Take it outside: Five steps to a stylish garden room

Neptune's Harrington sofa and chairs
Neptune's Harrington sofa and chairs

It's been an unseasonally cold spring, but it really is time you thought about what to do with the garden this summer.

If you don’t fancy spending the Bank Holiday weekend tidying borders in the Arctic chill, don’t. Instead, stay indoors and check out the latest garden trends online.

Here are a few inspirational ideas that will ensure when the frosts finally lift, your green space is primed for the barbeque dash. Ready, set, go!

The Islay dining table and bench from John Lewis Croft collection 

Blur the boundaries 

“By adding a few outdoor cushions and rugs and investing in good lighting, the garden can become an exterior room,” says the interior designer Nina Campbell, who normally entertains outdoors from April until October. “You can extend the time you spend in the garden hugely by investing in a fire pit, which will add warmth as the temperature drops in the evening, and provide a focal point.”

Even small outdoor spaces can become a tranquil spot

It is a sentiment echoed by the interiors stylist Olivia Gregory, a former decorating editor at House & Garden, whose clients include Selfridges and Zara Home

“People should view the outside of their homes as an extension of the interior,” she says, “The outdoor furniture you can buy now is so sophisticated and stylish that you could literally keep it indoors. And the quality of outdoor fabrics is much better than it used to be. They no longer have that plasticated feel to them. Designer’s Guild and Osborne & Little both have great ranges.”

Stylish outdoor scatter cushions from Neptune

The Hudson collection from Neptune is made using fibre-reinforced concrete and acacia wood, making it suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. The dining table (available in round and rectangular models, from £1,285) was one of the company’s top sellers last summer.

The Hudson table by Neptune can be used indoors and outside 

“I think the appeal of being able to take it outdoors when the weather warms up has made it one of our most successful tables to date,” says John Sims Hilditch, managing director at Neptune. “There’s definitely a move towards customers wanting to entertain outdoors with the same level of style and comfort that they do inside.”

Gloster’s Grid range of outdoor furniture has modular elements, allowing numerous configurations. With its minimalist metal framework, neat cushions and slatted wooden panels (think integrated side tables), it’s chic enough to look at home indoors.  

Gregory has also used mirrors in her small, courtyard garden to add a focal point create the illusion of more space. “They reflects all the greenery beautifully and work particularly well in compact spaces. Cox & Cox has some great antique-style arched steel mirrors.” 

The St Mawes reclaimed teak table from Garden Trading

Go low-maintenance

“Wooden furniture needs looking after, and if you don’t oil it regularly, it starts to looks tired pretty quickly,” says Campbell, who prefers fuss-free garden furniture in powder-coated aluminium. “The American company McKinnon and Harris make the best metal pieces for outdoor use. They are timelessly stylish and incredibly good quality, so I have used them for several projects. The powder coating comes in an array of colours. Soft green and chocolate brown are particularly nice and don’t fight with the colours of flowers and planting.”

Powder-coated furniture by McKinnon & Harris

McKinnon and Harris has a showroom at Chelsea Harbour Design Centre in London, and prices start at £1,950 for the Keswick armchair. Thankfully, the trend for using more durable materials to ensure longevity and easy maintenance is apparent at the more affordable end of the market, too. The Chilgrove rattan chair from Garden Trading (£145) is coated in a layer of plastic, making it incredibly resilient to the elements. Preferring the look of natural rattan, Gregory simply takes her chairs indoors for the winter and cosies them up with sheepskin throws. 

Woven seating in bright tropical colours is on trend as these House by John Lewis Salsa chairs beautifully demonstrate 

Hot tropics

If you’re hankering after something more eye-catching, you are in luck this season. 

“There have been a lot more colourful, exotic furniture designs coming through, and in materials such as rattan and woven polypropylene,” adds Gregory. “Graham & Green and Habitat both have cheery, bright designs, and H&M Home is brilliant for cushions and accessories in tropical prints.”

Copa Apertif outdoor furniture from Made.com  Credit: Giles Christopher 

Made.com’s new Maui outdoor collection is inspired by the geometric shapes and colours of South American furniture. The bistro table and chairs set is made from durable polypropylene woven onto a powder-coated steel frame and comes in several colourways including hot pink and teal. 

Of course, you could just give tired-looking furniture a lick of paint. Gregory has just revamped a rusty metal table and chairs by repainting them in Pistachio by Little Greene. “They have been utterly transformed,” she says. “There are two ways to go with exterior paints - restrained, muted hues that tie in with the colours of the house or vibrant brights. I say have fun with it and be bold with colour to celebrate the summer.”

Bold splashes of colour enliven a decked corner 

Light and shade

As the sun goes down, well-positioned lighting – and a few cosy blankets – can hugely extend the amount of time you can comfortably spend outside. 

A quick browse in any big DIY store reveals how sophisticated outdoor lights have become, with floor and table lamp options that wouldn’t look out of place in the living room. 

As part of its sustainability drive, Ikea has come up trumps with a fuss-free solar lighting range that puts those sad little lights you can pick up in supermarkets in the shade. 

No-fuss solar-powered lighting designs from Ikea

“Solar lights are ideal for lighting the garden at night, without adding a penny to the electricity bill or causing any of the difficulty of finding somewhere to plug them in,” says John Keeler, lighting sales leader at Ikea UK and Ireland. “A well-placed solar table lamp will also work to add light where it’s most needed while being a stylish table centrepiece in the daytime.”

Ikea’s Solvinden decorations can swiftly transform lighting chains to suit different aesthetics - coastal, floral, tropical, etc - garlanding a garden with colour and pattern during the day, and soft, diffuse light in the evening. 

Gregory opts for the old-fashioned charm of fairy lights: “They’re cheap, easy to hang and look magical on a summer’s evening. What could be better than that?”

A wood-fired oven from Morso 

Alfresco cooking 

The blurring of the boundaries between inside and out has also led to alfresco cooking options become more sophisticated. Once a pipe dream, outdoor kitchens are now a viable and increasingly affordable option. Encompass (encompassco.com) has a number of designs on offer, including the clean-lined Krakatoa (from £3,740) by the Spanish brand Fesfoc, which can be ordered as either a charcoal or gas model, with optional extras including a sink unit and granite worktops. 

John Lewis is anticipating a bigger demand for high-end barbecues this summer, particularly models with larger grill sizes and preparation space, such as Big Green Egg grills (from £750). 

“With food trends moving at pace, we have introduced lines such as the Weber Smokey Mountain smokers which are great for ‘low-and-slow’ cooking techniques,” says Nicola Gidlow, outdoor living buyer at John Lewis. “We also have pizza ovens and even outdoor woks so that your barbecue truly can be your outdoor kitchen.”

But remember to think about the correct positioning of cooking areas because, as Campbell counsels, “no one wants to have the smell of burnt sausages wafting over them”. Quite.