Outdoor living space ideas are an invaluable addition to any garden. They allow you to use the area as an extension of your home – whether you want to relax with a glass of wine after a long day, host guests, or simply have somewhere stylish to sit that isn't within four walls.
When it comes to creating a living space as part of your garden design ideas, think of it as if you're styling an indoor room, with color schemes, textiles and mood lighting all factors to consider. There are a few must-haves you should add to your list: comfy seating, of course, as well as some form of outdoor cooking equipment, whether that's a barbecue or a full-blown kitchen. Add some outdoor speakers for your favorite chill-out playlist and a cocktail bar trolley for drinks on tap, and you've got the perfect space for all occasions, out in the fresh air.
Outdoor living space ideas: brilliant designs for a relaxing garden zone
We've rounded up lots of our favorite outdoor living space ideas to help you create your perfect space for relaxing, entertaining or simply spending time in the garden. Whatever your style or budget, there's plenty to inspire you.
1. Pick complementary styles and colors
'Firstly, decide on a color scheme and style, as this will inform everything from furniture to the accessories,' suggests Lynsey Abbott, Outdoor Living Buyer of Dobbies Garden Centres (opens in new tab). 'It may be that you take the lead from the style of your garden, for example a country-cottage garden will complement modern rustic decor,' she adds. A well-chosen palette will also help to set the desired tone, and make styling simpler as your choices will automatically be narrowed down.
This contemporary set-up is full of sophistication with its sleek patio ideas and cool grey and blue garden color scheme. It beautifully complements the exterior of the house itself, as well as the paving underfoot and modern planting nearby. In terms of seating, there's enough room for everyone to gather round, whilst a chic parasol overhead will keep things sheltered without taking up excess floor space.
Looking for an update for your own plot? Our best garden parasols buying guide has plenty of top picks.
2. Divide the space into zones
'Zoning is the practice of separating areas according to their functions,' explains interior designer Lola Swift (opens in new tab), and it's a wonderful way to make the most of your backyard.
Take this gorgeous design, for instance. The separate dining and lounging zones are well-defined thanks to a stunning overhead shelter and a narrow stretch of water crossed by a paved walkway. There are plenty of other garden divider ideas you can try to get the effect, from trellis screens and oversized planters to introducing different levels.
We love all the colorful flowers around the perimeter of this scene too, which soften the overall look.
3. Opt for matching furniture and potted trees
An easy way to instil a sense of harmony in your outdoor living space ideas is to opt for matching finishes on your furniture. The best rattan garden furniture is a popular choice due to its timeless appeal. Plus, it wouldn't look out of place inside the home, so is ideal for creating that indoor-outdoor vibe.
These chairs are full of rustic charm and are comfy enough to host guests well into the evening. A nearby rattan sofa provides another area for relaxing for a change of scene.
And if you want to bring more greenery to your patio or deck, then you can't go far wrong with the best trees to grow in pots. They're an easy way to make a leafy statement, whether you opt for low-maintenance olives, colorful acers, or something else.
4. Create a stylish dining set-up
'With a rise in home bars and outdoor dining, one simple way to refresh and revitalize entertaining areas and outdoor spaces is by upgrading your dining table,' says Charlie Alexander, founder of luxury bespoke furniture brand Oxenwood (opens in new tab).
'Opt for natural materials and an authentic finish that mimics the great outdoors, as opposed to harsh surfaces like glass. Solid oak sets, for example, provide an on-trend yet timeless look that flows seamlessly with the foliage of the garden.'
If you haven't got the cash to splash on a new one, give your existing piece an update with table linen for meals spent alfresco in style. This soft blue cloth works well contrasted against burnt orange cushions for a Mediterranean vibe. Add a jumble of stylish outdoor crockery and serving dishes and dot lanterns around to finish the scene.
You can find more lovely looks in our outdoor dining ideas feature.
5. Raise it up
Decking ideas are the perfect base for outdoor living space ideas. And if yours is raised, it will only help to define the zone further.
This on-trend scene demonstrates how the right accessories can make all the difference. We love the mass of cushions to up the comfy factor, the potted plants aplenty, and the luxe garden mirrors attached to the charcoal-toned fence.
In fact, the set-up could easily be recreated indoors, if it wasn't for the show-stopping fire pit in the center – a fab way to keep everyone cozy when the sun goes down.
6. Set up an outdoor cinema
Pop the set-up under cover to stop the rain from spoiling your plans, and then decorate with twinkling lights and soft textiles to up the cozy-factor further. It's a lovely way to spend time together outdoors, and feels much more magical and memorable than watching the usual telly.
