Experts explain how to create extra living space outdoors

outdoor living
How to create extra living space outdoorsM&S

Outdoor living spaces have become huge post-pandemic, with the desire to stay at home, relax and entertain in the comfort of our own backyard more prevalent than ever.

The great outdoors may just be our most valuable asset this summer, with the average UK garden boasting 188 square metres – equivalent to a standard tennis court. With all that potential extra living space at our disposal, it’s no wonder that our gardens are becoming cosier and replicating indoor living, with innovations in materials offering more possibilities in terms of outdoor textiles, rugs, lounge sets and lighting that would look just as good indoors as out.

Read on for top tips on how to expand your living space without splashing out on an extension...

Divide your garden into zones

“Start by finding areas of the garden that catch the most rays and create zoned areas or ‘rooms’ to maximise light and warmth,” reveals Catharina Björkman, Scandi lifestyle expert at Contura. “You can effectively zone a blank space – no matter the size – by creating different levels, separating areas with planters or flower beds, strategically placing furniture, or dividing between lawned, gravelled, paved or decked areas. Clearly define these spaces using seating or large pots, for example, which will help create that ‘extra room’ feel. You could go a step further by implementing structures with walls, columns or roofing, which are great at creating cosy corners in an otherwise open space, providing a break in scenery. If you are using a wall or fence, you could add artwork (metal or stone is best to withstand the elements) to further enhance the feeling of an outdoor room.”

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Shelter from the elements – come rain or shine

When the Great British weather graces us with sunshine (or downpours), it’s important to be prepared. “Offering more than just a shaded spot on sunny days, awnings can really make it feel like you have a whole new room, plus you can enjoy your outdoor space well into the evening with integrated lighting and heating options,” says Yvonne Keal, Senior Product Manager at Hillarys.

An outdoor canopy is another great option. “With the choice of a louvred, retractable or flat solid roof, a canopy can be freestanding or fixed against existing walls and will remain watertight when closed,” advises Debs Winrow, creative director at Garden House Design. “Fixed roofs offer simplicity, with the bonus of being able to add hanging lanterns or grow a green roof on top, whereas louvred and retractable designs allow you to control how much light and openness you want on sunnier days. These options also work well when attached to your house, allowing you to open the roof at the press of a button to draw more light back into your interior space.”

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Open up your doors

“By successfully linking your indoor and outdoor spaces via glazed doors you can practically double your living space during the warmer months, while also providing plenty of access to daylight and fresh air. “Include French doors, sliding doors or bi-folds that lead onto a patio or decked area that sits on the same level as the kitchen to create one large, seamless area,” Helena Myers, co-founder of The Myers Touch. “Another alternative is an interior atrium-style design, enabling you to create a tropical oasis that you could enjoy through glass all year round. Introducing additional glazing will boost your link to the outdoors and increase natural light, so consider adding rooflights, clerestory windows in darker spaces and use windows as a way of framing your view over the garden.”

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Myers Touch

Extend your flooring outdoors

One of the hottest garden design trends is to expand your home by taking your internal flooring outside,” says Luke Holloway, Showroom Manager at Direct Tile Warehouse. “By choosing the same outdoor floor tiles as those used in the home, it creates a seamless look and also makes your internal space appear much larger as your eye has no ‘full stop’. If you’re able to incorporate patio doors into your project, opening them up will instantly give you more ‘interior’ space and lots of potential for use during the warmer months. The key element to creating an indoor/outdoor look is to choose your outdoor flooring carefully. We’d recommend opting for a tiling range that is suitable for both interior and exterior use, such as porcelain, and preferably a design with anti-slip properties for more stability underfoot.”

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Add an outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchens should be viewed as an extension of your home and style, made from materials suitable for the UK climate yet beautiful so they enhance your outside space and make all-year round dining a real possibility,” says Emily Hawkins, Marketing Manager at The Outdoor Kitchen Collective. “Kitchens made from vitreous enamel and stainless and corten steel can withstand the elements while also resisting heat and scratches. For flooring and worksurfaces, consider Dekton, which realistically mimics natural materials such as marble, plus it’s UV and frost resistant. Your design should tie in with the rest of the garden and house, so select complementary finishes, especially if your outdoor kitchen is visible from your kitchen/lounge area. Lastly, decide whether you need a rinsing sink, outdoor fridge and task lighting in the initial planning stages, as adding them retrospectively can be costly and disruptive. Any electrical, plumbing and gas work should be undertaken by qualified engineers and all work should comply with current building regulations.”

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The Outdoor Kitchen Collective

Create space for lounging

“When it comes to finding the right seating for your garden, like your living room, you want to create an outdoor lounge area that is both stylish and comfortable,” says Reilly Gray, Co-Founder at Suns Lifestyle. “Consider who’s going to use the space, how it'll be used and how often, as this will help determine the number of seats you'll need and how flexible the seating options need to be. Take accurate measurements so you know how much room is available and to ensure it doesn't look too big or too small in the space.

