First we spent hours in the aisles of B&Q picking between ever-so-slightly different shades of paint, and now an eye for good design is being cast outdoors. Ever-increasing numbers of us are electing to kit out our gardens, redesigning our outdoor spaces in the way we have long done indoors. ‘I think it’s largely due to lifestyle,’ explains Graeme Cheel of the Plants and Paving Company, which designs gardens and installs patios. ‘The TV programmes of the 1990s helped, Chelsea Flower Show gets a massive amount of coverage now that it never used to, and magazines are helping inspire people to rethink their outdoor space.’
‘Gardens,’ Graeme says, ‘have become an extension of the house now, rather than just a plot of land. It’s a natural extension between the kitchen, dining room and back sun room onto the garden.’
Where once statement walls were all the rage, now statement windows and doors are.
‘The big thing that’s come in in the last few years is bi-folding doors,’ explains Graeme. Jonathan Harvey of Solarfold Doors, a sliding and bi-folding door manufacturer, agrees. ‘Everyone is looking to bring the outside in,’ he says.
‘We’re finding that kitchens and lounges are merging into one large room, and the garden blends into that, too,’ Jonathan adds. As a result, the style of doors people are using to mark the liminal space between the indoors and the outdoors is changing.
While bi-folding doors still remain most popular, sliding doors are catching up. The reason? On a sliding door you can have more glass and less frame, providing a less restricted view of the garden beyond. Traditional wood furnishings are being replaced with sleek, contemporary and minimalistic looks on sliding and bi-folding doors, all with one goal.
The combined effect is to give a feeling of space in the home and augments the open-plan living lifestyle more and more homeowners are embracing. ‘The doors are a picture frame for the garden,’ Jonathan points out, ‘which means that good garden design becomes even more important.’
Picking the right paving that helps lead the eye smoothly between the indoor room and the outdoor space is crucial, according to Graeme. ‘You either have to have something similar, or a total contrast.’ Picking a similar colour and style has become easier in recent years. Nowadays, tile and paving manufacturers are offering tiles in different thicknesses: a 10mm version for indoors, and a more sturdy 20mm version for the outdoors. ‘This allows you to have the same product running through the kitchen and dining room into your patio,’ Graeme says. Ceramic paving is the latest innovation in the field: manmade using all-natural products, it provides a uniform and colourful alternative to the standard block paving.
The transition between the two spaces can also be eased by landscaping features in the garden. Coloured borders or a cobbled-edge border can enhance the paved area if choosing a starkly contrasting stone for the patio, while softening the transition between the indoors and outdoors with carefully-positioned pots, containers and raised beds can help blunt the indoor-outdoor leap and also draw people out of their homes into the garden.
And it’s that which is most important of all. People are spending increasingly large amounts of money on redesigning their garden to take advantage of their outdoor space. ‘If you spend the money on it, you will tend to use it,’ says Graeme.