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Create stylish outdoor spaces for alfresco living

Read time:

1st July 2024

Make the most of your garden with inviting areas to work, relax and socialise

Enhancing outside spaces is often simpler than updating rooms indoors. With fewer walls and fixtures, garden styling is all about the accessories, which means it’s easier to achieve a quick and thrifty makeover you can enjoy every time the sun shines. Upcycling works well outside too – a lick of paint on tired garden furniture, fences and structures such as sheds can do wonders.

But don’t be afraid to let nature do the heavy lifting here. With some clever planting in beds and containers you can sit back and enjoy the natural decor of lush greenery, aromatic fragrance and gorgeous pops of colour as the season progresses.

Morning coffee spot

One of the joys of spring and summer is that early starts can be tempered by the opportunity to enjoy a peaceful cup of morning coffee outside. It’s a golden time in your garden, when the neighbourhood is quiet and the sun’s rays have a gentle warmth.

Before you think about styling the space, you need to pick the right location. Find a sheltered spot that basks in the early morning sunshine, has a good view of the garden and ideally should be private enough to sit outside in your pyjamas, if you wish. However, if your front garden gets the best of the morning sun, don’t be afraid to set up a spot out front.

Seating is essential, of course, so look for a comfortable wicker chair, bistro set (Black Country Metalworks produces handmade vintage-style sets) or simple bench, which could be styled with cushions and a throw for comfort. An outdoor rug delineates a dedicated area nicely – this could double up as a lovely spot to practise morning yoga, and can smarten up less-than-perfect patio paving too. Perrott Perrott

Garden office

The ideal solution for outdoor working is a versatile sheltered workspace, which you could use for catching up on admin, or for more creative activities such as painting, crafts or writing. Depending on your space and budget, something that offers flexibility could be most attractive – a shepherd’s hut has great potential to double up as guest accommodation for family and friends, a lucrative Airbnb rental, a playroom, or an outdoor entertaining hub for a ‘holiday at home’ vibe.

A more budget-friendly option is to reinvent your garden shed as a workspace. Use paint, outdoor rugs, solar lighting and textiles to make it an inviting space – then add a table and chair. If you’re looking for a sturdy outdoor table, go to The Table Guy for rustic farmhouse-style furniture, many made from scaffold boards.

Research shows that just being in nature helps reduce stress levels, while the sound of water is reputed to boost creativity – the perfect excuse to install a calming water feature. Perrott Perrott

Outdoor dining

Food always seems to taste better outdoors on a balmy summer’s day, and an alfresco dining area means you can enjoy those picnic vibes throughout the warmer months. Surround your table with abundant seasonal planting in vintage pots to create a lush, intimate feel. Textiles instantly make an outdoor space feel more homely, so layer soft furnishings generously, including seat cushions, tablecloths (Bohzaar have soft 100% linen tablecloths and napkins in beautiful colours), runners, rugs and throws.

You’ll need some shade – whether that’s provided by a wisteria-clad pergola, loggia, pleached trees or a canopy – while climbing plants add natural decoration and privacy. Choose varieties such as jasmine, roses and honeysuckle for delicious evening fragrance too.

For serving food, consider a more rustic, earthenware set with an organic look paired with chunkier recycled glassware. Keeping pots of growing herbs on the table means it’s always decorated for dinner, while a sprinkle of tea lights and strings of solar-powered lights (Lights4fun have a huge range) strung across walls and foliage add a magical finishing touch.

Reading nook

In our high-tech world, the idea of creating a low-tech reading retreat in the garden is a tempting one. Comfort is key here, so consider seating that enables you to recline and relax, such as a garden sofa or chaise. If outdoor space is limited, a wooden steamer chair or vintage deckchair can be tidied away in the shed afterwards. The gentle sway of a swing seat or hanging rattan egg chair is very restful, or for a traditional option go for a hammock (we love Weaver Green’s washable canvas hammock made from recycled plastic). Don’t forget to add a small side table for your essential drinks and snacks too.

For shade, site your nook under a tree or add a permanent structure such as a pergola, or the temporary shade of a parasol or textile gazebo. Accessorise with plenty of comfy cushions to make it feel cocoon-like, while a cosy throw, firepit and twinkling solar-powered outdoor lighting will ensure you can keep turning pages long into the evening. Perrott Perrott

Drinks with friends

For a gathering, setting up a temporary drinks station outside avoids too much traffic through the house and keeps all the action in the garden. A folding trestle table or an assembly of vintage apple crates against a garden wall or fence can create a temporary ‘bar’, which can be stocked with glassware. A vintage tin bath or galvanised buckets can be kept on the floor, filled with ice to keep bubbly or beer cool.

Dress your outdoor dining table with informal jugs of fresh flowers, tea lights, vintage linens, pretty dishes, platters of nibbles and jugs of cocktails and cordials. Strings of sparkling lanterns and fairy lights, reusable and recycled decorations such as fabric bunting, jam-jar tea lights and small potted plants are easy finishing touches. If you don’t want to bring your best dinnerware outside, scour charity shops for inexpensive mismatched china pieces for an eclectic vintage look.

A seating area with outdoor rugs, chairs and floor cushions arranged around a firepit provides a relaxed spot for guests to lounge as the evening progresses (for original Indian kadai firepits, go to English Salvage and Scaramanga). Don’t forget to add some throws to keep it cosy as the sun goes down.


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