space just as comfortable as your indoor space if you plan to use it often," she says.
If you have soft furnishings like cushions and blankets ensure you have storage for these so they last.
Your space will be much better investment if you design it to be used all year round - and shelter and heating are crucial to achieve this.
"Louvered or opening roofs help to keep heat from escaping," Dan Rutherford says.
Dark stone or concrete walls help to stop wind, and store heat. Dark paving can also retain warmth, which slowly releases once the sun goes down.
Gas fireplaces are great to look at, but they don't give out a lot of heat.
"Supplement them with outdoor electric heaters," Rutherford suggests.
THE LITTLE ONES
Children like to be near the adults, but play independently – and adults like this too.
"Things like slides, fireman's poles and swings can be fixed to the sides of existing retaining walls or pergolas, and then removed later, when the kids have outgrown them," Rutherford says. "Build a sandpit that can later be turned into a raised bed or a vege garden."
Outdoor bean bags or hanging chairs are great for both kids and adults, or Alex Walls suggests something fun like an outdoor chess game or even Jenga blocks.
As a cheaper alternative, go natural: Erin Farrow recommends having baskets or ketes or shells, dried leaves, or other kid-friendly objects on hand.
ALL YOUR SENSES
Think about the sound and smell of your new outdoor space, as well as what it looks like.
Consider outdoor music. Even something simple, such as a quality Bluetooth speaker system can be very effective. For a more natural sound, install a simple water feature.
"No courtyard is too small for a fountain," says landscape designer Trudy Crerar.
Flowers and plants can give a variety of fragrances all season.
"Jasmine smells fantastic on warm evenings. Only some roses are scented, so chose ones that give a strong summer scent," Dan says. "Wintersweet and daphne have strongly scented flowers during the later winter months."