7. Choose your location wisely
Choosing the location for your outdoor living space ideas on views alone is a common mistake that can really put a dampener on the mood.
For starters, you may want to avoid setting up furniture too far from the house for the comfort of you and your guests – that way it's easy to nip in and out for extra drinks or to pop to the downstairs toilet.
Think about prevailing winds too – if you don't have patio cover ideas in your plot then a neighboring fence can provide a handy windbreak. Alternatively, hunker down next to a summer house or shed.
It's also worth tracking the sun at different times of the day, too. A sunny spot at midday can be cast into chilly shadow by 4pm if it's too close to the house, so arrange your layout accordingly.
8. Design the perfect lighting scheme
Approach your outdoor lighting ideas in a similar way to your living room – aim for a homely, intimate atmosphere, rather than a bright and glaring look.
The most effective schemes feature lighting at different levels – on the ground (uplighting trees or shrubs), on the table, or strung from above around a tree, gazebo or parasol.
Go for solar-powered lights in the ground and use battery-powered LEDs to spread the sparkle. Don't forget to stock up on candles – choose citronella-infused ones to ward away pests.
9. Add shade for stylish sun protection
There's nothing relaxing about sweating under the midday sun, so do make provisions for some form of shade when planning your outdoor living space ideas.
Sail-style shades and parasols offer heat relief without blocking a summer breeze or your views. Plus, they can be just as effective for garden privacy ideas, shielding you from any prying neighbors.
Look for shades made from UV-blocking materials to protect skin (anything graded UPF 40 or above is good). If your garden is more exposed, a gazebo will offer protection from sun, wind and light rain. In all cases, do ensure your shade is properly anchored to prevent it taking off in high winds.
10. Keep warm with a heating source
Entertain long after the sun has gone down by including some form of heating. The best fire pits are pretty affordable and boast the added allure of real flames.
Throw a grill over the top for a generous barbecue area, too. Chimineas control the flames better and funnel smoke upwards, which can prove safer with little ones running around.
Gas patio heaters are more portable and fairly safe if positioned at head height but can prove expensive to run. Infrared outdoor heaters, which heat surfaces and people, not the air in between, are thought to be more energy efficient and provide a wider spread of heat than halogen versions. You can find more guidance in our outdoor heating ideas guide.
11. Add a portable outdoor kitchen…
For outdoor kitchen ideas without the faff (and expense) of connecting new power and plumbing supplies, create a makeshift cooking area using portable furniture. Several companies now make trolley-like companion modules for their BBQs.
Designed to be wheeled out when required, these smart units provide prep space and storage when cooking. Use insulated ice buckets in lieu of refrigeration, and screw utensil rails to the garden fence to hold tongs, herbs and spatulas.
12. …or go the whole hog with a built-in design
If you really want to take the party outside, build a permanent kitchen on your patio as part of your outdoor living space ideas. As Charlie Alexander, founder of Oxenwood says, 'For those looking to elevate their alfresco entertaining experience, an outdoor kitchen will not only provide the practicality of a cooking station in the garden but will also create an impressive social hub for guests to gather around.'
The best backyard kitchens are fully equipped to entertain, without constant schleps back inside for supplies. This means an outdoor-rated fridge, sink with running water and the best BBQ with all the mod cons. If you're adding a cocktail bar (see below), make sure there's cupboard space for glassware and crockery (or melamine if you're entertaining children).
For extra style points, paint your kitchen in an on-trend sage green or soft grey hue, or opt for a color pop like bright yellow for impact.
13. Don't forget the drinks trolley
Whether you're entertaining guests or enjoying your favorite tipple alongside a spot of peace and quiet, introducing outdoor bar ideas is the luxurious finishing touch you never knew you needed for your outdoor living space ideas.
'To make your garden area perfect for hosting, choose drink coolers that are a little more chic,' says interior designer Lola Swift. A portable drinks trolley like this beauty is stylish and practical, or try filling a large galvanized bucket with ice for guests to help themselves.
Want to go one step further? Opt for a built-in design, perhaps attached to your outdoor kitchen.
14. Opt for modular seating for flexibility
If you are splashing out on the best garden furniture, consider a modular collection that lets you add new sections as required (or as funds allow).
There are clear advantages to this kind of pick and mix approach. You can build up your seating area as your family grows, and the smaller modules are easy to shift around if you need room for a table or fire pit.
They can also prove simpler to store stacked up. From a design point, they tend towards a smart, contemporary shape. Look for models with deep seats perfect for lounging.
