Plan outside space with the same care and attention to detail as the inside of a house, says Amelia Thorpe
Dining alfresco has become de rigueur in summer, at least if the proliferation of new pavement cafes, garden bars and rooftop restaurants is anything to go by. And dining in the garden at home? no longer the venue for just a few scattered picnic rugs and burnt barbecue offerings, it’s now all about making the outside as enjoyable—and well considered— as the inside of our homes.
interior designer Kit Kemp, the creative force behind Firmdale Hotels, is one of those leading the way in creating outdoor ‘rooms’ on the same principle as those inside. Her design for the pretty garden at number Sixteen in the heart of South Kensington features a series of sun-splashed and sheltered tables and seating areas for dining and relaxing. Each area is subtly zoned with planting and pots, and with paving and pebbles, creating the same kind of oasis of comfort that one would expect of the hotel’s interior.
The secret to any successful scheme is to plan with care, thinking about creating the most seamless transition from indoors to out and whether you want to include an outdoor kitchen or barbecue area, as well as spaces for sharing dinner with friends, enjoying the view or simply somewhere for having a snooze in the sun.
What’s most important to consider when you’re planning an outdoor space?
Start by thinking about how you propose to use the space. For example, if you plan to create an outdoor dining area, it makes sense to position the table with good access to the kitchen so that you haven’t got to carry the food from one side of the garden to the other.
Equally important is to make the most of the vista, including the view of the outdoor area from inside the house. For example, through glass doors from a conservatory or a living area that opens out to a narrow gravel path lined with box balls, leading your eye to an inviting dining table and chairs at the end, or even on to a gap in the hedge or garden wall to a far view in the distance.
Plonking a table on a lawn is not going to develop the atmosphere in quite the same way as creating a more sheltered space. Can you use hedging, planting or walling to create a more intimate feeling? Not only does this offer shelter from the wind, it also creates the sense of a ‘room’ outside.
Of course, England is not the Mediterranean, so a large parasol will help keep the dew off the table late in the evening. Or site the table and seating in a lean-to, which can double as a log store—just make sure your logs are beautifully stacked. For warmth in the garden, a brazier or fire pit can work well; it’s easy to pull some chairs round it after dinner.
What should you consider when choosing furniture?
I like outdoor furniture to look beautiful and to be comfortable and practical without the need for lots of maintenance. There are now plenty of all-weather designs to choose from, including Neptune’s All-weather Wicker chairs, which can be left outside year-round.
Have a variety of levels of seating if you can, but avoid the furnitures how room look with too much in one space. Think about a dining area and some smaller satellites with comfortable seating in different areas of the garden, positioned to enjoy the best views and sun at distinct times of day and at sunset. Lightweight pieces are useful if you want to be able to move the furniture around.
Which fabrics work best?
I prefer neutral cream or stone-coloured cushions and often use robust fabrics, such as those by Sunbrella (www.sunbrella.com), and outdoor cushions by companies such as Fresh American (freshamerican.annieselke.com). It can be a problem finding somewhere to store cushions in winter, so sometimes I take the linen scatter cushions from an interior sofa in the house plus some light wool throws and use them in the garden as needed.
What’s your advice on lighting?
Go for a subtle glow—too much bright light will kill the atmosphere. Just a few garden lights on spikes in planting around a dining area and a mast light, such as Neptune’s Dartmouth, to wash light down the wall, with some candles and hurricane lamps on the table.
Paving or decking?
It depends on the environment: decking is ideal for coastal areas and looks good in city gardens, but in country areas, I like sandstone or limestone paving with some texture and colour variation, used in a variety of sizes and combined with gravel or cobbles. Position the dining table on a flat slab and make a border of cobbles around the edge of the area to create beautiful texture and more interest than a whole terrace in one paving slab. All weather Cadiz armchair, £320, Neptune (01793 427300; www. neptune.com)
The garden at Number Sixteen, designed by Kit Kemp, is a textbook example of an outside space for entertaining
Comfortable furniture and proximity to the kitchen are key ingredients in the ideal terrace
Interior designer Emma Sims Hilditch offers advice on creating the ideal terrace for entertaining