Six indispensable tips to create a perfect space for outdoor living

Creating a beautiful outdoor space is no less involved than making a beautiful room inside your house. Amelia Thorpe spoke to two expert designers who shared their tips.

Think of your outdoor ‘room’ just as you would an indoor one: as part of your house

‘Internal and external spaces are best considered together, so they flow from one to another,’ says designer Emma Sims-Hilditch.

In her example below, a sheltered area makes an alfresco- dining space for summer lunches and casual suppers. Cotswold-stone walls on three sides absorb the warmth of the sun and radiate heat into the cool of the evening and the proximity to the kitchen in the barn makes it easy to carry dishes to the outdoor table.

Outdoor space by designer Emma Sims-Hilditch

Garden designer Stephen Woodhams agrees, suggesting that your use of colour can create continuity between inside and out.

‘I always try to link the interior and exterior spaces, by pulling colours from the inside out to the garden, or vice versa, and we will often co-ordinate a fabric choice with the planting scheme,’ he says.

Recommended videos for you

‘It can be simple, but very effective. Other fabric colour scheme favourites are indigo and blue-and-white stripes, oranges and rusts or plummy burgundy.’

Remember that you’ll get hit by the elements, no matter what the weather

‘Start by thinking about aspect and shelter,’ says garden designer Stephen Woodhams.

‘It’s always nice to create a view and a sense of where you are, but if it’s too exposed you’ll be blown to bits. Think about walls, fencing or planting to create a wind break and a sense of enclosure and intimacy.

‘It’s also good to have some shade – from an umbrella, louvred cover, sail or perhaps a pergola with wisteria growing over it – so that you don’t get too hot and bothered when you are eating lunch.’

Garden Parasol in Khaki with granite base, £560 from

Garden Parasol in Khaki with granite base, £560 from

Add variety wherever you can

‘Variation in surfaces adds interest: just as stone, wood and carpet work together inside, so stone, gravel and grass look good together outside,’ says Emma Sims-Hilditch.

The gentle combination of greenery, stone and natural tones are in keeping with the garden setting and the interior of the barn. The large all-weather dining table and wicker chairs by Neptune, chosen to suit the proportions of the space, are set on a practical, hard ‘rug’ of sandstone paving, surrounded by pea gravel.

It’s not just those permanent surfaces which can add variety. ‘The choice of outdoor sofas, chairs and performance fabrics—even outdoor rugs—is now huge,’ says Stephen Woodhams. ‘There are plenty of options to suit all kinds of spaces.’

Tuck away lots of practical touches

The doors of the garden room in Emma Sims-Hilditch’s. design open to reveal a small kitchen, useful for serving drinks when a larger party is expected. The loggia is used to store two firebowls, which are placed at each end of the table to provide warmth, so that the conversation can continue long into the night.

Even the plants you use can help create practical spaces, adds Stephen Woodhams.

‘I tend to use a lot of evergreens for structure, including hedging, such as Elaeagnus ebbingei, evergreen oak (Quercus ilex) and yew hedging (Taxus baccata), ‘ he says.

‘Pleached trees can be used to create the feeling of the space of a ‘room’ (a row of three, then a return of two, row of three, return of two) in which to set your dining table or sofas and coffee tables. But avoid pampas grass! I love throwbacks, but that’s just going too far for me.’

Good outdoor furniture promo

Think flexibility

The lines can be blurred between indoor and outdoor furniture these days. ‘Sometimes, with a client, we might choose two dining tables: one for inside and one for outside,’ says Stephen Woodhams.

‘If it’s a gorgeous day, you can move the inside table to the garden and you have enough table space to welcome a crowd. Or, you can bring the outside one in to seat the extended family at Christmas.

‘Outdoor furniture is an investment, but now that it is so well designed and of such good quality, it makes sense to buy with flexibility in mind.’

Don’t forget the lighting

Even during the winter, it’s lovely to look out on a beautifully lit outdoor room. ‘Lighting is imperative, not just for practical reasons, but also to help create a magical mood,’ says Stephen Woodhams.

‘Just one pin spot, fixed to a tree and angled over the table, can make a bowl of oranges look like a million dollars. Uplighters, such as planted spike lights, can be used to illuminate tree trunks or topiary, or placed behind plants to silhouette their sculptural shape. Larger schemes can benefit from the skills of a lighting-design company, such as DesignPlusLight or Light IQ.