Being blessed with at least six months a year of good weather, your outdoor space should be given the same amount of attention and budget allocation as the rest of your house.
However, before setting out on a shopping spree, it would be a good idea to do some planning. First, evaluate the amount of usable space you have to work with. Then consider the type of activities you want to accommodate, giving priority to those which are most important for your lifestyle. Finally, take into account the look and feel you want your space to be infused with.
Observe your space at different times of the day so you can better understand what spots are best suited for your activities in relation to sun, shade, breeze, beautiful views or unsightly elements you may want to screen. When deciding the uses you want to fit in, remember about clearance spaces around these areas particularly if the intended uses involve many people.
Scale of furniture also needs to be proportional to the size of your usable outdoor space as something too large would be overbearing in a small space, while furniture that is too petite would look lost in a very large space.
Once you have defined what uses will fit your space and what features you want to accentuate or screen, consider your landscaped areas versus your hard surfaces. Your outdoor living space should make you feel like you’re stepping into your private resort: keep in mind functionality, but never reduce your outdoor space to a simple tiled floor with a couple of pots, table and chairs.
Allocate as much space as you can to planted areas by building retaining walls to allow plants to grow and invest in a few large feature specimens to give character and structure to the planting scheme. Mediterranean plants, particularly when you mix soft feathery leaves with sculptural specimens, make stunning, low maintenance gardens.
Fabric sails, cane canopies or timber pergolas with bougainvilleas or other climbers will help define the different areas and provide a sheltered retreat, making it usable during the hotter summer days. Natural and organically shaped shading elements will also create beautiful soft shadows.
If your space is long and narrow or very large, you can break it up by using different flooring materials such as stone or tile together with decking. You can add split-levels to define the most important areas, such as dining and lounging.
Your outdoor space does not necessarily need to follow the style of your interiors, but some level of continuity creates a more harmonious flow. It may also be a good idea to stand inside your house facing the direction of your outdoor space and envision what you want to see when looking out. Take the openings of the rooms which overlook your yard or terrace as an opportunity to frame the outdoors and try to position your landscaped areas so they can act as a green backdrop to your interior spaces.
For seating, go beyond the use of conventional furniture. Create the ultimate resort-style outdoor space with built-in benches nestled around lush planting, a mattress on a platform with large throw pillows, or an ethnic daybed surrounded by moody lanterns, pouffes and low coffee tables. In your space planning stage, try orienting your designated lounge areas to overlook something interesting.
The fun part is always colour schemes and finishing touches. An excellent source of inspiration can be www.pinterest.com: just type “outdoor living” or “outdoor spaces” in the search tab, and a myriad of photos will come up. Remember that the palette of your colour scheme is made up of the flowers in your landscaping, your flooring materials, perhaps a bold colour on a feature wall, upholstery fabrics, pots, and light fittings. When shopping, keep photos of your purchases on your mobile, so you can easily match all the elements together.
Carefully choreograph your outdoor lighting to create a dramatic and relaxing ambiance. Use stronger direct lighting only where needed, like your dining area. For the rest of the spaces you will achieve the best results by mixing different types of light sources, from in-ground spots uplighting your feature plants, to outdoor table lamps and underwater lights in your pool or water feature. If creating your dream outdoor space requires a larger budget then expected, build it in stages starting with the messier building works, then the landscaping and finally adding the various pieces of furniture and decorative elements. Do not forget our strong summer sun and maximise your investment over time by selecting only outdoor fabrics, furniture and materials which will not fade or get spoiled in less than a season.
Finally, avoid furniture or materials that require too much labour intensive maintenance. Also, think of storage for your outdoor items during the winter months. Above all, make a mental note of clearances to get to your outdoor area, because it is immensely frustrating to find out on site that your favourite item does not make it up those narrow stairs or through a doorway.
Eliza Costabel is from Malta but has lived in Asia, Europe, North Africa and the US. Her formative years in architecture took place in Los Angeles with over 10 years designing architecture, interiors, and branded environments, first at Gensler and later at her own design studio, DLFstudio. In 2008 Eliza moved to the Kenyan coast and set up IDEA studio. Since then she has designed and coordinated a variety of retail and landscaping projects and private residences on the Kenyan coast, Nairobi and Kampala. She has recently returned to Malta, making it her base for new design ventures.
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