Alfresco benefit

Trends to bring the outside in

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Designed well and perfectly placed, an alfresco will benefit you by enhancing your family’s lifestyle and greatly boosting your home’s value

Being outside — it’s a temptation most of us can’t resist. This is never more so when we want to share good food and good times with the people we love. Family lunches, dinner parties, movie nights — we now take all of these activities, and more, outdoors. Of course, Australians have always loved to entertain under the sun or stars but these days outdoor entertaining is often a more sophisticated affair, with zones for lounging and dining, and a dedicated cooking area.

“We spend so much of our leisure time outside it’s important to have a space that allows us to relax and entertain exactly how we want to,” says Phil Antcliff, Director of Fifth Season Landscapes. “Having a well-designed entertaining area is about considering all the factors, such as space, budget and how you want to use your garden, deck or patio. By thinking all of this through before making any decisions about your final house plan, you can create the perfect outdoor entertaining area for you and your family.”

“An alfresco is definitely a must in a new home,” adds Sandra Setian, Interior Designer Display Homes, MOJO Homes. “The climate in most parts of Australia lends itself to having an outdoor entertaining space to make use of the warm temperatures, and the great Aussie barbecue has always been an iconic part of our lifestyle.”

Summer through winter

Determining how you intend to use the space, summer through winter, is a critical part of the planning process. While summer may be prime time for alfresco living, cooking and dining outside is something most people want to be able to do whatever the season, which means considering everything, including protection from both the sun and the rain, ambient and task lighting, and how you will cool and heat the space.

“A covered alfresco means more versatility and being able to use the space during summer storms,” says Sandra. “They should be connected to the internal living areas and easy access to the kitchen is also a plus. In regards to the materials used, this is up to the owner’s preference. Tiles, for example, are long-wearing and easier to maintain, while timber decks add warmth, both visually and underfoot.”

When choosing a home design, you need to consider how interior and exterior living spaces complement one another. “A well-designed, well-placed alfresco draws people to the outdoors and, if done correctly, becomes an attractive additional room of the house,” says Rod Waddell, Director of Waddell Landscapes. “That’s why an outdoor entertaining space should be designed with the entire house and garden in mind.

“Also the flow from inside to outside and how that transition is made should be considered. If you want people to naturally gravitate outside, you need to make it a very inviting place to be but also make the transition from inside to out an easy one.”

Designs trends

So what are homeowners looking for in an alfresco? “An outdoor kitchen is a must for some, while others want a TV they can use for watching sports with friends or for enjoying an outdoor family movie night,” says Sandra. “If you have a larger alfresco, creating separate zones for dining and lounging is a popular thing to do and makes the most of the space. We offer a larger alfresco area — our Grand Outdoor Living option — on most of our home designs.

“You don’t have to go big, to begin with, of course. Plan for an alfresco space that can be extended in the future, perhaps by laying additional paving or adding a pergola. A growing trend is to have an alfresco that extends along two sides of the home. This also helps to control the temperature inside the home and provides a pleasing outlook from two spaces within the interior.”

According to David Bourke, Sales & Marketing Manager, Clarendon Homes, “People want to enjoy an indoor-outdoor lifestyle and they want the alfresco in their new home to feel like an additional room. For an easy transition from inside to outside, people are still choosing bifold doors but stacker doors, which are easier to flyscreen, are becoming more popular.

“You need a reasonably-sized space — a minimum area of 3m by 3m will allow for a dining table and a barbecue but for the larger family, a full-width alfresco is often preferred. An outdoor kitchen or barbecue area is pretty much essential as it makes entertaining easier. That said, an alfresco that directly joins with the indoor kitchen is ideal.”

Talking timber trends

Timber is being increasingly used for creating stunning outdoor design features, following a trend for natural finishes, raw materials and mixed textures. “Wood structures generate a sense of warmth and connect with their natural surroundings,” says Leon Travis, General Manager, Sales & Distribution, Boral Timber. “With its neutral palette, timber also harmonises with other building materials, such as brick or concrete, and can be used for a multitude of outdoor applications that are both stylish and practical.

“Architects are embracing innovative timber applications in residential projects, including decking, screening and cladding. A timber feature wall is a great way to inject natural elements into the backyard and a simple way to warm up a concrete or rendered space. They can also double as privacy screens or be used for practical purposes like hiding garbage bins.

“Establishing different zones can add visual interest to outdoor design and enhance functionality,” adds Leon. “Using timber creatively can include a deck which has multiple levels or platforms to define areas with different functions. Timber planter beds can be built up to add a touch of greenery and give the space dimension. For areas with limited space, built-in bench seating is a great way of providing ample room for visitors while creating a visual focal point. Pergolas can add beauty and functionality to an outdoor space.”

According to David Bourke, Sales & Marketing Manager, Clarendon Homes, “People want to enjoy an indoor-outdoor lifestyle and they want the alfresco in their new home to feel like an additional room. For an easy transition from inside to outside, people are still choosing bifold doors but stacker doors, which are easier to flyscreen, are becoming more popular.

