by Ann Horne
Long summer evenings dining al fresco, the perfect time for entertaining (and if the weather doesn’t cooperate, use the rainy days as planning days. When the sunny days arrive you’ll be glad you’ve spent the time creating a beautiful outdoor living area).
Bring out the mood board and let’s get started!
You might be considering a small patio area with a bistro table and a couple of chairs – perfect for morning coffee and croissants, alfresco lunches and a late evening drink (or two!), a sunny terrace where you can while away the hours or something on a much grander scale with permanent fixtures and fittings. An outside living area should be an extension of the inside décor so that the same style carries through easily from one to the other.
A site as near as possible, attached or even part of the house will make the little trips back and forth for provisions, books etc much easier. Decide how the ‘walls’ of this room are going to be constructed. If bricks and mortar are involved, try to use local materials to blend in with the house. Otherwise consider bamboo, natural garden hedging or selected evergreens to screen off the area and create a secluded space. For gorgeous summery scents and beautiful surrounding colour, add fragrant roses, lavender and thyme or shaped box plants and a weathered statue or urn for a more formal setting. Above all try to create a space where you want to spend a lot of time rather than just for meals!
When the weather turns a bit chilly, there are different ways to warm things up a little bit. Gas heaters – the type that you might see outside bistros and restaurants will give instant warmth at the touch of a button. Chimeneas, often made from clay or cast iron are perfect for a more rustic touch and some can even double up as a barbeque. Fire pits, either bought ‘off the shelf’ or custom built add a great focal point as do the very trendy fire tables. If space and budget allow, a purpose built fireplace is a real luxury. (Would you ever go back inside if you had one of those?) A cooking area should be easily accessible. Barbeques, table topped or floor standing, are always popular. Wood ovens which can be bought ‘ready to go’ or ‘build your own’ are becoming increasingly in demand, for cooking pizzas, roasts and stews etc.
Let’s think about creating some atmosphere with soft outdoor lighting. Clusters of candles gently flickering. Groups of large and small hurricane lamps. Tea lights in coloured glass holders (or jam jars!) hanging from trees. Solar lights to line the paths and guide you safely back to the house. A beautiful candelabra as the centrepiece of the dining table. Try to choose something for each part of the living space to give a warm glow all around when evening approaches. Look out for the unusual to make a statement piece. I recently came across a baroque style outdoor chandelier with a dimmer switch!
When it comes to finding the ideal outdoor furniture, there are lots of styles and shapes to choose from. For typical French style, search out decorative vintage iron tables and chairs, still showing signs of old paint or a beautiful antique daybed made comfortable with plump cushions and pretty throws. Nowadays garden furniture is not just restricted to tables and chairs. Sofas, armchairs and coffee tables are available in weatherproof materials like rattan in gorgeous designs. Accessorise with lots of comfy cushions and place fresh flowers on the table. Do we need a clock in our outside living area? I don’t think so. Just let time drift away!
• Ann Horne • Topic Host, Decoration • Frenchicandshabby