Bringing the outside in: The outdoor room trend explored
- Credit: Archant
Our summers are getting hotter and our outdoor spaces are being redefined. Richard Burton looked at the steps manufacturers are taking to bring the outside in.
Weekend evenings of late have been marked by the sound of conversation, laughter and music.
Thankfully, the conversation is generally amiable, the laughter restrained and the music non-intrusive; Rachmaninoff when it comes from the home of the couple at the back and Smooth Radio stuff from the family two doors down.
Either way, it's a reminder that the neighbours are enjoying the summer and, better still, their gardens, on warm nights in the country and enjoying the benefits, something not lost on manufacturers who have been responding well to demands for ever more functional, ever more stylish furniture.
There's even a growing trend I'm noticing to blend indoor and outdoor living, thanks in part, to the flooring industry's efforts to find seamless ways of rolling rooms out on to the patio and turning living areas into roomy multi-functional spaces.
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"The house and the garden were once separate zones, the back door a frontier through which great style couldn't pass," said Ludovic Aublanc, creative director of Chaplins furniture store of Hatch End.
"That's no longer the case. Designers are now looking at the garden as an extension of the residential panorama, opting for soft outdoor fabrics and generous cushions rather than the usual rattan or teak.
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"The hope is that, if homeowners no longer have to choose between the comfort of the indoors and the beauty of the out, they will feel encouraged to live the outdoors as much as possible.
"This year we've seen an explosion in the sales of modular furniture designs as well as outdoor versions of indoor icons, evidence if ever it was needed of the ardent desire to reconnect with the natural world."
The health benefits of outdoor living are well-documented, compelling, and cover a range of benefits. Natural sunlight, for example, promotes pain relief.
One medical study showed that patients exposed to high-intensity sunlight as they recovered from surgery reported lower levels of anxiety and discomfort and needed less medication.
Scientists are also convinced that levels of the white blood cells that help fight off infections and diseases can be increased by breathing in phytoncides, the airborne chemicals that plants produce.
And the longer days and higher light levels of summer can reduce the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a reoccurring condition marked by symptoms of anxiety and exhaustion, according to doctors.
It also boosts levels of Vitamin D which helps us to absorb calcium, preventing osteoporosis, and reducing inflammation. Exposure to natural aromatherapy from flowers and freshly cut grass has been shown to make us feel calmer and more relaxed.
The decision to lay indoor and outdoor floorspaces with the same material may be down to practicalities or pure aesthetics, bringing a sense of cohesion many designers are looking for.
This can work well in small houses; uniform floor tiles can make the space look larger, for example.
The ceramic tiling giant, Marazzi, suggests that porcelain stoneware tiles are best-suited to combined indoor/outdoor use. Their stoneware tiles are waterproof, feature anti-slip finishes and their indoor collection boasts high-performance technical features designed for busy spaces.
One trick is to "blur the boundary", by using one material for the majority of the kitchen, for example, and then - a metre or so before the kitchen ends - switch material to the same or similar as the outdoor surface to create a pleasing visual confusion between inside and out.
Another is to "follow the grain", ensuring the planks are cut to the same width and face the garden, leading the eye to follow it out.
Our gardens are now being seen as an extension of our indoor style, according to Matt Keightley, head designer for Rosebank Landscaping, a designer behind four RHS Chelsea gardens, who says we need to dress them accordingly.
"Think of your garden as just another room," he says. "You need to put as much care and attention into your garden as you would your interiors."
Homes are being adapted to take advantage of what we are now accepting as longer, hotter summers.
In place of traditional conservatories are awnings, pergolas and structures with retractable roofs, like the one pictured here from IQ Outdoor Living of Amersham for a Hertfordshire builder and Alfresco Living of Southdown, Harpenden.
Or "glass box" extensions like the IQ one featured here at a home in Surrey which incorporates sliding doors and structural glass which create a sense of minimalism to enhance its ultra-modern style addition to homes. Glass boxes are designed to bring homeowners closer to their garden as well as providing living spaces for the whole year.
Even traditional greenhouses are being put to greater use as parties and entertaining venues as younger families admit they see them, not just as a route to healthier living, but as luxury lifestyle accessories as styles and structures become more inventive and stylish.
A recent survey by the heritage British greenhouse and glasshouse manufacturer Hartley Botanic of Oldham, found that three in ten respondents said they expected to use them for things other than growing crops.
"Some are even bought primarily as entertaining spaces," said managing director Tom Barry.
"This makes sense as their aesthetics lend themselves well to garden settings and roomy, well-constructed structures allow families to extend the length of time they are able to entertain outdoors.
"Many customers tell us that they may entertain in the greenhouse for eight or nine months of the year.
"They see them more as lifestyle accessories, and in some cases, status symbols, rather than purely practical horticultural tools."
But it's not all fun in the sun. Green Our Herts, the website run by Three Rivers District Council, has cautionary advice for dealing with the hot weather at home.
It advises: "As our climate changes, it is expected that we will have hotter and drier summers. This may be great news for many of us but we can also expect more extremes of weather and heatwaves can have a negative impact on the health of the very young, old or those with long term medical conditions. Over time if we don't adapt, then our homes will heat up."
They recommend a range of measures, including advice on when to open and close our windows. Early morning air, they point out, is usually cooler so it's good to let out the heat that has built up overnight first thing in the morning.
Close your windows when the outside temperature is greater than the inside temperature (usually by about 10am on a hot day). This traps the cooler air inside and keep the heat out.
Longer term, they advise shading windows with solar reflective blinds, awnings or external shutters, painting outside walls a light colour and coating roof tiles or walls with solar reflective paint.
But for now, I'm enjoying the summer while it lasts. And the neighbours' musical soirees. Wouldn't say no to an invitation though . . .