Eleanor Flegg: If gardening is not your thing, you can still enjoy your outdoor space by bringing the inside, out
'Why don't we do this all the time," we asked, as we popped the Prosecco cork into the street below. My friend and I were having an al fresco moment on the roof of her very small house, just off Cork Street in Dublin. It's true that we don't do this often and the reason is simple enough. Getting there is a bit of a business. You have to climb out the window, up the ladder and then scramble up onto the roof, along with treats, snacks, cushions, and whatever. Once you're there, it's magic.
One day, my friend will revamp the house and better access to the roof space is high on the agenda. She's not the only person to be thinking this way. Ten years ago, when she moved in, she was the only person on the street to use the roof as an outdoor space. Now, looking up and down the terrace, the flat roofs above the extensions are bright with low cost outdoor furniture, picket fences, and planters. Outdoor living has become a thing.
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"We're spoilt rotten in Ireland," says Denise O'Connor, interior architect and principal of Optimise Design. "The majority of people have some sort of garden and it's great to see them tapping into the space." In recent years, her clients have begun to ask for outdoor dining and cooking areas as part of the interiors scheme. One even wanted an outdoor bar!
Adding this kind of detail as an afterthought can be much more expensive than getting the indoor and outdoor spaces designed at the same time. "Hard landscaping can be expensive, so get that done when you're having work done on the house," she says. "Paving is a pricey business too, especially if you want granite slabs. Composite stone can do the job just as well, but I'd avoid wooden decking. It really doesn't work in the Irish climate. There are plastic versions which don't rot, but they're inclined to be slippy."
Another consideration is ease of access. "The better the flow between inside and out, the more you're going to use your outdoor space. If it's a bit of a palaver to get out there, you're not going to use it so much." Glass doors that slide back tend to be more cost effective than uber-trendy concertina doors. "One of the advantages of sliders is that they don't have so many glazing bars to interrupt the view."
Built-in seating and cooking areas are increasingly popular, and have the added advantage that they can also provide storage - outdoor cushions can live in cavities within the seating and barbeque equipment in cupboards near the cooking zone. But O'Connor recommends that you leave some flexibility within the design. "Think about the sun and the way that it moves around the garden. You'll need some portable seating so that you can follow it!" Lighting can be left until you can afford it, but it's sensible to get the wiring done at the building stage.
"Think about lighting your garden in layers," says Roisin Lafferty of Kingston Lafferty Design. "The outdoor space is an extension of the interior and it should be thought about in the same way." Her recent design for Bolton Coach House in Dublin incorporated outdoor wall lighting, fitted behind the seating area, but with industrial-style exposed conduits so as not to damage the lovely stone wall. A further layer of low lighting illuminated the planting. In an outdoor living space, soft grasses and ferns provide visual softness in the same way that textiles do in an interior. "The distinction between the indoor and the outdoor zone is hard to read - and that's intentional," she says.
In the Bolton Coach House, a built-in table, runs through from the interior to the exterior. On one level, this makes an extended party space where many people can have outdoor fun, but you also have to think of the times of the year when you'll be sitting inside looking at the rain. "We live in Ireland and you have to be realistic about that. If you have visual continuity the outdoor space will seem bigger, even on the days that you can't get out there." The Moroccan tiles on the floor, walls and seating of the outdoor space are from Best Tile in Waterford; the table is clad in blue tiles from Rocca. Tiles, she explains, work really well in an outdoor space. You just have to make sure that they are frost and snow-proof.
On another practical note, Lafferty suggests that an awning is often a good way of increasing the utility of the outdoor space. "People think of them in terms of the smoking area in a pub. They don't think about them in terms of their own homes!"
kingstonlaffertydesign.com, optimise-design.com, roccatiles.com, besttile.ie