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DECOR ADVICE: Turn your outdoor space into a functional summer living area

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Spending time outside your home doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice style or comfort.

With clever consideration you can create a weather-friendly haven for relaxed entertaining.

Orientation is key. Ideally the space should be planned to respond to local climate conditions, taking wind, rain and sun into account, especially in coastal areas such as Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

“Your patio, deck or veranda should have its back to the wind, in other words, be positioned on the leeward (wind’s shadow) side of the building,” says Nemone Bieldt of Indigo Architects. It should also ideally be north-facing or even preferably west-facing to capture the setting sun as many of us choose to relax in our outdoor spaces at the end of the day.

Consider your outdoor area as an additional room that needs structure and integrity. “It shouldn’t be an amorphous space that bleeds into uncertain corners, but rather a coherent area with edges and boundaries that help inform your chosen narrative,” Bieldt says. Define your space with walls, fences or screens made from glass, timber, bamboo or latte.

A movable or mechanical overhead enclosure, such as louvred aluminium or sliding glass panels, will protect you from the elements when necessary and give you extra hours outdoors even in fierce sun or sudden downpours. Alternatively, if extreme weather conditions aren’t a huge consideration, consider a more organic roofing solution, such as a proprietary tensile structure, a tarpaulin on cables and rope, retractable awnings which extend out over the space – or a simple rietdak.

Picture: Joshua Ness

“Remember that solid overhead structures such as light steel or corrugated iron roofing will affect the quality of light to any adjoining rooms, so consider using panels of translucent sheeting panels against the building to keep adjoining rooms well lit and to bring brightness to the outdoor space itself.”

You want your outdoor area to be a visual extension of adjacent rooms in your house, so it should flow seamlessly without abrupt changes. This connection is best achieved by using paving or timber flooring that matches the colour and texture of your indoor rooms.

The same applies to wall and ceiling finishes and even your choice of outdoor furniture. Continuity of the structural elements from indoor to outdoor are a fun way to blur the boundaries and lure guests outside. Sliding or folding doors which open fully, or sliding doors that disappear into hidden pockets in walls also help make the outdoor spaces a seamless extension of the building.

Whether you opt for a screeded floor, timber decking or tiles, bear in mind that the materials need to be as slip-proof as possible. If you’ve decided on tiles, choose natural stone ones or roughened ceramics to ensure minimal mishaps.

Timber is an excellent solution for outdoor flooring as it offers warmth and texture and that priceless holiday feeling while being low-maintenance. Jarrah, a sustainably-harvested Australian gum is ideal for these purposes, although South African timber producers are also rising to the challenge of supplying sustainable timber and are accelerating the supply of properly cured local eucalyptus species.

Of course, well-considered greenery can add a welcome touch of drama and beauty to your outdoor space. When planting a tree, consider its root system and choose indigenous.

Decide whether you want the leaves to drop in winter to afford you more sunlight, in which case you don’t want it near the water feature, or whether an evergreen is more suited to your space. A vertical garden or simple creeper is an effective way of introducing a natural element to any deck, veranda or patio.

Finally, to ensure your indoor-outdoor flow is as seamless as possible, keep outdoor furniture to low, elegant lines. A conventional dining table should be carefully positioned so as not to seem imposing – coffee table height furniture is preferable in outdoor spaces as it lends a relaxed touch to the setting. 

Choose weatherproof materials such as durable wicker or waterproofed wood to minimise the maintenance factor of your outdoor space. And if the space is under permanent roofing, squishy couches, carpets and even fabric-covered standing lamps can transform it into a magical haven.

In short, a well-considered al fresco area with good orientation, clever screening options, and a good relationship with the interior space, will guarantee years of relaxing and socialising in the comfort of your own home. Happy planning.

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