By Cherie Barber
In a climate like Australia’s, an outdoor room isn’t just an asset; it’s almost obligatory. What better way to capitalise on all that blue sky and months of warm weather than creating an extension to your home that marries the comfort of a living room with the breezy bliss of lounging around outdoors? The answer, of course, is an outdoor room.
However, it’s not just a matter of propping an umbrella over a table and chairs. You need to create something practical and inviting, sheltered from the elements, with a good connection to the indoors. Here are some important elements to consider.
A small space like an apartment balcony is probably going to offer limited options, but if you’re sizing up something larger, then spend time browsing magazines and online sites for examples of beautiful outdoor rooms you’d love to recreate.
Plan your room
Just like you would for an indoor renovation, you need to draw up a plan, whether you’re converting a barren courtyard, a disused balcony or creating something like a deck from scratch. Are you planning something quite simple on a low budget or a luxurious outdoor kitchen with barbie, sink, lounging furniture and a 12-seater outdoor setting? You don’t need sophisticated software; just break out the graph paper, measure up the dimensions of your outdoor space to scale, then start playing around with ideas. Use cut-outs for things like table settings, potted plants, barbecue, etc. This will begin to give you an idea of the space you have to play and realistically what you can fit in.
Prioritise what’s important
Budget and size of the space will be the main limiting factors here. At a minimum you need shade, some privacy from neighbours, hopefully easy access to indoors, furniture and some kind of lighting so you can use it at night.
Things like screening, shade sails, sun umbrellas and retractable awnings can turn an unusable courtyard, deck or balcony into a protected outdoor room you can enjoy year-round. And features like foldaway clothes lines, a wall-mounted hose reel and bench seating that doubles as a storage box help keep the area clutter-free.
If you’re creating something more lavish, like an outdoor kitchen, you may need to consider new power points, plumbing and appropriate task lighting. This is where your graph paper will come in useful.
Go furniture shopping
There are just so many budget-conscious choices out there, you’ll be spoilt for choice when you go shopping for the components of your outdoor room, whether it’s loungers, table and chairs, barbecue or storage ideas. Just make sure they-re size-appropriate to the space. No point having your sights set on a top-of-the-line barbie when the reality is you only have room for a Weber.
Sprinkle around some magic
Now this is where you elevate your outdoor room from a practical space to something really special. Night time is often when your outdoor room comes into its own and lighting will make it feel intimate and warm. If you don’t have access to a power point, you can always use tealights, outdoor candles or even solar lighting to create atmosphere.
If you don’t have a lot of floor space for pots, consider a vertical garden; a wall of edible potted herbs perhaps.
Mirrors immediately enlarge any space, so think about a nice, big one you can strategically place to capture the best aspect.
If you have a big enough courtyard, it’s worth sacrificing space for a striking focal point, like a potted elm or large ceramic urn. Landscape designers use this trick often: in a confined area, one big object that draws in the eye will have much more impact than a whole lot of small things, which can simply make it look cluttered.
A successful outdoor room all starts with clever planning, a realistic appraisal of what can be achieved, then that attention to detail that’s much more about imagination than a bottomless pit of money.
–Cherie Barber is the director of Renovating for Profit, a company that teaches everyday people how to buy and renovate properties for a profit.