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The Garden Room

Saturday, 03rd July 2010

Buying outdoor furniture a few years ago was a pretty straightforward affair - it really came down to a choice between this timber table and that one. But today's breed of outdoor furniture, with its ultra-comfy sofas, oversized loungers and sculptural occasional tables in materials such as aluminium, plastic and synthetic wicker can make your head spin. On the plus side, as the lines between indoor and outdoor furniture blur, it's becoming easier than ever before to transform a dull outside space into a garden room to be proud of.

Ask The Right Questions
The latest trend is for outdoor furniture that resembles indoor furniture - it's super-stylish, comfortable and versatile. But while the label might say 'weatherproof' it's a good idea to do your homework and find out whether that means it can withstand belting rain and harsh sun, or is better suited to a shady, protected setting.
Assess the conditions on your balcony or terraced garden before you hit the shops, so you know the right questions to ask. How much sun does the area receive and when? Is it exposed to wind, rain, a harsh climate? For furniture - does it need to be specially treated to extend its lifespan, and how often?
If you fall in love with a piece of furniture that's not particularly durable, make sure it's lightweight enough to be moved inside or can be accommodated in outside storage.

What Style?
When it comes to choosing the furniture right style, decide whether you want a complete contrast to your interior, or a complementary look. A scheme that naturally extends from your interior with, for example, the same coloured flooring and a similar furniture style, will make the whole space feel larger, and the transition between indoors and out appear seamless.  
Make your outdoor room a place you actually want to spend time by choosing comfortable pieces. Think upholstered outdoor sofas, cushioned chairs and daybeds that follow the natural curves of the body.
Decide what you want to use your outdoor room for. If you'll be cooking and eating outside, opt for a table and chairs setting, but make sure they don't swallow up too much space - you and your guests still need to be able to move comfortably around. It's a good idea to choose the smallest table you can, ideally with an extension for dinner parties or family gatherings. Keep chairs to a minimum - extra seating can be folded and stored away.
Do you really need a traditional table and chair setting? If the area is for relaxing, a comfortable sofa, armchair and coffee table might be better options.
New technology has allowed designers to produce outdoor furniture that was once inconceivable - synthetic wickers, fine wire, powder-coated aluminium, plastics and weather-treated, recycled timbers. For some of the best modern designs, check out Ke-Zu, Space and Domayne.

Those Little Touches
Accessorise your outdoor area the same as you would your interior with cushions, collectibles, outdoor lamps and candles. The latest swathe of outdoor fabric looks and feels divine, and comes in everything from classic to ultra-modern designs. Keep in mind, however, that it should be cleaned regularly and brought inside in winter and during harsh conditions.
Accessories for the outdoor room are going oversized - Eco Outdoor sells outdoor beanbags and extra-large cushions, Missoni has a done a range that includes outdoor ottomans and Designers Guild's outdoor range features fabrics that can be used as panelling for large areas.

Create Focal Points
Most balcony or terrace gardens have walls on three sides, so the eye is instantly drawn upwards. Bring attention back down by creating focal points at ground and mid-level. Use terracing and raised planters to create visual interest.
To counteract the 'boxy' look of most balcony and terrace gardens, add curves with furniture and planting that takes the eye on an interesting journey.

The Right Plants
As a rule, simple works best in a small space, so opt for a select group of potted plants rather than an abundance that will make the area feel cluttered and uninviting.
Harmonise your planting with the decor inside, or use it as an opportunity for a splash of colour that will draw the eye outside. Camouflage any unsightly elements in your outdoor space, such as an ugly brick wall or fixed garden shed, with a lick of neutral paint that makes it blend into the background or a lattice with trailing plants.
If you want to visually extend a small outdoor space, try placing small-leafed plants against the farthest wall to give the illusion of more depth, or plant with receding colours.

Outdoor Kitchen
Do you have room for an outdoor kitchen? These fully constructed cooking areas take the idea of throwing a couple of sausages on the barbie to a whole new level - they're built-in areas complete with sink, bar fridge, barbecue and even a small oven (try Barbecues Galore for a good range). While they can be expensive, they're a great way to draw your guests outside and can often add to the value of your home. 

Don't forget to factor in storage to your outdoor area. Use the shed or built-in benches with storage underneath to tuck away folding chairs and cushions in winter. Look for outdoor coffee tables with drawers beneath them, and consider wall-mounted storage.

A successful lighting scheme will make or break your outdoor area. Assess natural daylight before you decide where to position the chairs and table - ideally they should be in a shady spot for relaxing or dining. If you're under the full blare of sunshine, consider using a retractable awning or umbrella to provide some shade.
Install good task lighting for dining and food preparation, and ambient lighting (uplighters and downlighters) to create a magical mood at night. Add candles for drama when you're entertaining (but never leave a burning candle unattended).
And don't forget you'll need adequate heating if you want to use the area year-round - gas patio heaters on a stand or smaller tabletop versions are now available in high street DIY stores at affordable prices.

Don't forget what's underfoot in your outdoor room - it should be clean, comfortable and easy to walk on. Look for chic outdoor rugs, such as those from Pappelina at Nordic Style or the heavily-textured designs at Domayne. Alternatively, conceal an ugly concrete surface with slate chippings or golden shingle.


Georgia Madden

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