Internal courtyards are becoming a must-have architectural element in new builds and renovations, and for good reason. Blurring the boundaries between inside and out almost to invisibility, an internal courtyard is a wonderful way to improve the flow of light and air into interior spaces, provide a picture-perfect outlook from every room, or simply create your own private and protected bower of bliss.
Why do you want an internal courtyard?
Internal courtyards provide a beautiful connection to nature, especially in a highly built up urban setting, where backyards are minimal or non-existent. The primary purpose is usually to introduce light into dark internal spaces and provide the opportunity for a scenic outlook where there might not otherwise have been room even for a window.
Internal courtyards come in all shapes and sizes, from a full outdoor room, designed for entertaining, to a tiny space that’s designed to look at but not walk into, rather like a dynamic artwork.
As a space to sit in, an internal courtyard can be a very zen zone, with the enveloping house providing a buffer from wind, street noise and neighbours, ensuring complete privacy and an air of tranquility.
Low maintenance is usually one of the primary requirements of an internal courtyard, so they’re often hard surface areas, usually paved and often designed with space-saving elements like built-in seating. As the primary purpose of an internal courtyard is as a light well, we tend to maximise that light with a palette of pale materials and reflective surfaces, such as big mirrors, to reflect light back into the house.
A water feature is a wonderful addition to introduce an element of kinetic energy into the picture, as is shifting foliage, which also helps to soften the hard surfaces.
With all the hard materials used in an internal courtyard, it’s important to have plenty of greenery to soften all the sharp angles, as well as to provide a scenic outlook. The key here is to provide a balance – too much greenery and it may actually block the light the courtyard is designed to bring in, or it may create a damp space, which you definitely don’t want in the middle of your home. Climbers work well here; grown up the walls, they provide maximum greenery for a minimal footprint, as well as blurring the boundaries of the space, making it appear larger than it is.
A statement tree is a common request and can be an incredibly striking visual feature, particularly if it stretches up to be visible from an upper storey. The trick here is picking the right tree for the space and planting it in a large pot, so you don’t run into issues with roots invading the plumbing or lifting hard surfaces. We also tend to run irrigation to these, so the tree has best chance to thrive, and put in strategically placed drainage, so the water runoff doesn’t stain the paving.