GET A ROOM!
Backyard & Garden Design Ideas|Issue #18.2
Since living, working and entertaining at home is becoming the norm, exploring the creation of outdoor “rooms” in our backyards provides plenty of scope for imagination
Donnay Torr

Aussies have many reasons to love the alfresco life, not least of which are our country’s sunny weather, breathtaking natural landscapes and the sheer sense of potential carried on a warm summer breeze.

However, the COVID-19 lockdown changed the way we interact with outdoor spaces and the people who share them with us, and we’re now focusing more than ever on evolving our homes and backyards for better “at home” living.

Alfresco dining and living areas, outdoor bathrooms, and meditation nooks aren’t just a “here today, gone tomorrow” trend. Australia’s climate and culture are both well suited to “living” outdoors, and this has become an automatic extension and integral part of architecture in the modern-day home according to Dean Herald, managing director and principal designer at Rolling Stone Landscapes.

Dean notes that the social impact of the recent pandemic has made backyard upgrades even more popular: “There’s an understanding that your property and your backyard is probably one of the last remaining places you have full control over. You can invite whoever you want whenever you want.”

Entertaining at home is also more affordable for growing families and has added practical benefits. “When the kids get bored, they can entertain themselves outside or inside, and adults can continue to have a nice quality conversation — that’s a very attractive environment,” Dean says.

Feeling ready to jump into your own outdoor room project? Start by keeping these important planning details in mind.

MAKING A WISH LIST

Maybe you know exactly what you want or you’ve just looked at your backyard and decided it needs a little “something”. In both scenarios (but especially the latter), it pays to brainstorm with your partner and/or family — how, by whom and for what this outdoor room will be used. What’s the core need: a breakaway space for a growing teen and their friends, or a meditation sanctuary for one? Explore your outdoor space to find a hidden nook perfect for a little “art studio” shed or consider how existing trees and shrubbery might work well as natural privacy screening. What can be re-used or repurposed, and what needs to be created from scratch?

Jordan Taylor, director of Granite Works, recommends putting together a simple list of features you’d like, and then breaking that list down into must-have, should-have and couldhave elements, depending on your budget and available space. “There’s a balance between having an outdoor room and a room that’s outside,” he explains. “In many cases, less is more. Do you need walls, or would a screen of plants work just as well? Would a barbecue and small drinks fridge work better than a full outdoor kitchen? Consider your house and find the aesthetic you want for your outdoor space. It could be natural, modern, traditional, or anything in between: but continually refer back to this aesthetic when making your decisions.”

Taking the time to consider how different outdoor and indoor areas and landscapes connect is worthwhile if you want to create flow. Paul Uhlmann, director of Paul Uhlmann Architects, suggests questioning how you can create an external space that’s a room, rather than a leftover deck or terrace. “Ask yourself what makes the space feel inviting and engaging to be in, or what might make it feel more inviting or engaging?”

Selecting one or two colours that feature inside your home and repeating them in the outdoor spaces can also be a great way to transition between indoor and outdoor rooms, Jordan says. “Wide, open doors or windows may support in creating flow and harmony, while the use of potted plants inside can help to further blend internal and external spaces.”

A QUESTION OF SCALE

The scale of things isn’t always considered as much, Dean says, but when you get it wrong, it becomes extremely relevant. And this is true for too big or too small.

The “3 clients” approach

Dean Herald uses a tried-and-tested approach when coming to grips with a new design project. It’s a useful guide to consider when planning your own dream outdoor space. “I’ve always said that I work for three clients,” he explains …

Physical client: “This is the actual client and their wish list — they want an alfresco dining area, they want a pool, they’ve given me their big-ticket wish list.”

The architecture: “Whether it’s a full-on contemporary glass box or a heritage home with ornate timber or sandstone work, the architecture will influence the design, so the architecture of any home has a voice as a client, really.”

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