The high life: Calming garden oasis


A creative and calming garden space that’s the perfect oasis for relaxing afternoons


Making the most of a small outdoor space can be a challenge at the best of times, but when that space is perched on a rocky outcrop, the task is even more testing. But this garden in the northern Sydney suburb of Killarney Heights proves that in the hands of a creative designer, the more difficult the challenge, the more innovative the solution.

“The area was originally an unusable sloping rock shelf perched high above the home,” explains Josh Harrison of Harrison’s Landscaping. “The homeowners’ brief was to create a level covered entertaining area that provided views down towards the tranquil waters of Middle Harbour.”

In keeping with the architectural style of the house and its modern interior, the new entertaining area is of contemporary design and provides for the family’s need for a space that would function as an extension of the home.

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“The cabana is the focal point of the space and provides protection from the elements. The corner of the cabana is cantilevered to avoid the need for a post in the middle of the tiled area,” explains Josh. “The cantilevered timber bench seat was designed as a focal point for the lounging area and to create the illusion of increased space as it ‘floats’ out from the wall. Also, the natural spotted gum hardwood used for screening is a beautiful contrast with the contemporary rendered walls.”

A newly installed metal spiral staircase with decorative railings provides access to the entertaining space from the existing swimming pool area located on the lowest level of the property. Josh chose a spiral staircase as it takes up less room than a traditional staircase.

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“Access was definitely a challenge on this project,” he says. “We couldn’t even access the new space until the spiral staircase was installed and even then, all materials had to be carried up in buckets by hand. This made careful planning essential.

“From a design aspect, we needed to be careful not to clutter the space,” continues Josh. “It’s only a relatively small area, so we spent a lot of time playing around with the layout to ensure we made the most of every centimetre and delivered a design that would make the space feel as open and as large as possible.”

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The palette of materials and colours was developed with care. Josh wanted a light-coloured paving tile, but he didn’t want something that would reflect the sun’s rays too much, causing glare and heating up the space. He chose travertine tiles from Eco Outdoor and opted for a large format (800mm x 800mm) to help make the space seem bigger than it really is.

The walls are a combination of painted rendered block to match the home and sandstone to match the bush surroundings. The fencing is a horizontal hardwood slat screen to provide privacy and block out any unsightly aspects from neighbouring properties.

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“Due to the high winds that assail the garden, the cabana is constructed around a steel frame. “We tried to use hardy materials such as masonry surfaces and hardwood timber as the space is exposed to the elements,” says Josh. “The last thing we wanted to create for the family was a high-maintenance garden.”

The planting is a mix of traditional species including murraya and magnolia along with hardy coastal plants such as frangipani and native tree ferns. This complements the style of the home while creating a link to the native bush surroundings.

Project details

Landscape design and construction Harrison’s Landscaping



Words by Karen Booth

Photography by Natalie Hunfalvay

Originally from Outdoor Rooms magazine, Volume 27