A-grade Alfresco: 12 tips for the perfect outdoor room


Award-winning landscape architect John Storch explains 12 key tips for creating the perfect outdoor room or alfresco area

When embarking on your outdoor room design, consider the overall property and all necessary uses of the area. Take into account your lifestyle, such as whether you entertain in large or small numbers, and how often, as this will ultimately determine the size of your entertaining area. If you have a family, think about the future needs of the children. Don’t forget that if you make your home suitable for entertaining, your teenagers and their friends will be more likely to congregate at your home where you can keep an eye on them.

Will other features such as a pool be constructed now or at a later stage? If so, the pool and outdoor room might be best placed together. Also consider the proximity of the room to the home. Should the entertaining area relate to the kitchen or should the outdoor room be fully equipped with a barbecue, fridge and drawer dishwasher? There is nothing more tedious than spending all your time when entertaining having to traipse back and forth from the kitchen, getting snacks for your guests and not being able to relax. Also, is the bathroom nearby?

Consider physical aspects such as north-facing locations, sun and shade requirements, noisy neighbours or nearby roads, prevailing winds and potential views. Position your outdoor room with these aspects in mind.
Of course, you must consider the budget you’ve set aside for the outdoor room. Can all the works be undertaken at once or does the project need to be staged over a period of time? If it’s the latter, think about what needs to be undertaken and in what sequence so that finished works do not need to be ripped up at a later stage to complete new works. An example of bad planning could be putting the new paving in first, only to realise later that drainage or cabling for lighting should have been placed beneath the paving.

It makes sense to employ a landscape architect who specialises in residential design to help with the planning stage to ensure the entertaining area is located in the right location and is the right size. An experienced landscape architect will sit down with you and ask about your likes and dislikes, your lifestyle and your requirements for the space. They will listen to your ideas and may give other suggestions as to what would suit your home, lifestyle, garden and budget to ensure your entertaining area will work. A good landscape architect will listen to you and make suggestions to develop your ideas rather than simply impose their ideas on you. They should also tell you when your ideas are not suitable and help to develop a budget for the overall project.

12 top tips to consider when planning any outdoor room:

1. PREPARATION: Before commencing planning, always check council requirements and other authorities for any structure you are proposing. If works are to be undertaken near boundaries, always check where your boundaries lie. Old fence lines are often not placed on boundaries and it is best to verify who owns what to avoid potential neighbour disputes. Always check property titles to ensure your property is not encumbered with building covenants or easements that may affect what you can build in certain areas of the property.

2. HELP: Consider seeking advice from a professional landscape architect early on in the project. This is money well spent and it may save you greatly later by ensuring the proposal is feasible, that all factors have been considered in the proposal and that the outdoor room is situated in the right location. Engaging a landscape architect is much more cost-efficient in the long term and you are assured that all the constraints and opportunities are considered to avoid expensive mistakes.

3. DESIGN: Look through magazines and keep copies of things you want to incorporate in the design. Always consider the space as a whole.

4. UNIFY: The style of the outdoor room must be compatible but not necessarily the same as the house. If possible, use the same materials in the landscaped areas as those on the exterior of the home and similar colours for the outdoor room and home interiors. Using bands of similar plants and restricting the number of different surface materials and paving types looks much better than a hotchpotch of many plants and materials.

5. SIMPLICITY: Simple lines are more pleasing to the eye and always work better than complex, intricate shapes.

6. SCALE: Design things to relate to human scale. Doing this makes the space more comfortable to spend time in. A 10m Buddha may look inspiring in the grounds of a large temple but may not have the same effect in a courtyard garden. Size is important.

7. DATING: How will that expensive Thai sculpture you fell in love with on holiday look in two years’ time?

8. FEATURES: Always incorporate at least one feature in a garden as a focal point. A pond, pool, plant, vase or mirror placed in the right spot can lift a garden from pleasant to electrifying.

9. MAINTENANCE: Irrigation systems and swimming pool top-ups linked to rain-use tanks are worth the cost both environmentally and financially.

10. MATERIALS: Always wait for what you want. You don’t need the most expensive finishes for your outdoor room to make it work, but if it’s your choice and you can’t afford it, wait rather than settle for second best.

11. SENSES: Appeal to the senses. Fragrant flowers for the nose, multi-coloured plants for the eyes, textured walls to feel, running water for the ears and fruit to be tasted. Delightful!

12. FUN: Have fun with the design of the garden. Remember, you are the one who will use it. If you want the fluorescent furnishings, plastic plants and giraffe slide into a swimming pool, go for it.

John Storch is principal of A Total Concept Landscape Architects + Swimming Pool Designers, a multi-award-winning practice he established in 1993. John specialises in the integration of external areas for projects ranging from family homes to boutique and resort-style developments in Australia and overseas.

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