While the UK may not be known for sunny weather, our summers are getting hotter, and people increasingly want to spend less time cooped up inside and more time cooling off outside.
What better way to do this than to bring your living room outside? No, not literally – you can leave your expensive sofa suite where it is, because it’s time to design a trendy outdoor lounge that will be the envy of your neighbours, family, and friends year-round.
Here are some of our best tips for creating a personal oasis in your backyard that’s an extension of your interior sanctuary – let 2023 be the year of your garden living room.
Plan outdoor seating carefully
Just as you would for an interior room, you should plan the layout of your outdoor lounge according to the space you’re working with before choosing furniture. Seating is the most important part of any living room, inside or out, but you’re likely to be working with different limitations outside – from a smaller area of paving or decking to accommodating steps, paths, and trees.
A low L-shaped sofa with a matching armchair and footstool would make an ideal outdoor lounge suite, but this isn’t always a practical option. You have to consider durable items that are easy to move if necessary, so you can adjust your set-up if needed.
This is why many people opt for modular outdoor living room furniture, which is designed to not only match aesthetically but fit together perfectly, be lightweight enough to move around, and possibly be stackable, allowing you to store them out of the way when you need more room.
If you do have the space, a big squishy sofa or chaise longue might be just what you want for your siestas on the terrace – but if you don’t, you might want to consider built-in bench style seating. This can double up as storage and a seating area, especially if you opt for stadium-style seating with a few levels. Depending on how you decorate them, they can be seats, tables, and shelves in one.
Design multi-purpose zones
Some people just want an outdoor seating area to relax in the fresh air and sunlight. Others, however, might want to fully extend their living space out into their garden – which means creating zones that reflect indoor rooms, without feeling enclosed.
For example, an outdoor living room can also merge with an outdoor dining room, unless you want to create a distinctive space for al fresco dining. You could have a comfy seating area with a table that can double as a dining table, add a separate space defined by a screen or plants, or simply use a fold-away bistro-style set of tables and chairs to create a pop-up dining area.
Either way, your outdoor zones need to be functional, without causing too much visual clutter. You can achieve this by raising one area slightly above another, defining your relaxing seating area with an outdoor rug, or using tiles, paint, or stones to create pathways that subtly divide different parts.
Of course, you can always make one space multi-functional. If you don’t have room to build a permanent outdoor kitchen, but want to host brilliant dinner parties, you could look into compact grills and bar carts. Or, if you want to transform the space into a garden cinema to watch movies outdoors, look into a portable projector and pull-down screen.
Circle around a fire pit
If we’re talking about on-trend gardens, fire pits are a must. They make an ideal centre point for seating arrangements, perfect for late evening conversations with family and friends. Whether it’s small or large, round or square, a permanent fixture or movable, it will allow you to use your outdoor living room throughout the colder seasons, too.
There are many options to choose from to suit any outdoor space, from smaller fire baskets and slimline chimeneas to larger fire bowls and two-in-one fire pit tables. You just need to make sure that their size and intended location are safe for use, taking the distance and materials of nearby seating and other furnishings into account.
You should also check with your local authority concerning rules for lighting fires in your backyard, as there are restrictions on what you can and can’t do for public safety reasons. If you are worried about the safety of a fire pit, you can always choose an artificial version, or a caged electric heater – though these can be more expensive to operate.
Add shade options
While a fire pit keeps your outdoor living room usable in autumn and winter, you’ll need something to shelter you from the sun during spring and summer. Yes, you want to get some Vitamin D from sunlight on your skin and enjoy the fresh air, but if you plan to spend hours at a time in your outdoor lounge, you’ll need some shade to avoid burning or overheating.
This could be as simple as a parasol that only comes out when you need it, and is otherwise folded down and stored out of sight. Or you could set up an awning, such as a fashionable sail shade, over the most important part of your furnished outdoor area – keeping the sun out of your eyes when you’re trying to relax with a book on the outdoor sofa.
If you’re thinking of installing a glass balustrade around your outdoor living room, whether it’s a raised deck or flat patio, you could also consider tinted glass that helps to absorb the UV rays.
Another option that lets you enjoy the great outdoors while offering shade is a pergola. These popular structures can make an interesting design feature in themselves, depending on the style and material you choose, but you can elevate them even more by decorating the sections with climbing plants or string lights for that extra touch.
Of course, even if you spend lazy summer days under your parasol, awning, or pergola, you should still be applying sunscreen to keep yourself safe. This is especially true for young children, who’ll likely be running in and out of the shade all day long.
Arrange stylish lighting
Lighting isn’t just about the practicality of making your space visible when the sun goes down. It’s also an opportunity to add some character to the place – whether it be through decorative light fixtures that pull the whole aesthetic together or novelty lights that express your personality.
One of the most popular types of outdoor lighting is festoon lights, which look good in almost any setting. The simple globe style of the bulbs suits industrial or modern design schemes, and their larger size makes them more practical for illuminating wider spaces than tiny fairy lights.
If these aren’t your style, you can still create ambient lighting with wall lamps and solar-powered downlights, or free-standing lamps and lanterns with battery-powered LEDs. There are lots of LED lights that can imitate the appearance of flames, too, allowing you to create the cosy feeling of a candlelit space without having to worry about fire safety.
Whichever lights you go for, you’ll need to ensure that they illuminate your key areas sufficiently – for example, al fresco dining won’t be fun if it’s too dim to see what’s on your plate!
Use hardwearing soft furnishings
Making an outdoor living room feel just as cosy as the indoor version is key to completing the space. Your soft furnishings can’t just be an afterthought – they should be a significant investment in carefully selected colour and fabric choices that don’t just look and feel good, but are durable enough to endure the weather when left outside.
Varnished woods and anti-rust metals are all good for furniture and fixtures, but your soft furnishings also need to be high-performance. It’s crucial to look for outdoor-appropriate materials so you can layer your cushions and blankets and lay down rugs with confidence.
Of course, you may need to gather up these loose fabric elements and store them inside during wet and windy weather, so don’t go too overboard with the layering. You can achieve a luxuriously comfortable style without three dozen pillows and throws, so perhaps choose stuffed furniture with outdoor-safe upholstery that only needs a cushion or two to feel extra sumptuous.
It’s fairly easy to find outdoor-safe rugs to brighten up the area and add a layer of soft insulation underfoot. They’re typically made from synthetic fibres like polypropylene, polyester, or nylon, or you could opt for the more natural look of woven jute or sisal, though these aren’t as weather-resistant as plastic fibres, or as smooth to the touch.
Set up a trendy garden living room in time for summer
In the end, designing an outdoor living room in your garden isn’t that different to interior design. You just have to take into account how the outdoor elements will affect your furniture and your usage of it throughout the seasons.
Starting with the size and shape, then considering the space’s different purposes, and pulling together a cohesive layout and design scheme should result in an outdoor space that’s just as welcoming as any lounge with four walls and a ceiling.
The biggest difference is that being outside also gives you an opportunity to be adventurous with plants – so don’t forget the foliage when you’re adding your final decorative touches!