Lynda Hal­li­nan: a fresh look at out­door liv­ing

Lynda Hal­li­nan gives new mean­ing to in­door-out­door flow, tak­ing her furniture out­side to lounge about on the lawn un­der an em­bel­lished gazebo.


It was, for the rul­ing elite and their en­tourages at least, a very fine time to be Bri­tish. Colo­nial pol­i­tics aside, dur­ing the hey­day of the Bri­tish Raj on the sub­con­ti­nent, In­dian sum­mers were long and leg­endary.

Every sum­mer, when the civil ser­vice’s stiff up­per lips grew beaded with sweat and the heat and dust of Delhi proved too much for their fair com­plex­ions and ten­der con­sti­tu­tions, they – and their ser­vants – lit­er­ally headed for the hills, de­camp­ing to the so-called “Home Coun­ties in the Hi­malayas” for sev­eral weeks. There, they played cricket and polo and lin­gered on the porches of their Lu­tyens man­sions for tea par­ties by day and gos­sip over a gin and tonic by night. (Not only did those G&Ts keep the con­ver­sa­tion flow­ing, the qui­nine in the tonic kept malaria at bay.)

Who doesn’t fancy the idea of re­tir­ing to the cool of a coun­try es­tate in late sum­mer, but what’s a girl to do when she’s al­ready swapped the city streets for coun­try life on a small farm in the foothills of the Hunua Ranges? Where I live, late sum­mer is any­thing but a bed of English roses. In­stead, it’s the sea­son of hay­mak­ing, hope and hoses: I flip-flop be­tween pray­ing for sunny days so the grass can be baled and bun­dled off to the shed, and hop­ing for rainy nights to re­fill our wa­ter tanks and free me from ir­ri­ga­tion en­slav­ery. With­out wa­ter, cracks soon ap­pear in our baked clay soil, our lawn loses its ver­dancy, all the flow­ers in my gar­den fade and the veg­etable crops I’ve nur­tured since spring wither and wilt on the vine.

There’s no hid­ing from a parched gar­den at this time of the year as we in­evitably mi­grate out­doors to eat, drink, en­ter­tain, re­lax and dose up on as much vi­ta­min D as pos­si­ble. And yet surely I’m not the only one to have ob­served that most rea­son­ably priced out­door furniture sim­ply isn’t fit for pur­pose. It’s jolly un­com­fort­able, for starters. Sun loungers rarely re­cline at the right an­gle; wooden benches leave splin­ters in painful places; fold-up

“For a vin­tage look, I chose a flo­ral fab­ric and added a pink pom­pom trim.”

chairs pinch your fin­gers; and it takes an engi­neer­ing de­gree to work out how best to erect a shade sail with­out freez­ing one half your fam­ily while fry­ing the other.

A cou­ple of sum­mers ago, I splashed out on a char­coal-coloured plas­tic rat­tan furniture set for our deck. Birds took plea­sure in poop­ing on the can­vas cush­ions and it was too hot to sit on af­ter mid­day, but the fi­nal in­dig­nity was de­liv­ered by my chil­dren, who poked holes in the woven plas­tic with a ham­mer and screw­driver. (Take it from me, all tools, even so-called toys, are weapons of mass de­struc­tion in the hands of small boys.)

At our bach on the Coro­man­del Penin­sula, we have a set of funky yel­low Cape Cod chairs on the back deck but every­one – in­clud­ing the dog – fights to claim a seat on the old couch I picked up at a lo­cal op-shop. Its up­hol­stery is thread­bare and it sports spilt beer and ice-cream stains but gosh it’s com­fort­able.

It makes me won­der why we don’t take our in­door furniture out­doors more of­ten, so this sum­mer I’ve done just that, set­ting up a por­ta­ble lounge un­der a pimped-up pop-up gazebo on our lawn. All the furniture, from the faded flo­ral couch to the tar­nished cut­lery, came from sec­ond-hand stores.

How fun it has been to pre­tend I’m on the set of the BBC drama se­ries In­dian Sum­mers, serv­ing pitch­ers of honey-sweet­ened sun tea (use so­lar power in­stead of an elec­tric ket­tle to ro­man­ti­cally steep your tea leaves be­fore adding ice and lemon slices) or nips of Dam­son gin from the art deco de­canter on my vin­tage tea trol­ley.

Dam­son gin is a home­grown de­light, a sweet marzi­pan-flavoured liqueur made one sum­mer to serve the next. Sim­ply prick and pack these small, sour pur­ple plums into a large jar, add sugar to taste, top with good-qual­ity gin and steep in a cool cup­board for sev­eral months be­fore strain­ing out the wiz­ened fruit.

I have five dam­son trees and as the fruit ripens by the thou­sand this month, it’s time to get off the couch and up a lad­der to pick it all!

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