When Matteo Bianchi was asked to redesign the lower ground floor of a residence in Islington, central London, recently, the owners of the property had a very clear idea of what they wanted. “The brief was to create a kitchen and living area that would lead you into the garden. The client wanted the garden and living areas to be considered as one space,” the Venice-born, London-based interior designer explains.
This was in keeping with a general trend that Bianchi has seen sweeping the design world in recent years. “The industry has finally picked up on the fact that the outdoor space is equally as important as the indoor space,” says the founder of the Matteo Bianchi design studio.
Outdoor areas – in terms of patios, terraces, balconies and extensions of the garden, rather than large green spaces that need the attention of a landscape architect – have long been the victims of neglect. At best, they are viewed as entirely separate entities that, design-wise, have little to do with the properties that they belong to. At worse, they are a dumping ground for dirty bicycles, unsightly washing lines and other eyesores. The result: a lack of cohesion and unity across the overall design scheme.
“People treat their outdoor areas as a completely different space,” says Bianchi, who was in Dubai last week to tutor the Chelsea College of Art and Design’s first Outdoor Design course in the emirate. “They think of it almost as a garage. They focus on the indoors, and the outdoors becomes almost a passageway, while it is probably the best part of your home. People either forget it completely or don’t take it seriously. They focus all their energy and budget on the indoors, but, actually, especially in a place like this, the outdoors is very important and it is important that it ties in with the rest of the house.”
And it doesn’t matter whether you live in rainy London or sunny Dubai – or if you use your outdoor areas regularly or once in a blue moon, says Bianchi. A well-designed outdoor environment that blends seamlessly with the rest of your home will not only add value to your property and make it look bigger and more visually appealing, it will also make it a far more pleasant place to live. Whether you’re staring out at it from your kitchen table or sitting on your patio reading a book, a harmonious, well-tended outdoor space will bring endless enjoyment.
“People need to be aware that it’s actually simpler than you think. It’s just a question of thinking of your outdoor space as part of your design scheme. Don’t spend all your money refurbishing your living room and forget about the outdoors.”
For the Islington project, Bianchi and his team designed as if there were no doors separating the living areas from the garden. Finishes were carried across the two spaces to create flow and continuity – for example, oversized 900 millimetre by 900 millimetre polished porcelain tiles were used in the kitchen, while the same tiles were fitted outdoors, this time with a hammered, non-slip finish. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors were used to accentuate the blurred boundaries between the interior and the exterior, and also mean that the residents are constantly exposed to views of nature.
Additionally, Bianchi ensured that the indoor and outdoor lighting plans were connected. This, says the self-confessed “lighting freak”, is key. “I think you should have the same ambience outdoors that you have indoors; so if you are using low-level light in the living room, that should be applied outdoors. If you are using chandeliers in the living room, you should use wall lights outside. Try to maintain the same level and colour of light to create the same ambience.
“Storage is also important; make sure there is storage outdoors where you can put your furniture away or keep those extra chairs. Keep it tidy. Make it relaxing to the eye. An outdoor space is supposed to capture your imagination rather than clutter your mind, so keep it really simple.”
These days, the process of creating seamless outdoor spaces is easier than ever; manufacturers are capitalising on this growing trend by creating increasingly attractive and versatile products that can withstand outdoor environments – but look like they were made for your living room.
“The industry has been galloping, really, towards making sure that whatever finishes you can get for the indoors, you can also get for outdoors. Outdoor lighting has made massive steps and you can now find outdoor fittings that are as cool and as elegant as indoor lighting. It’s the same with materials. There’s a big trend with furniture – in the old days you used to have all this lovely furniture for the indoors and when it came to the outdoors, you basically had a choice between rattan or plastic. Now, because it’s being acknowledged that this trend exists, you’re finding outdoor furniture that is so beautiful and well made that you could bring it inside your living room and it wouldn’t look out of place at all.”
Chelsea College of Art and Design’s one-day course, which will return in May, offered an overview of trends, as well as advice and tips on designing outdoor environments. Participants also heard from a Dubai-based gardening expert and took part in a practical exercise.
This is the fourth time that Bianchi – himself a Chelsea College graduate – has come to Dubai to lead one of the college’s courses. “I feel there’s a real need for guidance here,” he says. “There’s a lot of passion and a lot of knowledge in terms of product and content, but I feel like people need a bit of guidance and structure. A design project is like any other project – it needs to be quite logical; you need to be organised and understand what you are doing or you end up going around in circles.”
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