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Outdoor Garden Rooms


Published: 09/18/2012

by Kimberley Seldon

Think quickly... which is the most expensive room to decorate? If you answered the kitchen, you're not alone. But, if you're like me and you just spent $750 this past weekend at a nursery just on container plants, you are going to consider the possibility that your garden is the most expensive room to decorate.

Although a kitchen renovation or makeover is costly, the investment immediately begins to amortize. Not the garden. The garden is like a toddler: insatiable, uncontrollable, maddening and often endearing.

A garden requires continuous, ongoing maintenance, and year-round renewal. Plus, it makes you do crazy things, like ruin a favourite dress because you couldn't resist the urge to do a little weeding before going out for dinner, or spending a small fortune on container plants.

Since I spend so much time, energy (and money) reining in my garden, you can imagine I want to enjoy it on every conceivable occasion. Creating well-defined outdoor garden rooms allows me to use my garden more often and more effectively. Rather than just plunking some furniture into the garden, I've chosen to create my own private paradise, and you can too.

Delineating garden rooms

Like interiors, our exterior rooms function better when we carve out specific areas for relaxation, recreation and tasks. Consider the various rooms which might suit your garden.

Alfresco dining room: Even a tiny portion of a deck, patio or grass can be converted into an alfresco (in the open air) dining room. Choose an area close to the house, facilitating easy serving and clean-up and providing shelter from wind.

Choose a table that complements the scale of the deck or patio. For example, to accommodate a four-foot-diameter table, a minimum nine-foot by nine-foot space is required. As with indoor dining, allow four feet of clearance between the table and a wall or railing for major passageways.

Although the majority of outdoor furniture can withstand inclement weather, most will last longer if it is moved to shelter during the winter. For this reason, unless you have an enclosed structure, consider lightweight furniture options such as wicker, resin or metal frames with woven seats.

Cook centre: Increasingly, outdoor enthusiasts are looking beyond the barbeque to full-service cooking centres. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by purchasing or building a barbeque island. An instant kitchen, the barbeque island might include storage space, warming drawers and even a small refrigerator.

Thotful Spot: That's not a spelling error, as I learned from one little orange bear named Winnie the value of creating a quiet spot for reflection. My "Thotful Spot" is a humble stone bench, given to me by a favourite gardener, which is surrounded by items of personal meaning, such as the raspberry bushes my children insisted, despite my advice, would grow (they were right of course).

To create your own Thotful Spot, position furniture arrangements towards the best view, facing away from the house if possible, and put as much distance as you can between you and interior distractions such as ringing phones.

If outdoor reading is a priority, comfortable seating is essential. A high-back chair with arms, whether woven, wicker or wood, cradles the body and offers an immediate sense of security. Add a small table to accommodate a tall iced tea.

Add ambient sound such as a trickling water fountain or playful wind chimes to mask city sounds and foster serenity. Consider flower plantings such as rosemary, lilac and jasmine to infuse the surroundings with delicious fragrance.

Play areas: For a lucky few, a swimming pool is the ultimate backyard extravagance. Beyond a pool there are dozens of options for play areas -- a hot tub, sand box, croquet court or trampoline are just a few. Our play area consists of a basketball court that gets a lot of use at family gatherings. Often the children will disappear at the end of a meal to shoot hoops, leaving the grownups to linger over coffee. Make sure to position any play area away from eating areas to avoid accidents.

Steps to creating a garden room

When you devote the same careful consideration to outdoor space planning as you might to indoor space planning, the rewards are gratifying. Here is a suggested work order.

Space planning: Determine the specific tasks involved in each area before you make any purchases. A landscape architect or garden designer (and even some interior designers) can help with decisions.

Furnish by function: Prior to purchasing furniture, consider the number of people who will use the area and the time of day it will be used. A comprehensive lighting plan, using a variety of light fixtures, is essential if you plan to enjoy the area at night as well.

Add colour: When decorating interior spaces, we rely on fabrics and wall colour to determine a decorative palette. Outdoors, we rely on plants and flowers for much of the impact. Again, it's wise to hire a professional or consult a reliable nursery before making any purchases.

Accessorize: No room, whether indoors or outdoors, can be considered truly personal without the addition of valued objects. A stone sculpture, a mercury gazing ball, a weathered sundial, or an inviting birdbath increase personal satisfaction within your outdoor oasis.

For anyone who prefers dirt under the nails to a French manicure, or a family barbeque to dinner in a fine restaurant, a well-designed garden room can provide a full year of satisfaction in just 15 short weeks.

Kimberley Seldon is an internationally known designer and writer, as well as host of Design for Living with Kimberley Seldon on Toronto One television and a regular guest on City TV's CityLine. For more information, visit 

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