Alfresco living: top trends for summer

Outdoor kitchens with wine chillers and fancy barbecues are the must-haves for 2017

Despite the vagaries of the British weather, the nation is embracing the Mediterranean lifestyle with a new-found penchant for elaborate outdoor living spaces that include kitchens, bars and hot tubs. The warm, dry start to spring has led to record sales of outdoor furniture and barbecues. Vicky Angell, the outdoor living buyer for John Lewis, says: “Last week was the second biggest week we have had in sales of outdoor products, and it’s only April. We are already selling 47 per cent more garden furniture than this time last year and 79 per cent more barbecues.” She continues stating that there has even been an increase in sheds and outdoor storage spaces, with many homeowners looking to custom shed design companies to find the right storage space to fit their gardens.

While we might be conservative with our interior decor, we are willing to be bolder outside. What is more, we are spreading beyond the patio and are keen to use the whole garden as a living space. Here are the key outdoor living trends for this summer.

Living large
Outdoor living spaces are ideally large and divided into zones for cooking, dining and lounging. They can be separated by faux stone pillars, creating cosy areas, or the divisions could be set by different types of flooring. From grass areas to patios, decked areas to tiles, it really depends on personal preference. They are not gardens in the traditional sense, with all that time-consuming weeding, but more outdoor extensions. Indeed, these spaces are starting to outdo their indoor counterparts. At Berkeley Group’s One Tower Bridge development the Prospero penthouse terrace at the top of Sandringham House measures 5,356 sq ft – 30 per cent larger than the apartment’s internal space. It features an outdoor kitchen (see below), dining area, living area (called the “sky lounge” in the marketing brochure) and a hot tub – all with views of Tower Bridge ( 13.25 million).

It is a similar tale at the top of Beau House, Dukelease’s newly launched development on Jermyn Street, where the terrace includes a kitchen and bar area with sink, wine chiller, fridge, barbecue and counter, as well as a dining area, and a living area with a fire and outdoor television. There is also underfloor heating and views across to Christopher Wren’s St James’s Church (offers in excess of 15 million). The Tower penthouse at Chelsea Creek, by the developer St George, is 3,400 sq ft with alfresco kitchen, barbecue and hot tub ( 16.95 million).

Penthouses in Chelsea Island

Penthouses in Chelsea Island, west London, come with private terraces ( 3.75 million)

These may not be traditional gardens, but that doesn’t stop you from having a gardener. The terrace at the Riverwalk penthouse on Millbank ( 25 million) was designed by Stephen Woodhams, the Chelsea Flower Show gold-medal winner and judge. At Ashberg House, a townhouse by the developer Morpheus London, in Chelsea ( 28 million), the backyard has been transformed into a living and entertaining space with a fireplace, lounge and dining area. The garden and house has been overseen by a feng shui consultant – hence the elaborate water feature by the Chelsea Flower Show winner David Harber.

For those with real gardens there is still the opportunity to have fun, Angell says. A formal outdoor kitchen and dining area can be created close to the house with small hidden oases created in quiet corners furnished with pod chairs.

Outdoor kitchens
Flipping sausages on a charcoal barbecue while huddled under an umbrella will no longer cut it. Now it’s all about professional-style kitchens, with integrated grills, ovens, fridges and sinks.

Once the preserve of the super-rich, outdoor kitchens are now considered a way of extending living space for homeowners. Developers are putting “summer kitchens” into modestly priced properties. Maisonettes for sale in the Olympic Park’s Chobham Manor development, where prices start at 375,000, come with outdoor sinks, work surfaces and electric sockets.

Tom Howard, the director of Tom Howard garden design and landscaping, says he has received requests for outdoor kitchens, including built-in gas barbecues with granite worktops and cupboards. “Many clients with small gardens want to make the best use of the space for kids to play, entertaining, storage and cooking,” he says. “Outdoor kitchens can be tucked into a corner, and having cupboards below the barbecue makes good use of space.”