“You need a reasonably-sized space — a minimum area of 3m by 3m will allow for a dining table and a barbecue but for the larger family, a full-width alfresco is often preferred. An outdoor kitchen or barbecue area is pretty much essential as it makes entertaining easier. That said, an alfresco that directly joins with the indoor kitchen is ideal.”

Kitchen cook-outs

Increasingly, the barbecue sits within an outdoor kitchen which might be as simple as a built-in prep bench with storage and a sink, or something more substantial, such as a stand-alone, custom-designed kitchen with a fridge, rangehood, pizza oven, barbecue, bar fridge and sink.

Your outdoor kitchen should reflect the type of entertainer you are, whether you are cooking for the masses every weekend or the occasional weekday barbecue. There are so many options and styles when it comes to outdoor kitchens. “People want versatility,” says Rod, “which is why they want to be able to cook in different ways. This has led to the inclusion of woodfired ovens. A woodfired oven can be used to cook pretty much anything you would cook in an ordinary oven.”

“When designing an outdoor kitchen, we might be asked to incorporate gas barbecues, charcoal barbecues, smokers, Argentinian grills, beer and wine fridges … the list goes on and on,” says Phil. “Trying to combine multiple products into the available space while ensuring the kitchen remains easy to use can be tricky, so the initial design process is critical.” “People really are looking to invest in outdoor kitchen setups which can be the ideal complement to an outdoor room or outdoor entertaining area,” adds Rod. “The outdoor kitchen is becoming synonymous with the outdoor entertaining area.”

The finishing touches

Decor is a vital ingredient of any entertaining space. The scatter cushions and throws you add to your lounge, the rugs you place on the deck, the ambient lighting you choose, the wall art and screening you employ all matter. And furniture is critical to how often and how comfortably you use a dining or lounge area. The furniture needs to be fit for purpose, of the right size, and a stylistic match to your outdoor decorating scheme — also your interior decor.

When entertaining, whether it’s a party for adults or a weekend influx of your teenager’s friends, having some extra casual seating makes all the difference. There are plenty of outdoor beanbags, floor cushions and ottomans on the market, and stools that can be used as seats or side tables for resting drinks.

Make good use of lighting as it will allow you to use and appreciate your alfresco 24/7, all-year-round. After all, no-one ever said that a garden should have a curfew. Take heating and cooling into consideration too.

Then there are the plants. “It’s easy to focus all your attention on the hard structures like paving, decking, built-in seating and outdoor kitchens, but the key to creating an inviting space is to soften all the hard surfaces with greenery. This might be with potted plants, bordering garden beds or upright boundary plants, but it’s critically important to balance the hard and soft surfaces,” says Rod.

Professional landscaping

As to the landscaping of outdoor spaces, and not just around the alfresco, but also pools, side gardens and the front garden, Sandra says, “This should be considered at the very start of the project. If you have an idea of what kind of landscaping you require and have at least a concept in mind, it will help with siting the house and also allow you to work out any additional excavation work or retaining walls you might require.”

“Landscaping really should be planned with the home and the pool, if you’re choosing to have a pool,” agrees David, “but the execution of the landscaping would be done after the home is built. The style of landscaping is up to each client but generally speaking, once the client has chosen a specific facade, they would be looking to complement it with a harmonising landscape design and appropriate plant selection.”

“In terms of trends, landscaping is moving toward more low maintenance gardens with more native plants,” says Sandra. “Designs with separate spaces and elements that slowly reveal themselves as you move through the space and create a journey through your yard are also very popular.”

Some builders, like Clarendon, can organise landscaping for clients and have their own in-house landscape designer. Most home builders won’t provide a landscaping design service but many can recommend a professional landscaper in your area if you don’t already have one.

Take plunge often

Often people want a pool as well as an outdoor entertaining area, even when space is at a premium. “A lot of customers are opting for a pre-cast drop-in plunge pool, which is available in different shapes and sizes. With block sizes getting smaller, plunge pools are an easier, more affordable solution,” says David. “Customers with larger lots, on the other hand, tend to opt for a customised pool to suit their requirements. Either way, Clarendon can refer them to an appropriate pool specialist if they like.

“It’s important to point out that the earlier a pool design is finalised the better. This is best done in the home’s initial planning stages,” adds David. Sandra agrees, “Pool design should be considered prior to construction but MOJO Homes doesn’t offer pool design or build services; this has to be organised through a third party pool company. However, some of our display homes feature pools so you can envision how your new home would be enhanced by a pool.

“The range of pool designs is expanding, with people opting for sizes and shapes to suit their space,” she continues. “Owners are often happy with a plunge pool which means they have a place to cool off without taking up too much of the backyard. Lap pools and pools that feature an infinity-edge are still very popular. Just make sure any pool is located adjacent to the alfresco so it remains connected to the house.”

To find out more about Alfresco design, click here