You’ve got the house looking tickety-boo - now all that’s left is the garden! But where to start? And what to include? Read on to find out what you need to consider to maximise the potential of your outdoor area in 2021.
Shelley Craft, pictured in her stunning home at Byron Bay - what an accomplishment this beautiful space is! (Photographer: Jessie Prince)
The Blocks 15 Tips for a well-designed outdoor space:
1. Allocate the funds for your outdoor area
Outdoor areas are often the last thing we think about when renovating - often there’s no money left in the kitty to make it look sensational. But we can’t stress this enough - allocating enough in your initial budget to cover landscaping is essential. After all - in a country like Australia, chances are you’ll be spending a LOT of time outside. And if you’re renovating to sell, your buyer is going to pay BIG bucks to buy themselves a slice of the paradise you’ve created.
2. Hire a landscape professional
Where possible, hire a qualified landscape designer or architect to help execute your ideas. While we’re all for doing-it-yourself, in this particular area it pays to get the professionals in.
“A landscape designer is very much like a builder, in my view - someone whose skill set is way beyond just design,” The Block’s head honcho, Julian Cress, recently told Domain.
“To execute a successful terrace is a building project, and it’s beyond the ability of our contestants to execute alone. This is why they’re allowed to bring in a landscape designer to help [on the show].”
3. Think about WHO will be using the outdoor space
Are you renovating a large family home? Perhaps you’re doing a small-scale reno on an apartment or townhouse? Whatever your circumstances, before you begin, think about who will be using the space. If you have a young family - or are trying to attract that buyer - you might want to include a grassed area. While fake grass looks great, it can get very hot in summer, so you’ll want to keep this in mind. Likewise, if you’re trying to appeal to young professionals, think about how they’ll want to use the area - this might mean including outdoor drinks fridges, a BBQ or rotisserie/smoker and plenty of space for entertaining. Once you’ve got your outdoor users in mind, you’ll have a much better idea of how to proceed.
This pool and outdoor space is to die for! Kara and Kyal designed their Long Jetty house "from the pool out." This was designed and concrete-poured before house construction even began. "We love the idea of a single-level home flowing out to a private oasis-like garden," Kara said.
4. Get comfy in your outdoor space
First and foremost your outdoor space should be an area you WANT to spend time in - so make it as inviting and comfortable as possible. Spend money on good quality outdoor furniture. It doesn’t have to be designer - just opt for comfort, as well as function. Outdoor furniture has come a long way since the days of uncomfortable foldable chairs - there are great lounge suite options in Synthetic Rattan. This material is hard-wearing - you can jazz it up with designer cushions and gorgeous textured throws. In Australia’s harsh climate, this material also wears well. While some of those designer European imports LOOK impressive, they may not be entirely suited to our hot summer sun.
5. Create an additional outdoor living area
We’re always banging on about this, but remember that your outdoor area can effectively become another living area when designed right. If you’re planning to incorporate bi-fold doors or moveable glass, make sure you blend your indoor/outdoor seamlessly - you’ll want to make sure your colour schemes and tones of your furniture are consistent across the living and outdoor areas. Make it seamless, and arrange furniture so your eye is naturally drawn to the flow outside.
Shelley Craft's outdoor studio appears to float above the grassed area that surrounds. (Photographer: Jessie Prince)
6. Think about outdoor warmth
Outdoor areas are great in summer, but to maximise the potential of your outdoor space you’ll want to facilitate their use all year round. A roaring open fire incorporated into the design is a great way to do this, as is a fire pit placed strategically at a conversational area, making it a focal point. If you live in the inner-city, or in an apartment, this may not be an option, but there are lots of great portable gas heaters these days and they’re fantastic for balconies and patios. Retractable awnings are also worth considering - especially if you live in colder areas like Melbourne. Vergolas are great for providing shade and keeping the elements at bay.
The crown of Jason and Sarah's 2017 Block backyard - the Heatsail Dome Electric Outdoor Heater created a stylish outdoor dining space.
7. Get creative with your outdoor plants
If you’re landscaping - the sky’s the limit! Landscape designers will have a great idea of which plants will suit the space you’re working on. But if budget is a concern and you want to have a go yourself, think about ways you can incorporate plants in a variety of heights. This adds interest to the garden, and, when done well, will draw the eye naturally upwards to the house (if you’re renovating to sell, you want your home to be the centre of attention - so this is a good thing!) Canna Lilies and Birds of Paradise are very on-trend at the moment, as are large cacti and succulents - especially for mid-century homes getting a makeover. If in doubt, your local nursery can steer you in the right direction - make friends with them.
