A well designed outdoor dining area is a wonderful thing, bringing family and friends together in the great outdoors and, ideally, allowing us to enjoy our gardens all year round.
Start at the beginning
The perfect outdoor dining area will look for different for every person and every project, so we need to start by asking some questions. How many people do you expect to cater for? Do you prefer casual dining (like a lounge setting) or a more formal dining set up? And what is going on inside the house – if there’s a dining table right next to the doors leading outside, putting an outdoor dining setting right next to it will be an inefficient use of space and will look cluttered, in which case we might be better to build a structure further into the garden.
Build in a barbecue
If you’re entertaining outdoors, you need a barbecue! The first question is where to put it – often barbecues end up tucked against a wall, banishing the cook to a lonely corner. If possible, it’s better to turn it into more of a social space, to pull it away from the wall so guests can circulate around it, lend a hand or have a chat over the sausages.
By building in the barbecue, we can make it more visually appealing and therefore worthy of a centre stage position in the space, but this can be very simple – a streamlined servery space, rather than often-redundant cabinetry, sinks and the like.
Consider dining furniture
Furniture might be chosen during the design process or after it’s all finished, but either way, it’s good to have some idea of your needs. If space is at a premium or flexibility is needed, built-in seating can be fantastic. Put a dining table alongside a bench seat to squeeze in more people, or remove the table and put in a fire pit to turn a formal dining area into a casual conversation zone that you might use throughout winter as well as summer.
Furniture choices can also impact on flooring finishes; to illustrate, clients are more interested in alternatives to pavers or decking now, like steppers with groundcover – this is a fantastic way to introduce more greenery to a space, but if you’re placing a table and chairs on top, you need to consider where to place the breaks in the steppers.
Balance outdoor living with creature comforts
The best thing about outdoor dining is being outside in nature, of course, so we’re wary of introducing too many ‘inside’ elements to a space. Having said that, a few creature comforts can extend the life of your barbecue season and increase the amount of use you get from your outdoor space all year round. Shade is the most important one and a retractable awning is a great way of getting the best of both worlds – retract it in the evening or when the weather’s not too hot. Heaters and outdoor fans are worth considering in a protected area. But nothing beat dining under the stars, with nothing between you and the sky above.