When is a garden more than a garden?

And I’m not talking about Lazy Susan garden rooms here… No, I’m talking about treating your garden and patio as an actual room, just a room that just happens to be outside. A room that is basically a place where you use planting, hardscaping, and outdoor furniture of course, to create a sense of enclosure. A part of your garden or patio that is a self-contained space that has been carefully designed to extend activities that are usually done inside into your garden. Anything from a little R ‘n’ R, reading the morning paper, coffee and conversation with friends to cooking a meal on an outdoor grill and dining in the summer.

The key to creating the perfect outdoor room is the focal point, they need to have one – maybe even two or three – but a focal point is key to the design as it draws you into the space in the first place. Others will then focus your attention once you’re in the space, things such as colour, texture or size etc. A focal point can be as simple as a colourful container with planting, a stylish and inviting rattan sofa set or a large cast aluminium dining table, or even a piece of classical sculpture or contemporary garden art. Create the space so that what’s inside is there to be discovered.

A good tip we picked up is to go with a limited colour palette, don’t over do it and make the space confusing. Use planting to draw attention to the area and repeat your colour scheme with the flowers and foliage to make the ‘room’ feel cohesive and separate from other parts of the garden. For me, the best outdoor rooms are simply an extension of your home. Try blurring the boundaries by using the same materials, for example the same timber flooring, inside and out.

Creating that seamless link between your house and garden is not difficult if you simply treat it as you would any other room in your house. Just try and imagine the garden and interior room as one whole space and consider the following points:

  • Take inspiration from inside your home
    If you have neutral colours inside your home then you can probably be a little more adventurous outside with the use of stronger/bolder tones, but try and pick up on your interior colour scheme as a springboard. For example, if you have a bright coloured picture on the wall, cushions or rug, you could take that colour and use it is as the basis of your planting scheme. Its also worth pointing out that when you use paint outdoors, you can use much stronger and bolder hue than you would inside, as the natural light will make colour appear much lighter than it would if it was in say a kitchen or dining room. Enclosing your garden room with rendered and painted walls is a great way of creating an area that can be painted and will give that all important sense of enclosure.
  • Design your garden room just like you would a room inside the house
    When it comes to design, a good garden room needs to be as carefully considered and planned as any other room inside the home. For interior design think exterior design. Carefully choose your products, focal points, planting and accessories etc. Look for items that will truly make a true statement, such as a stylish garden furniture, a well-placed piece of garden art or a large fire pit. There’s plenty to choose from both online and in your local garden centre, keep things simple and shop for beautiful, stylish products that will bring the space to life.
  • Look to create an outdoor space that fits with the lifestyle of you and your family
    Consider the activities that you and your family like to enjoy in the garden. If you like to BBQ or eat outside in the summer (weather permitting of course), them it makes sense to design a space that is close to the kitchen, and the right location so that you could maybe install an outdoor grill and dining area. If you’d rather just create a quiet shady retreat for reading a book or the morning papers, then opt for landscaping, comfy sofa style furniture and a suitable outdoor lighting to achieve what you’re looking for.
  • Choose similar flooring to connect inside and outside
    If you’ve used or plan to use timber flooring inside the house, then why not let this flow through to the garden too, blurring the lines between what’s inside and what’s out. Just make the timber is laid in the same direction or pattern to create that all important ‘flow’ from inside to out. If you’re using ceramic tiles inside then house, then look for good quality external pavers of a similar size or colour. When the doors (which is even better with the larger patio/sliding style doors) are open in summer this will give the impression of the garden and your home being one very large open space.
  • Rattan screens are a great option for creating a sense of enclosure
    An outdoor rattan screen is the perfect solution for putting up walls so to speak and creating that sense of ‘room’ out in the garden. There are some fabulously stylish and maintenance free rattan style screening on the market, both fixed and free standing. They’ll provide privacy and shelter from the wind without the need for any unsightly fencing or brick walls. Modern and versatile, they are the perfect material, just make sure they are fire resistant if you plan on having a BBQ in close proximity and that they’re area non toxic for your safety and peace of mind.
  • Gimme shelter with a pergola
    So you can create walls with a little screening, well with a pergola you can create a ‘ceiling’ for you garden room without losing all of that natural skylight and sunshine. A pergola is basically a timber structure that is supported by columns on the side, with lattices or beams across the top linking the columns together. For me, best thing about a pergola, is that it’s a structure that allows climbing plants to intertwine themselves around the framework to create a pretty natural shelter. By adding a pergola and choosing some fantastic plants to go along with it, you’ll be greening up your garden and adding the type of beauty and colour interest that only plants can give you.
  • Repeat inside lighting outside too
    If you’ve got recessed spotlights inside your home, then why not  choose the same style of light fitting for the outside too? Look for outdoor lights that can be set into decking or recessed into raised flower beds or steps. Outdoor lighting with a little thought and planning can really enhance your outdoor entertainment experience no matter how you use the space. There’s a wide variety of lighting options available, from simple, functional lights to atmosphere-enhancing colours and shapes. Make sure any light fixtures you use are rated for outdoor use and think about how they work with what’s happening on the inside, both in terms of connecting the spaces and when you’re inside looking out.
  • Make it a place you will use with the right garden furniture
    The same goes for furniture. And, again, think about how you plan to use the room? If its for dining, then get outdoor dining furniture. If its for relaxation, then purchase comfortable laid back seating. Try and choose outdoor furniture that suits both the architecture of your home and the garden room as a whole, pieces that could work both inside and out. Recent technological developments in the outdoor furniture industry have allowed for more diversity in outdoor materials, from cushion fabrics to aluminum die casting, you can now create pieces that will stand up to the elements and last a lifetime, but that are indistinguishable from the furniture you have inside your home.
  • Create easy access inside and out
    The best garden rooms always feel like a natural extension of the home to me. Wide access points allow for better flow in and out and, as an extra bonus, they’ll help to create the illusion of one space. Consider how you move around your home and garden and whatever you do, don’t cut a room in half just to add more outdoor space. A garden room is simply not as inviting when you have difficulty getting to it. For example. who wants to fight there way through a cluttered garage or ugly utility room, just to access your outdoor room?

