Weeks confined to base have been the equivalent of lashing a dollop of Miracle-Gro on every fantasy we’ve ever entertained of our creating very own luxury super garden. It has to be my all-time favourite dream: Discovering that extra room we never knew was there.
And while we’ve always referred to the garden as “the room outside” its potential as a viable open-air extension to our living space has been unlocked in recent times — in no small part due to the lockdown and TV shows transforming backyard deserts into soothing oases.
Research bears this out: Google searches for “house with garden” were up 260% year on year in April. Nearly half -42%- of buyers now require a home with a garden, according to the Goodmove and Rightmove websites. “Lockdown has had a huge impact on consumer preference, with the demand for houses with gardens and more space going up, and demand for flats rapidly decreasing,” Louise Fraser of Goodmove tells me.
Munster interior designer Sinead Cassidy agrees. Covid-19 “reset all our outdoor recreation options”, she says. “We had to look close to home to see how we could get our daily dose of vitamin D and how we could extend our home in any manner possible with everyone together for a prolonged period.
A fire-pit was the hero of Covid-19 as, once the restrictions were initially lifted, small groups could gather and spend time outdoors comfortably.” We might have to grin and bear it at times as we grip those umbrellas when “relaxing”, but right now, the open-air living room has never been so popular.
“We see our gardens as having the potential to be a multifunctional extra living space to allow for dining, chilling out and used by all,” says Sinead.
The traditional lawn and flowerbed staple layout of past suburban gardens has been elevated to “a whole other sophisticated level”, she adds:
Any practical tips? “Bi-fold doors can act as a sleek divider for a gateway to the garden. Low-threshold designs allow for equal floor finishes inside and out which is seamless transitioning,” says Sinead. “A corner fitting is a great option for adding to an existing dining area and opening the space up.” What about people like me, who sometimes like to enjoy the outdoors from a relatively safe distance, curled up with a book?
Such a concept is key to any forever-home plan, it seems. “If we want to add more of a garden perspective to our existing living area, changing a window to a full-length picture window is a fantastic way to invite the outdoors in,” adds Sinead.
If you are embarking on a hybrid project of interior meets exterior, you should consider where the best access to your garden is, she advises. “Ideally it should be adjacent to your kitchen for dining al fresco,” she says.
Aspect is another key consideration in the layout of your garden room in order to make the most of the sun and indeed the shelter for furniture and barbecues adds the Cork-based interior designer.
Linking your interior with the exterior is big news right now.
“There is a trend to towards matching the outside flooring to the inside especially where you have the floor running level with the house,” says Sinead.
Another nugget from Sinead, who chairs the Munster chapter of the Interiors Association, is to decide on your priority for your outdoor space. “Is it dining and barbecues, conversations with friends, fire pit, water feature, easy maintenance, privacy, or storage?” she asks. If you are creating a studio room, consider planting the roof to blend into the landscape, she adds. “Will the furniture be left out all year round? If not storage will have to be factored into the garden,” adds Sinead.
Like me, Sinead does not consider herself a seasoned gardener, so advocates easy maintenance. “Clever planting and the use of big planters are a great way to enclose the seating area in an open-plan outdoor room,” she says.
As for lighting, Sinead recalls that episode of Room To Improve: Dermot’s Home when he met renowned architect Niall McLaughlin while designing his own home. “Niall is not a fan of large sheets of glass and considers it quite forbidding, particularly at night time.
Dermot’s solution to this was to illuminate the garden and light up the shrubbery at night. No more black blanket of darkness. Lighting outdoors not only provides the much-needed illumination but can also create drama and atmosphere after the sun goes down,” she suggests.
Similarly, mindful interior colour themes create unity. “Use of greens and neutrals are a wonderful way to capture nature and to be mindful of the seasons,” says Sinead. “Botanically-inspired indoor fabrics, rugs and furnishings can form another layer of the symbiotic internal/external relationship and make rooms feel lighter and brighter.”