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7 Core Elements of the Best Outdoor Living Areas

September 24, 2023

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Don't judge me, but this writer is one of those lucky people who got to holiday in Italy this summer. One of the things I love most about discovering new places is how they inspire us to make changes in our lives, and this time was no different. On my return to Sydney, I was determined to replicate those wonderful outdoor spaces on the Amalfi Coast where I'd gorged on the best pasta and pizzas and drank far too many Limoncellos. Those precious memories of my new experiences inspired me to start a home project that had been on the back burner for too long - a Mediterranean-inspired outdoor area. 

The cost of living is affecting all of us, but fortunately you don't need to be a professional landscaper nor require a massive budget to design a new outdoor living area as we discovered last summer. And whether you're updating a new property or an existing property to sell, there are many smart ways to get around the increasing costs of construction

Furthermore, whether you decide on a more intimate, relaxing retreat or an elaborate space such as an outdoor room or kitchen that can be used all year round, the best outdoor areas share certain requirements: careful planning and creativity.

Transforming your outdoor area requires careful planning and creativity

Needless to say, there are certain fundamental rules to follow. The most successful outdoor area designs harmonise with their surroundings and nature, and ideally, they should offer an obvious purpose. So the question to ask yourself at the start of the project is how you will use the space, whether it is primarily for relaxation, dining, or entertainment purposes. The functionalism of your space will dictate what you need, whether that is a focus on decorative elements, a fire, pizza oven, water feature, or your furniture.

Understand the purpose of your design before you start

With a large enough space, your area can offer a combination of uses, but in a more compact area, such as a balcony or courtyard, you may have to choose between a relaxation or entertaining zone, i.e., outdoor lounge setting or dining furniture, and your choice of materials will depend on whether the area is covered or not.

Finally, you should also think about how the space flows from and complements your home. You don't want the result to look contrived, but rather a natural extension that has come together organically.

best outdoor living
Time to entertain!

The best outdoor area designs look like they've come together organically

The reason Mediterranean outdoor areas appeal so much is the idea of long, lazy summer lunches outside with family and friends, not to mention that the style also suits most budgets and the majority of homes, and is largely sustainable. Traditional stone and terracotta walls and flooring, potted and landscaped greenery, teak or metal furniture, and the soft light of candles go a long way in creating a rich, welcoming outdoor entertaining space that is certain to impress. 

In a courtyard, for example, plants, flowers and fruit trees provide colour, contrast, and shade; soft furnishings such as a Provencale tablecloth thrown over the table or mosaic tiles add another layer of colour, and the rich earthy hues of terracotta pots or flooring add depth and a sense of nostalgia.

But whichever style you aspire to create, the best outdoor living areas have 7 core elements:

  1. A well-thought-out plan – The key to success is always in the planning and it is no different for the exterior of your home, but if you don't have a vision or a natural talent for design, it might be worth consulting with the experts to avoid costly mistakes like the one we made when we erected a shed at the bottom of the garden that flooded during heavy rain. “Landscape design plays a crucial role in transforming your outdoor space into an attractive and functional living area. A professional landscape designer can help you plan and execute your vision by considering various elements such as spatial organisation, material selection, and plant choices. They can also recommend innovative solutions and sustainable practices to create an eco-friendly, low-maintenance space that stands the test of time,” says Angelo Azevedo, The Shingle Master, on LinkedIn.
  2. Landscaping – There are many practical benefits to good landscaping such as water management and environmental preservation, not to mention privacy from neighbours and improved security. Retaining walls and borders house plants and trees that add colour and air filtration to your design, but think wisely about which species work best and at what times of the year they flower. Your outdoor living area is likely to provide a sanctuary for wildlife as well, so consider carefully which plants attract insects or offer food or protection to small animals. Greenery adds a sense of vitality to the space, and we are learning that the closer we are to nature, the greater the benefit to our mental health.
  3. Lighting – There are many ways to maximise space and create an inviting ambience in your outdoor space, but the right lighting is probably the most influential. Candles, solar garden lights, and fairy lights are inexpensive ways to illuminate the space and help create a Mediterranean, coastal, or Boho vibe. However, you may need to wire in more effective lighting such as wall lights, pendant lights, or downlights in larger spaces and outdoor rooms. On the subject of wiring, don't forget about the wiring required for sound systems and outdoor kitchens or the plumbing for gas fires etc. 
  4. Contrast – The colours, textures, and patterns you select will add depth to your space. Plants create colour and pattern naturally, but other ways to create contrast and texture is by using a combination of finishes such as stone, timber, glass or metal, patterned tiling, outdoor wall art, or coloured and textured soft furnishings.
  5. Natural materials – Nothing recreates the spa-like zone of a Balinese garden better than a design that is created from predominantly natural materials like timber and stone, with big-leafed green plants such as monstera, alocasia, palms and tiger grass. Furthermore, using natural materials in your new outdoor area is less costly, sustainable, and one of the easiest ways to protect our environment.
  6. Decoration – The best outdoor areas have the wow factor and that usually derives from decoration or statement pieces. This might be a collection of large pots or vases, a water feature, wall art, sculpture, or even a planted vintage bath. To make the area more sustainable, reclaimed, recycled or upcycled pieces are a good idea. Obviously, they must work with the style of your house and the ambience you are trying to create.
  7. Sun Protection – Shade is probably the most important consideration in Australia and there are many ways to incorporate it tastefully into your outdoor area without compromising on style. Shade also contributes to privacy so it is worth careful consideration and a decent allocation of your budget. Roof shutters and retractable awnings are at the top end of the budget and offer the most flexibility, but traditional Aussie sail shades and umbrellas are also effective.

With our help, you can focus on the fun parts of buying a property

Obviously, you need to find your perfect property before you can put your personal stamp on it. It's only natural to want to jump straight into the fun parts of buying a new home - the interior and exterior design - but the other stuff doesn’t need to be stressful with the right support. This is where Listing Loop can help you. As Australia's leading marketplace for off-market, pre-market and "secret"  listings, we have an extensive portfolio of stunning off-market properties for you to choose from and a wonderful team of property experts who remove all the stress from the buying process. 

That means you get to focus on the fun parts.

Sign up today for FREE access to our hub of properties or for more personalised support, learn about our BUYER ASSIST service here.

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