x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A new room with a view

There’s an easy way to expand your space at home – transform your garden.

Rob Hardaway's Arabian Ranches garden is lush with life thanks to the EZ Flo fertilizing irrigation system he uses to maintain his landscape. Sarah Dea / The National
Rob Hardaway's Arabian Ranches garden is lush with life thanks to the EZ Flo fertilizing irrigation system he uses to maintain his landscape. Sarah Dea / The National

How many rooms does your house have? Kitchen, bathroom, one or more reception rooms, at least a couple of bedrooms. But you may be forgetting an important hidden room, one that doesn’t have the standard four walls and a ceiling but is nonetheless an important space for relaxing, socialising, entertaining and more. Yes, your garden isn’t just a place to plant a few pretty flowers; these days, it’s the perfect space to create a whole new outdoor room.

Defining the space

The key to creating an outdoor room – as opposed to a patio – is to introduce a sense of enclosure by defining the space.

Just as a carpet can draw together the disparate elements of a seating area within a larger lounge, so the flooring of your outdoor room will mark out the space and separate it from the rest of your garden. There are many options to choose from, whether you prefer loose gravel or decking, paving stones or bricks.

While a ceiling is not necessary, it will help protect you from the elements. If you opt for a solid porch, you’ll be able to use your outdoor room all year round – even during those odd rain showers. Alternatively, a pergola with vines growing over it has a real sense of nature and the outdoors, and will protect you from the sun while maintaining that sense of openness.

Your outdoor room will have at least one wall – the exterior wall of your house – but it’s possible to add more without getting the builders in. A fence or trellis along a second side will add definition, and you could also use plants in raised beds or pots to further define the room’s shape. If you do want to build solid walling, try half-height structures that will cause minimum disruption to your views of the rest of the garden.

The practicalities

As with all rooms, it pays to think practically before you start on the more creative side of decorating. How are you going to use your space? If you want to create a relaxing oasis where you can escape with a cup of tea and a book in the afternoon, you’ll need a comfortable sofa or armchair and good shade. An entertaining area, on the other hand, requires suitable lighting, plenty of seating and probably some sort of catering area. If children will be using the space, toy storage could be a good idea, and make sure that you choose sturdy plants and accessories that can handle a bit of rough and tumble.

Unless you want to bake under the hot sun, you’ll need to ensure some sort of shade provision. If you don’t have a porch roof or pergola, a large outdoor umbrella or a gazebo is a must. For added comfort, you might want to invest in a patio fan. Likewise, if you’re concerned that you might feel the chill when the temperature drops, there are plenty of heating options available.

Extreme heat, humidity, rain – all of these things will take their toll on your furniture and accessories. Specialist outdoor items are likely to be pre-protected, but if you use ordinary cushions, for example, you’ll need to treat them with a solar shield spray so that the fabric won’t fade, while wood needs to be treated to protect it from both sun and moisture, otherwise it may rot, warp or crack.

Adding style

Remember that this is an outdoor room rather than simply a bit of the garden and, as such, deserves just as much attention as any of the rooms under your roof.

There are so many options available when it comes to outdoor furniture, from sleek and modern to vintage and retro. You don’t have to limit yourself to a table and chairs – outdoor sofas, stools, hammocks and even swing benches are all readily available. If you really want to go all out, why not consider splashing out on an outdoor fridge and grill, a pizza oven, or even a whole set of kitchen units with a plumbed-in sink?

As night falls, lighting is important both practically and as a means of creating atmosphere. Solar-powered lights are friendly to both the environment and your electricity bill, and come in so many different forms — wall mounted, torch style, pendant and so on. Candlelight is ideal for creating atmosphere outdoors (hurricane lanterns are a huge trend right now), while strings of Chinese lanterns or fairy lights bring a party to life.

An outdoor room wouldn’t be complete without a decent selection of plants. When choosing, don’t be limited to your sense of sight – surround seating areas with highly scented flowers, and add a water feature to fill your outdoor room with the relaxing sound of running water. If you want to be able to update your look easily, stick your plants in pots so that you can move them around with minimum fuss. Practically speaking, plants can provide shade or block unsightly views, but be careful to avoid any species that are known to attract bugs and insects.

The fun part is where you get to add the finishing touches to your outdoor room. Adorn your walls with a piece of metal wall art or a vintage mirror, hang jars with tea lights from the branches of a nearby tree, or fill a pretty wicker basket with logs – let your imagination run riot and decorate your outdoor room with as much style as you would any of the rooms indoors. Soften the space with plenty of textiles, such as cushions and throws, or even a rug. Choose specialist fabrics that are made to last outdoors, or simply bring your more delicate items in at the end of the evening – it’s not all that much work, and the results are so worthwhile.

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