If a garden room is for you, then I can highly recommend ‘Room Outside: A New Approach to Garden Design’ by John Brookes. It is a beautifully illustrated book that first made the concept of outdoor room garden design accessible to everyone. John Brookes pretty much invented the highly practical concept of the garden, however large or small, as a usable extension of the home. That was nearly forty years ago and, while the range of products and materials has increased dramatically, the role the garden can play has not changed at all. Indeed, as a retreat from the hectic world of work and as an overflow to family life, our outdoor space has become incredibly important and ‘Room Outside’ is even more relevant to 21st century living.

Room Outside by John Brooked

John Brookes deals systematically with the creation of a contemporary garden whatever its size, from a tiny roof terrace to a substantial suburban plot. He sets the scene by exploring what we can learn from the evolution of garden design and use, and then asks the vital questions: ‘What do you want?’ and ‘What have you got?’ Then he brings together all the practical aspects of successful garden making, from basic planning, ground shaping and drainage, to enclosure, hard and soft ground surfacing, and maintenance and improvement.

Chapters on planting and cultivation give advice on plant selection and transplanting semi-mature trees for instant effect, as well as modern interpretations of wilder plantings that work in small spaces. Substantial coverage of special features ranges from formal and informal water, herb and vegetable gardens, to children’s play areas that are attractive as well as fun.

‘Room Outside’ is a book full of ideas, with a final chapter on garden furniture, lighting, containers and ornament that completes its comprehensive coverage. Now with 300 full-colour photographs as well as 250 diagrams and garden plans, it tells you everything you need to know to create a garden for use and enjoyment as an extension to 21st century living.

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