An outdoor kitchen

An outdoor kitchen by DesignSpaceLondon. Prices start at 25,000

Some of the kitchens have hydraulic garage-style canopy doors for watertight storage, built-in seating, side burners for boiling vegetables or pasta, and outdoor fridges, which are easy to add if there are electrical sockets already in place. The designer ceramic charcoal cookers, Big Green Eggs (from 599), are also popular. In one project, Howard says he sunk the egg into a hole cut out of a granite worktop.

Focus Fireplaces says its customers are buying its Smart Focus, an outdoor fireplace meets fixed-position barbecue with a flue, to extend their interior space and stop the smell of cooking meat from permeating their house.

Angell confirms that John Lewis customers are more sophisticated with their outdoor cooking – surprise bestsellers are the Landmann Tennessee barbecue with smoker ( 229) and the Morso Forno Oven Outdoor ( 1,999). “Customers are experimenting with outdoor cooking, going beyond sausages and burgers and buying smokers and outdoor ovens for slow cooking,” she says.

Fun furniture
The tribal look has been muted indoors, but outdoors it’s a different story. Angell says that sales of John Lewis’s brightly coloured Salsa range of garden furniture “have rocketed since it was launched in February”. Customers are looking for quirky pieces, mixing colours and textiles for an eclectic look. Think interesting throws, metallic plant pots and strings of coloured lights. The craze for cosy (hygge) spaces doesn’t end with winter.

Customers at Marks & Spencer are more subdued. Its outdoor furniture buyer, Alison Hutchinson, says: “Our grey-painted Melrose range of wooden outdoor furniture is successful. The colourway is new for us and I think that customers enjoy the muted, soft and contemporary palette. Our Capri chairs have also proved popular, and this summer we have introduced two colourways – teal and grey. A cool, low-seated chair with a retro twist is perfect for stylish sunbathing.”

Gothic-style shed

Gothic-style shed, from 2,800, from The Posh Shed Company

Posh sheds
This is Britain and it is going to rain, so as well as canopies and garden heaters the other big trend is the posh shed. These can be simple smart sheds, such as those sold by The Posh Shed Company (from 1,650), or elaborate garden pods (check out the range from Cuckooland.com, priced from 3,495 to 18,995). They are a step-up from the traditional garden shed – these are garden rooms.

Sally Coulthard, the author of Shed Decor, says: “Sheds are used for pretty much anything that goes on in a house – bedrooms, playrooms, gyms, offices, kitchens. Compact living is a huge trend, and sheds are a natural extension. Checking out sheds for sale is a definite must for any and all gardens.

“Every trend that you see in the interiors world is reflected in sheds, but on a micro scale. Flooring is a big deal for 2017 – people are paying more attention to designs and patterns beneath their feet, especially wood and lino flooring. Window seats, window sills and big windows are also big – there’s a lot in the media about how to make the most of views and window spaces. Wallpaper is also popular, particularly interesting geometric design.”

Fake it
Naff no more, artificial grass is making a comeback. Some estate agents say it is a selling point that can add value to a property for buyers who would rather not mow the lawn. If you have a real lawn, you don’t have to take on the burden of mowing it for yourself as there are professional services out there, like trugreen, that you can make use of to keep yours looking its best.

Peter Burks, a horticultural expert at the online garden centre potterandrest.co.uk, says the easy-care aspect is appealing. “It’s user-friendly, and we find that those that opt for it also like to have pots of real plants in their outdoor spaces. It’s not used by those who are anti-plants; it’s a lifestyle choice. The fact that artificial grass is a very realistic copy has boosted its rating tremendously,” he says. If you opt to turf your garden with the plastic stuff, be aware that it needs a smooth surface and is weighted down with sand.

Also growing in appeal are artifical living walls, which add greenery to patio spaces or modern apartment buildings. Vistagreen installed an artificial living wall at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and says “green screening” livens up a dull space with minimum space waste, and can be fixed directly on to concrete. What is more, a fake wall will flourish in places where the sun don’t shine.