x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Create a relaxing refuge with a soft touch

Changes in textures, tones and accessories can bring calm to any harsh space.

Kettal can customise pieces and combine different fabrics to soften the look.
Kettal can customise pieces and combine different fabrics to soften the look.

Soft tones and textures always have a place in an outdoor space, from the smallest terrace to the most expansive deck. They can take the most hard-edged, boxy area, and transform it into something splendid. Nowadays, soft definitely does not mean dull - nor the pallid peach of your grandmother's porch. For colours, try faded pastels such as the kind pioneered by Farrow and Ball - antique-effect shades that look historical rather than meek. Take paint outside and do up a wall a muted pink, pale yellow or greyish-blue.

To soften any influx of light, erect a pole and drape a soft, sheer material across, or something more opaque if you wish to block more light. Swathes of muslin are perennially chic - choose at least two layers. Or try simple industrial muslin. Laura Ashley Home has plenty of voile curtains with and without embroidery, and with pretty ribbon tie-tops. White is the most cooling, and probably the easiest to live with, but inexpensive Indian sari curtains are a fun choice for nights, or when entertaining. Clash two or three different shades and lay them over each other; when they start to look less bright, just pull them down and replace.

For a more traditional look, try dramatic drapes of deep red curtains in the manner of a Moroccan riad's rooftop, or do as they do at Emerson and Green hotel in Zanzibar and drape layers of different blue silks, keeping them loose and slack to let the light filter through. Other shades that work well almost anywhere are pale custard yellows, dove grey, icy pink and duck-egg blue. Greys sound chilly but can be especially calming and gentle and look wonderful in urban settings - look for blue-tinged greys, and layer with whites for a cool Miami effect. The Florida-based outdoor textiles designer Laurie Bell's greens are reminiscent of early 1960s Mad Men decor: as well as plain, textured fabrics, she does designs strewn with cream dots. She combines them with a pale aqua blue for an interesting but subtle result.

Marcel Wanders' Swiss lace and crochet-inspired patterns for Kettal are delicate but not twee while Gervasoni's Irony tables might be metal but they allow bright light to gently filter through. Paola Navone's renowned Ghost series of soft, starkly draped sofas, daybeds and chairs look silently elegant in any garden. Many furniture brands such as Dedon and Kettal now offer the opportunity to customise pieces, combining different fabrics with the frame of the chair, table or outdoor sofa. Take the opportunity to try Dedon's fabric in light slate, blue frost, beige or taupe, for a more interesting take than white, strewn over the Daydream canopied daybed or oversized chaise longue with acrylic cushion and pillow covers decorated with an abstract frosted-leaf print in similar shades.

And is there such a thing as too many pillows? Large-scale, oversized pillows scattered across the floor and daybeds have long been a staple of chic European beach clubs but they're easily brought to the home without any hint of pretentiousness - and with a great deal of homely cosiness. Jean-Marie Massaud's Springtime four-poster sofa for B&B Italia last year takes the old idea of the cabana and softens it in off-white draping, cushions and plenty of deep seating.

Consider flowers, from real to artificial: nature has a way of softening edges without creating a new agenda entirely, and in the bright light of every outdoor setting in the UAE almost any plant or flower, real or otherwise, will work. Wicker furniture in pale shades that allows the light to travel through it, such as the sculptural but simple pieces by Kettal, or Gandia Blasco, are an easy option that again, work almost anywhere. Gandia Blasco's Ensombra parasol is a stark, simple design that's at once very modern and gently naturalistic. It comes in a subdued teal and a pale brown, as well as white, and would work as well to simply blend the harsh look of balcony edges with the sky as it would to block the sun.

And of course, candles: everything looks better by candlelight. Unfortunately, in this climate you'll have to take them indoors during the day but you can leave their holders outside. The simplest clear glass hurricane lamps or pretty metallic Moroccan lamps both create an attractive effect. If the latter seem too metallic, apply a pale, pretty paint - and when it chips off, don't patch it up. The chips and flaws add depth to the prettiness and create a sense of faded, soft antiquity - not a common trait of the average UAE outdoors terrace but a finishing touch that will suit most homes, bringing a subtlety to the bricks, the concrete and the chrome.