Our comfy outdoor seating area: the big reveal!

5/23/2017 11:14:00 am HELEN STILES 1 Comments

It looks like we're in for a dose of summer this week (at least here in London) so, after what feels like a pretty long winter, it's time to start talking about outdoor spaces again, yay! As an interior designer, I clearly spend most of my time concentrating on the inside, but our garden patio area really felt like it was letting the house down. I'm pleased to say that, having spent most of last summer making over this space (I think we may be the slowest DIYers on the planet), it's finally time to share it with you!

If you missed the original post, where I rant about all the challenges and show you the before photos, then you can check it out here. To recap, we had a few problems to contend with (and when I say a few, I really mean a lot). It was small, sunken, uncomfortable and accessed via a huge step down from our back doors – a bit of a trip hazard for small children and visiting relatives – and, ok, for me after a couple of glasses of Pimms. It was also pretty grey (not in a good way) and unloved, with hand-me-down furniture that we'd not got around to replacing, so we never really felt inspired to sit out here.


The aim was to create a really useable and comfortable outside space that we could enjoy in the summer, and wouldn't mind looking at in the winter months too! The patio leads directly off our openplan kitchen dining area, so we look at it pretty much all the time – from when we're eating breakfast in the mornings to watching TV at night. It may sound like a cliche, but I really wanted to make the patio feel (and function) like an extension of the house.


The first, and largest job was to sort out the floor levels. The rather grubby looking grey paving was a good foot lower than the inside room level, and had some ugly gutters and an odd little step running alongside the wall.  The solution was to deck over the entire space, raising the patio level to the same height as the wooden floor indoors and hiding all the ugly stuff in the process. Queue a major project for Dave, which he diligently completed over the course of a few evenings and weekends (OK, quite a lot of evenings and weekends). To be honest, Dave and I sit at opposite ends of the DIY spectrum. I definitely fall into the 'that looks great, what's next?' camp, whereas Dave likes to refine and re-engineer and re-do things until they are absolutely perfect. Suffice it to say that our new decking could probably withstand a herd of elephants performing Riverdance without so much as a squeak from those boards (not strictly necessary, but reassuring nonetheless).


We decided that rather than turning our patio into a dining area, we would go for more of a laid-back and loungey seating area – the theory being that our large dining table is only about 50cm away on the other side of the sliding doors, so we didn't feel that we really needed a second table. Added to this, the patio is considerably lower than the lawn, and this small, sunken space lends itself quite well to some built-in seating.

Having exhausted all traditional garden furniture avenues, I opted to have something made to measure. We wanted something that would look good all year round but could be softened with proper seating and scatter cushions in the warmer months. MetroRetro, who I have worked with before, created this pair of bench seats using tubular steel and our left over decking boards.  They are simple, functional and slightly utilitarian, but also make perfect shelves for a display of plants when not being sat on! (The green-fingered among you may notice that these photos were actually taken a few months ago, hence the pots are full of winter cabbages and heather!)

Left-over decking makes the perfect tops for the steel bases, and will hopefully weather down at the same rate as the new floor. The metal bases have been powder coated in navy blue to link with the interior colour-scheme (it will also help them to withstand the weather and makes them feel a little more polished).  In the winter you can plonk a few pots on there to add interest, but in the warmer months we will turn this into an outdoor sofa, like so:


The base cushions were made to measure from sturdy foam, and covered in Sunbrella, a high-tech water-proof, stain-proof, mould-proof fabric.  It's what they use on yachts, so can hopefully stand up to a bit of British weather (and some pretty messy kids).  I chose a neutral grey design with a fine stripe and decided to add colour with the other accessories.

I spent a long time agonising over the dimensions of this seating. I wanted it to be low enough to feel loungey, (but not so low that it's difficult to get out of – I'll admit it, I'm not as nimble as I once was). It had to be deep enough to lounge with your legs curled up, but not so deep that a short-arse like me couldn't sit upright as well. And it had to fit plenty of cushions (because no-one wants to lean up against a hard wall with a stone ledge and frankly, I love cushions).

It was time well spent as this is now officially the most comfortable sofa in the house – without actually being 'in' the house. The corner (which you can see in the picture below) forms a sort of 'chaise' which is officially my new favourite spot. Unfortunately our 2-year old is also laying claim to this as her seat-of-choice. I predict a summer feud. I predict she'll win.


The small bistro table is from French Connection Home. Whilst it isn't technically suitable for outdoor use, it was one of the only tables I could find that was the right height to enable dining from a sofa (about 60cm tall). OK, I know I just said that I didn't need another dining table, but this enables 2 of us to have a quick bite outside of an evening if we want to – or more likely a drink and a few nibbles. It lives in the dining room in wet weather and is light enough to carry in and out easily (unfortunately it's been discontinued, but see here for their latest collection). When we have more guests, we'll simply pick up the side tables from the adjoining room and carry them out to provide extra surfaces (although the wall is actually a pretty good drinks perch, providing there aren't any footballs flying around).


Then it was time to add the cushions! Using a mixture of sunbrella; cowhide (left over from the business) and hand-dyed indigo I had them all made in a generous 60 x 60cm size. They have polyester inserts so that they can withstand a little damp and the only downside is that they do all have to be stored away in bad weather. We have the dubious benefit of an absolutely enormous shed at the end of our garden, so what better place to put them? (As you can imagine, Dave is delighted that his workbench and power tools are now barricaded in by a large bag of soft-furnishings). But then again, you can't argue with garden comfort, can you? (Similar cowhide cushions and indigo cushions are available from the shop: Hide & Seek. We're always happy to make bespoke items too, just drop us a line).


We already had the 2 Ikea Hogsten armchairs (they're ridiculously comfortable and affordable) and they fit here perfectly, meaning we can fit at least 10 people sociably on the patio, despite it's small 3m x 3m size.  I think these high-backed versions of the Hogsten have been discontinued, although there are usually several knocking about on eBay, and the lower-backed versions are still available here.


Of course nothing is ever finished when you're a designer...and there's always a list of things still to do in my house. The walls have already had a fresh lick of paint since these pictures were taken, but the fences are a bit of an eyesore. I hate being able to see all the boundaries and would love to see only plants instead. I've planted some honeysuckle and a vigorous clematis which should hopefully work their magic over time. I have to say I'm very impatient with things that grow, but I love the idea of sitting next to a fragrant living wall (in about 2 years time) so have resisted the urge to paint, cover or otherwise bugger-about with the fence panels for now. (Plus, I can't really paint these panels without doing the entire rest of the garden, and that feels like a lot of work for something that I ultimately want to hide with greenery).

Lighting is another item to be finished – we need to install some LEDs and perhaps a couple of uplighters so that we can enjoy the view from indoors in the evenings (rather than looking at a stretch of black reflective doors – read more on the benefits of lighting your garden here).  I'd like to add some festoon lights to weave through the yet-to-grow living wall too and have my eyes peeled for a bargain.

BUT, all in all, it's a big improvement on what was a dingy garden patio area. I'm pleased to see the forecast is looking good for half term as I'm planning on spending plenty of time out here, planting up my pots for the summer and playing with the littlest DesignSeekers (seen here enjoying our new 'outdoor room' at a party a couple of weeks ago). I'm predicting plenty more barbeques, drinks and water-balloon attacks out here over the coming months (although I could live without the latter). Is anyone else thinking about their garden goals yet? What are your plans?

All images: Carole Poirot (except the last one!)

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