A family holiday to Morocco was the starting point for a stunning garden makeover that has seen a drab and uninspiring courtyard turned into a welcoming spot that's perfect for outdoor living.
'I am an interior stylist, my mom is too and you could say styling is our raison d’être,' says Beth, who lives with her sister Evie, an actor-director, her mother Katie, also a stylist, and Bambi the cat, in a three-bedroom Victorian house in east London in the UK. 'We often like to take city breaks away and a couple of years ago we decided on Marrakesh. It was a feast of colors from the moment we stepped off the plane.'
They were bowled over by the array of craftsmen selling leather ware, handmade crockery and silver along the narrow streets of the souks (markets). 'I just wanted to buy everything in sight!' says Beth. 'It was so inspiring that when we arrived back home to beautiful weather we decided that we wanted to continue this fantastic journey we had been on and incorporate some of the things we had seen into our own garden design ideas.
The original garden and how it looked before
The courtyard was a decent sized space but one which was in need of a clear layout. As styling runs in the family, the lack of a cohesive style was an issue for Beth and her mom. The stairs of a fire escape are quite an imposing feature in the yard so it was vital that these be incorporated into the overall look.
The fence was in good condition but needed a bit of a clean and tidy to give it a new lease of life to allow it to enhance the space. The outdoor space needed an update but not a complete overhaul, so implementing a few stylish but cheap garden ideas was the order of business.
The plan for the redesign
The brief was a garden design that evoked Beth and Katie's trip to Marrakesh, and one which was varied and had lots of low maintenance garden ideas. Part of figuring out how to plan a garden design involved spending time thinking about which areas of their garden they could fill versus leave empty.
'We identified four distinct areas and chose a common theme between them,' Beth says. 'Three of them would be different variations of chill out zones and one would be for sit down dining. We chose our Marrakesh-inspired color palette and focussed on the furniture we already had that could be creatively upcycled to fit the theme.'
Drawing on inspiration
Beth took massive inspiration from ‘Le Jardin’, an open-air restaurant nestled in the heart of the souks in a traditional riad in Marrakesh. Based around a central courtyard open to the elements, a riad is the place where families congregate and entertain.
'What was special about Le Jardin is there were separate spaces styled differently but all coming together as one,' explains Beth. 'You’d turn a corner and there would be another stunning nook. There were emerald green tiles mixed with splashes of gold and tall greenery all in a dining area outside. The overall effect was happy and joyful. So for my own courtyard garden I wanted to bring in the family element, have separate areas and a vibrant aesthetic.'
'It was important to keep this project on a budget and using what we already had would help keep costs down,' says Beth. The family were going to rely on their own skill sets for the makeover to save money, then try and incorporate as many free garden ideas as possible to make the budget go even further.
Clever DIY outdoor furniture ideas, such as the dining table made from a cable drum that they'd been given, give the space an original look too. 'It was in keeping with the palettes and fire escape – all being industrial. The natural clash of London urban and vibrant Moroccan style creates a unique look that felt like a holiday at home,' Beth says.
'We dressed up the table with emerald green textiles, gold plates and cutlery, and clashing oversized candlesticks - perfect for sunset cocktails. The simple addition of cushions to our old white metal chairs bought comfort and color to our newly refurbished space.'
Dealing with the fire escape
One of the big hurdles to overcome was how to incorporate the intrusive industrial fire escape that led up to what was quite an inconsequential area and broke up the courtyard with its staircase.
It felt similar to the task of deciding how to use the space underneath the staircase in a house. As with most challenges it creates opportunities. 'Not only did we have two natural and very sturdy points from which to hang the best hammock, but it also felt tucked away and secluded,' says Beth.
'We had created our first chill out area – so comfortable and peaceful. The top of the staircase seemed the perfect spot to create a bijou area for the solitary sitter. By placing a white woven chair there it felt away from the main courtyard garden but with the added pleasure of being able to look down on what we had created and be part of whatever was going on beneath.'
Perfect use of pallets
Next came some clever pallet ideas for gardens. 'I’m particularly proud of this, mainly because of its simplicity and its use of upcycling which is a passion of mine.' says Beth. It’s simply a pallet against a wall which creates a natural low outdoor seating idea.
Beth bought some wood preserver to sustain the timber and secure the slats for the arrangement of soft furnishings to follow. She used an old sofa cushion the family already had for the base, which was then covered in a tablecloth and piled with carefully chosen scatter cushions. The ivy cascading over from next door’s garden gives shade from the hot sun and enclosed the area for a secluded feel.
On-theme plant choices
Of course plants are one of the most important aspects when planning a garden space. The courtyard is surrounded by fencing and walls from the house so greenery needed to be added.
Thankfully with the mature ivy growing over the fence from the neighboring house Beth could capitalise on the garden wall plants already growing in the space. 'I’d trained the ivy to weave its way through the struts along the staircase which gave us another layer of green,' says Beth. 'I love how it drapes itself around, cascading over the back ironwork. Our large Red Robin tree came in handy to hang lanterns in and it gives color all year round.'
Hydrangeas aren’t native to Morocco but grow well in this space in the shade and the white flowers give a neutral backdrop to the vibrant color. They decided to use indoor palms here and there to add height. 'We take them in during the winter months as they wouldn’t survive in the cold weather,' says Beth.
Succulents are naturally the plant of hot, desert climates so were an important choice for Beth. They come in such varied shapes and sizes and they can’t fail to add interest, whether used singularly or bunched together on a table.
'To complete the look, our personal touches were very important. My mom and I took a lot of the same inspiration from Marrakesh, but there were distinct personal touches that we each individually wanted to incorporate into the finished product,' says Beth.
'For me it was the lanterns. They really make this space special, hanging from trees and trailing up the industrial steps, they create a sanctuary of light as the day turns into night. My mom’s favourite are the garden fence decoration ideas of small-scale mirrors that add interest to the blank backdrop of a fence. They reflect more than the work we had put into the garden but our entire journey from beginning to end.'
'Styling and creating a successful outdoor space is all about layering,' says Beth. 'Different layers of color, experiences, memories, textures and materials all come into play to create the perfect final piece. I was over the moon with the end product. Seeing all our planning, preparations and trials and errors coming into play really is what makes a project worthwhile. When I come outside to my haven with my sister, my mom or friends it’s a space I can truly be proud of, bringing back all types of nostalgic feelings.'
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