What an incredible outdoor oasis Alisa and Lysandra created at their Albert Park property (Photography: Lisa Cohen)
8. Accessorise your outdoor area
Your outdoor entertaining area doesn’t have to be a wasteland of durable beige-hued furniture - get creative! There are lots of beautiful outdoor cushions, throws, umbrellas and rugs available - you can constantly reinvigorate the area by changing things up and moving them around. Or, if the weather’s inclement, you can move them indoors and get double the usage! More permanent fixtures like mirrors (they give the illusion of more space), all-weather artwork or decorative wall tiles can also look sensational when used judiciously - make them the focal point of your design.
Black and white always wins...what a stunning outdoor rooftop terrace Alisa & Lysandra created at Albert Park featuring beautiful outdoor furniture. (Photography: Lisa Cohen)
9. Create cosy nooks outside
If you’ve got the space, make your outdoor area a veritable treasure trove of secret nooks and crannies. Think about allocating different ‘zones’, each with its own purpose. For example, you might have your entertaining space, but also a space for lounging and reading. Maybe you can incorporate a swing or hanging basket seat for interest, or place a bench seat somewhere secluded for quiet reflection? It’s heaps of fun finding hidden corners of your garden - choose one that suits your mood.
10. Light up your outdoor space
Choosing good lighting for your outdoor spaces is important - and can also have a dramatic effect when used properly. Strategically placing lighting at the front of your home, for instance, can not only serve a functional purpose, but also give your house - or a focal point in the yard, like a tree - a dramatic impact. We love the idea of using LED fairy lights and party lights all year round in entertaining areas to provide light, and a sense of fun. We also adore the use of flood lights on mature, architectural trees - these look particularly great on Ghost Gums or grand old Plane Trees. Lights look fantastic and don’t have to be costly - there are stacks of wonderful battery operated solar-powered options available. And no unsightly extension cords!
Jesse and Mel's striking 2019 Block courtyard featuring statement sconce lighting,
11. Get native
We love a native garden, especially if your home is in the inner city - they’re a great way to attract native birds back to the area, and provide them with safe nesting spaces. Native plants indigenous to the area tend to thrive, so do your research, and ask around at your local nursery for ideas about what to plant. Native plants also tend to be drought tolerant and hard-wearing, so if you’re looking for a maintenance-free garden, this could be a great option. We particularly love Grevilleas - Honeyeaters love them, too!
12. Make it edible
In this day and age, maximising your garden’s ability to feed you just makes sense. Even if you have a tiny balcony, you can still have a crack at growing your own fruit and veggies - dwarf lemon trees are particularly great in pots, as are cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. If space is an issue - or you’re renting - raised veggie beds are a great option. Pop them on casters, and you can move them around your balcony or yard to catch the sun - and take them with you when you move on! If you’ve got more space, think about dedicating an entire section of your yard to self-sufficiency. Not only will you save money, you’ll also teach your kids some great lessons about where their food comes from. Got room for chooks? Get creative with their digs and have some fun!
You can grow goodies such as vegetables and herbs even if you only have a window sill or benchtop.
13. Garden border patrol
A great way to provide structure to your garden, and a focal point, is to include ‘border plants’. These are the plants used to spruce up walkways, and help define different areas in your garden. Grasses are always popular - monkey grass is very on-trend right now - but bushes and shrubs boxed up and used as hedging also look fantastic. We particularly love rosemary for this look - it visually works well, smells amazing and is also edible!
Norm and Jess created a gorgeous edible border on their knock out Block penthouse terrace at the Gatwick.
14. Consider outdoor furniture built-in options
You don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune on outdoor furniture - if you know a good chippy or builder, think about hiring them to create bespoke pieces of furniture for your garden. Think concrete tables, wooden benches, or built-in seating. This is also a great way to match outdoor furniture pieces to indoor decor, to create a consistent feel and flow throughout the home. A lot of chippies are just ITCHING to get creative - ask them what they think might work, and let them go for it!
Sarah and George's 2020 Block home included a breathtaking outdoor area. We love the clever built -in seat at the end of the pool making the most of the space.
15. Put in a outdoor pool
OK, so this one is obviously for those with two things in their favour - space, and moolah! It goes without saying that pools can add considerable value to a home. And if you’ve got the room - and the cash - it’s well worth including them. Get creative with your designs, and also have a think about going natural - natural pools are very on-trend at the moment, and The Block’s Dave Franklin is a particular fan.
“This year I’m all about the health benefits of magnesium-based pool filtration systems,” he recently told Domain. “For a similar price to a chlorine or salt system, magnesium systems mean you can swim in soft, soothing water without any odour or harsh chemicals."
Shelley Craft pictured at her Bryon Bay home with her famed Block landscaper Dave Franklin recreating the famous Palm Springs, Slim Aaron photograph. (Photographer: Patrick Redmond)