Alfresco entertaining has moved on from the days when a summer party meant a glass of Pimm’s on the terrace followed by a plate of barbecued sausages served on trestle tables under trees in the garden. Now, entertaining is done on a grander scale, and country-house gardens are evolving to meet the new needs of hosts and guests.
‘The most lavish outdoor entertaining space I’ve ever seen was a massive converted walled garden that boasted a croquet lawn, a bordered pétanque area, a tennis court, a swimming pool and a summer house opening onto a terrace with a bar and an outdoor kitchen, complete with an espaliered fig tree on the south-facing wall-the ultimate for a summer party,’ says James Grillo of Chesterton Humberts.
Positioning your outdoor space cleverly is the first step towards enjoying a successful party season. ‘Ideally, it will work with the highlights of the property, such as the view, the facilities and the orientation, to ensure maximum hours of sunlight and privacy,’ explains Mr Grillo. Edward Heaton of Property Vision believes that ‘the best outdoor entertaining spaces are right beside the house, so they can effectively become an extension of the kitchen or the drawing room’. This has several advantages: it creates a natural flow to your party, makes it easier to serve food and drinks and provides welcome shelter in case of rain.
Mr Grillo recommends converting a terrace off the main internal entertaining space or kitchen, and installing French doors that open onto the outdoor seating and barbecue area. If your house doesn’t lend itself to doing this, however, you can locate your party space by the swimming pool. ‘It’s now
commonplace to have extensive dining areas and outside speaker systems set up around the pool. I’ve even seen an outdoor dancefloor for those who want to party into the night,’ adds Mr Heaton.
For great poolside entertaining, Philip Eddell of Savills recommends choosing the best outdoor sound system you can buy-‘it really is amazing when you come across a good one’-as well as creating shade or shelter ‘to escape the inevitable rain that will appear’. A party barn comes in handy for this, but, for more modest budgets, an awning that can be pulled up over the patio will work, too, advises Rupert Coles of Prime Purchase.
Do pay attention to lighting, urges Joe Burns of architecture, interior-design and development practice Oliver Burns-together with sound, ‘introducing great lighting is the easiest way to create an outdoor entertaining space. This can range from simple lights to varying levels of dramatic mood lighting for the perfect atmosphere.’ And if the party area is a little way from the main house, installing a second, fully equipped kitchen in the poolhouse or party barn is a must to prevent unappetising, congealing meals, adds Mr Coles. At the very least, says Mr Eddell, you should have
a fridge and a bar by the pool for chilled drinks and snacks.
Another country-house staple, the tennis court, makes a good alternative to the pool for keeping everyone amused, but, these days, good hosts have plenty more to offer their guests. Private cricket pitches are gaining in popularity, even though they are still far from commonplace. ‘I know a few people who are lucky enough to have one,’ says Mr Heaton. ‘What could be better than inviting a group of mates over to play cricket? It’s so fantastically English.’
Other fine sporting facilities he has come across include private football pitches and even full-scale polo grounds. To wow your guests, however, very little beats a couple of really extravagant grown-up play areas. If you’re looking for inspiration, Mr Heaton suggests ‘a tree house that looks like Tarzan’s, as if it had come straight out of Disney, and a house with its very own steam railway running through the grounds’.
And in winter…
Make sure that your outdoor entertaining areas don’t become depressingly dead spaces in the cooler months. To prevent this, ‘huge, mechanised parasols with incorporated carbon-friendly heaters are a favoured solution, although I’m also very interested in exploring the use of a retractable glass roof over a terrace, courtyard or swimming pool,’ says Mr Burns. Jackson-Stops & Staff’s Dawn Carritt also advises consulting a garden designer, as they can create ‘an imaginative, stylish gazebo or pavilion that will work as an entertaining space but will also be a part of the garden design’.
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