"Corner lounge sets in both fixed and modular designs are growing in popularity as they help to create a relaxed and casual atmosphere. If a corner unit isn't for you, then there’s a variety of outdoor sofas available with armchairs to match. These tend to give you a bit more flexibility as you can play with the set up – you may even want to place an armchair further down the garden to create an outdoor reading nook. In terms of design, we're definitely seeing pieces with minimalist silhouettes proving popular, with hardwearing, weatherproof materials being the go-to choice.”

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Suns Lifestyle

Set up for alfresco dining

“If you only have space for one seating area, go for a dining set that acts as a chameleon, adapting to all occasions,” advises Kris Manalo, Design Lead at Atkin & Thyme. “For example, choose a casual dining set with a corner sofa and an adjustable-height table that can be moved up for meal times and made lower for the morning coffee or pre-dinner nibbles. Alternatively, if you have room for a dedicated dining zone, keep your main table and chairs fixed in one spot (west-facing is ideal as you can maximise the light and warmth in the early evening), but introduce an easy-to-move piece such as a smaller foldable bistro style table that you can move into that sunny breakfast spot to catch the morning sun. As night falls, it might be worth considering a dining table with a built-in tabletop fire pit at the centre to keep guests warm as the temperature drops.”

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Bring out the bar

“Since the pandemic, our priorities have shifted, with homeowners spending more on creating new spaces for at-home socialising rather than going out,” says Anne Haimes, Design Director and Founder of Anne Haimes Interiors. “When it comes to designing an outdoor bar, you’ll want to make sure it’s easily accessible, which may mean choosing a location that’s closer to your indoor living areas, or designing a purpose-built pathway that leads from the house to your bar area.

"Although the bar will most likely be enjoyed during hot, summer weather, providing some shelter will make it more usable throughout the year, such as a canopy or removable parasol. Alternatively, a pergola adorned with climbing plants will provide ample cover while blending into the natural environment. For a more intimate atmosphere come night-time, string lights can illuminate your cocktail bar in soft clusters of light, while a built-in fire pit will supply some much-needed heat and light. Lastly, bringing in elements from your home will make your outdoor bar feel more authentic and inviting – adorn your drinks station with interesting focal points such as artwork, floral arrangements and showcase your glassware, collection of spirits and barware.”

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Light it right

“Like your interiors, you want to create a layered lighting scheme with multiple light sources in various areas and at different heights,” says Reilly Gray, Co-Founder at Suns Lifestyle. “This will help create ambience while ensuring there's ample practical lighting however you're using the space, be it alfresco feasts or relaxing with a drink and a good book.

"If you opt for wired lighting, pick options that can be hung from a structure or at height in the garden. Festoon lights or an outdoor chandelier hung will add brightness from above, lighting the space with good, general light. You then want to supplement this with others such as uplighters, floor lamps and lanterns. Not only will this brighten up darker corners and allow you to highlight certain elements such as your favourite plants, furniture and ornaments, but it will also add warmth, drama and help create that all-important atmosphere. The latest freestanding designs that are solar powered or rechargeable are great as they can be moved around easily, offering a lot more flexibility.”

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Turn up the heat

There’s an array of outdoor heating options now on the market to keep things cosy long into the night, ranging from basic patio heaters and garden fire pits to multifunctional designs. For practical and efficient heating, patio heaters are a top choice, especially for covering large areas. Powered by either gas or electricity, electric designs will need to be connected via an outdoor power outlet, while gas heaters will contain a gas bottle at the foot of the stand. Try looking for designs that also incorporate lighting for an added bonus.

For an atmospheric feel, however, nothing beats a naked flame. Garden fire pits generate a lot of heat, but they’ll only heat the area immediately surrounding them – perfect for outdoor living areas where guests can gather round; dining tables with integrated fire pits, for example, are great if you regularly host evening soirees. If you want to create a homely outdoor living space, consider an open fireplace, or heaters designed to look like a traditional wood-burning stove from brands such as Arada Stoves.

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Arada Stoves

Upgrade your soft furnishings

“We see outdoor spaces as an extension of your indoor interior aesthetic, and that has only been re-emphasised this year, with more and more product types available for both indoor and outdoor use – from rugs and cushions to furniture,” reveals David Harris, Design Director at Andrew Martin. “So opt for outdoor styles that fit in with the overall look and feel inside your home for connectedness. Long gone are the days of slippery nylon cushions and covers – there’s a whole host of luxurious and well-designed textiles that can be used. Outdoor weaves and eco digital prints all perform incredibly well against light and fading, and they can withstand a shower or two as well. Our fabrics have an anti-mould finish, plus we’ve developed new fillings that act much more like feathers, so there’s no need to compromise on style outdoors.”

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Create an at-home feel with accessories

“There’s no better way to make your outdoor space feel like part of your home than by making it just as snug,” says Joel Garthwaite, Chief Marketing Officer at Harbour Lifestyle. “This means investing in those finishing touches, such as soft blankets and throws, large outdoor floor cushions and a cosy all-weather rug underfoot, all of which can transform a drab and cold space into a warm and welcoming area. Consider using a variety of textures and a cohesive colour scheme to add further interest to your space. Accessorise with elegant side tables, lanterns and candles, vases of fresh flowers and tall foliage in decorative planters to create an intimate feel. Strategically placed mirrors not only look stylish, but also create the illusion of a bigger space – perfect for smaller gardens.”

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