Where you locate your outdoor living room depends on how you’re going to use it and the size of your garden. If space is tight or it’s for a dining zone, position it near the house, within reach of the kitchen or barbecue. In a larger backyard, distance from the house can give a lounging spot destination status and a sense of seclusion. An area with natural shelter, from a mature tree or near a tall fence or wall, is ideal.
The space needs to be large enough to allow people to walk easily around your furniture, but do judge the visual impact your new zone will have from your house. Too large and it will take over your garden; too small and it will look redundant. Try mapping out the preferred size with a rope or hose – which gives you the flexibility to add curves – and fill in the middle with cardboard. Then have a good look at it from all angles, near and far, and adjust until it feels right.
Timber might be your first choice, but pavers or tiles laid over concrete can deliver a gorgeous base. Pick flooring with a high anti-slip rating and remember that textured finishes will help to disguise dirt. Your exterior scheme is a good style starting point. Grey tones work well with coastal weatherboards, sandstone blends beautifully with greenery and brick has a traditional feel. Steer clear of very light stone in a sunbaked spot to avoid glare, and be aware that dark tones can get super-hot in a sunny area and look depressingly dingy in shade. Try out samples under different weather conditions before you make your final choice.
Choose outdoor-grade furniture in materials like hardwood, steel or cast iron that is heavy enough not to be blown about when it’s windy. A permanent structure such as a built-in daybed is a good choice, as is built-in seating constructed around a stone table or a fire pit; as an added bonus, a firepit makes a wonderful focal point for gatherings in the colder months.
Deciduous trees deliver shade in summer and sunshine in winter; ask your local Bunnings garden centre for advice on the right species for the size and aspect of your backyard. The drawback to this natural shade fix is leaf drop and issues with possum and bird poo, so as an alternative, consider ideas like a fixed pergola, a shade sail, or a cantilevered outdoor umbrella, which you can swing around to follow the sun or dispense with altogether on shady days.
Light the zone with outdoor-grade lamps that will give it a sense of occasion, such as strings of festoon or fairy lights, a dramatic pendant or an arrangement of pretty spots. Illuminate the path for safety as well as ambience, and have task lighting for zones like food prep and barbecue areas. Out in the garden, well-placed spots can highlight statement trees and provide background illumination.