15. Small space? Replace a dining zone with a bistro set
If lack of space dictates a choice between ample laid-back seating or a table, go for the former. BBQ food is easy to eat on laps but there's a limit to how long you can loaf about on upright dining chairs.
Just serve food and drinks on a couple of bistro tables that can be folded away to make space for dancing later. You can find some lovely designs in our best bistro sets buying guide.
16. Choose cushions that'll last the summer
Seat cushions designed to be left outside should be covered in a water, UV and mildew repellent material – look for phrases like 'Outdoor Use' or 'Weather Resist'. This doesn't mean the water won't soak through to the padding, just that they won't disintegrate at the first sign of rain.
Marine-grade textiles are particularly resilient to rain and sun but can be quite stiff. It's worth remembering that all outdoor cushions will last longer if stored inside during winter.
Style-wise, choose a lively mix of patterns and colors for a playful vibe.
17. Add outdoor rugs for comfort and style underfoot
One of the quickest and easiest ways to add a splash of pattern to your outdoor living space ideas is by adding something underfoot. Rugs designed specifically for backyard use are widely available and come in bright colors and fabulous patterns.
The best outdoor rugs are made from tightly woven synthetic fibres that don't absorb water and are textured to be slip resistant. The majority are washable with diluted detergent and a brush. Some are designed to be pressure washed so you won't need to worry about kids dropping hot dog ketchup.
18. Breathe new life into furniture with outdoor paint
While the outdoor furniture section of the garden center is always something to lust after, often a quick lick of paint is all it will take to breathe fresh life into your old wooden pieces. Okay, maybe some hardcore sanding may be required to revive wood that's been exposed to the elements, but the results will be rewarding.
Outdoor paint specialists have vamped up their color palettes in recent years, so now there is plenty of opportunity to get creative. To complement the colors of the greenery in the garden, choose softer shades like pale blue, greens or greys, advises interior designer Lola Swift. Or, for something a little different, how about opting for a bright yellow primrose, or inky black for an industrial mood?
You can find the right product for your furniture in our guide to the best exterior wood paint.
More top tips for outdoor living space ideas:
Hopefully by now you'll be brimming with outdoor living space ideas for your garden, however if you're looking for even more inspo, the experts share some final thoughts:
- Pick the overall style of your space before you get started. 'There are plenty of styles to choose from, including laid back coastal, tropical, Scandi – or the latest Japandi trend which balances a mix of Japanese and Scandinavian design,' says Lynsey Abbott of Dobbies Garden Centres. You can find lots of lovely looks in our tropical garden ideas, bohemian garden ideas and Mediterranean garden ideas features.
- 'Get a clear idea on what you want to use your outdoor room for, whether that’s entertaining, a children’s play area, dining alfresco, home workouts or a space for relaxation,' advises Lynsey. 'Not only will this help with decisions when you're creating the space, but it will also mean you get more use out of it once it's complete.' Jonny Brierley, CEO of Moda Furnishings (opens in new tab) agrees: 'Ensure you know exactly what you want to use your garden for, exactly the same as you would design rooms in your house for specific uses.'
- 'Selecting the right furniture is key,' Lynsey continues. 'Choosing a set that looks just as good inside as it does outside is a great way to make it feel like a natural extension of your home.' A conversational set is a great option for an outdoor room as this features a coffee table, sofa and two chairs – really giving your garden a living room feel, she adds.
- 'Layering up the space with accessories will help to soften the overall look, from cushions and throws to lanterns and vases for outdoor dining tables,' says Lynsey. 'I like to borrow items from inside if spending the day or evening relaxing and dining in the garden, just don't forget to bring them back inside afterwards, or in the event of any rain.' As Jonny from Moda Furnishings says, 'Styling your outdoor space should require much the same level of consideration as indoor styling.' He adds, 'As with your interior scheme, this styling should express your individuality.'
Linda fell for the interiors world soon after graduating Cardiff’s School for Journalism and has been happily writing for the likes of Gardeningetc, Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, Ideal Home and Real Homes for two decades.
Her current home in Devon was previously a commercial nursery – they grew the plants that garden centres buy. When she arrived in 2016, the half-acre plot boasted three massive polytunnels and a glass greenhouse to rival those at Kew Gardens. They sold the lot, levelled the ground, chucked down some grass seed, then focused on making the inside of the house habitable. This year the garden is back on her radar and she has grand plans to pave and plant out the front garden and around the house (currently resembling a builder’s yard), and possibly 'do something' about the barren field that is her lawn! @lindaclaytonwrites
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