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How to turn even the smallest garden or balcony into a summer holiday haven

·5-min read
 (Edmund Dabney)
(Edmund Dabney)

Foreign travel may be cancelled this summer but the period of mourning is over. We’ve got Love Island and maybe some London sunshine to soak up.

It’s not a taverna terrace or a palm-fronded beach bar but you can bring some kind of summer holiday to your own back yard, whether bijou balcony, sun-trap patio or fully fledged lawn paradise.

Local antiques markets, the Nextdoor app, Facebook marketplace and Vinterior can be good first ports of call for those wanting to give their outdoor spaces a design update without it costing the earth.

Amba House (@ambhahousefurniture) sells new furniture, samples, returns and photo-shoot pieces via Instagram on a regular basis. Large garden mirrors cost around £140. Send them a direct message for an up-to-date stock list.

Those looking to channel holiday vibes might want to splash out on a statement red hammock from Fatboy, a hot tub, or even a terrazzo-printed vinyl paddling pool.

Gone are the gawdy-but-functional garden inflatables of years ago. Check out designs by Mylle, created by fashion stylist Kris Myllenbeck when she struggled to find a good-looking pool for her rooftop. Available from The Conran Shop and Selfridges for £125.

 (Mylle)
(Mylle)

Sales of design-led outdoor furnishings have jumped 700 per cent compared with June last year at Selfridges. Demand for fire pits was up 200 per cent last week at John Lewis and outdoor lighting sales were up 55 per cent compared with 2020.

Interior designer Emma Stevenson (@emmastevensonstudio) says the key to designing an outdoor space is to attract the eye to it from the inside — whether that’s a balcony or a large garden.

“Consider the outside space as an extension of your indoors,” she says. “If you’ve got certain colours, patterns or materials, continue that colour or pick one element — a seat cushion or a colour for a planter — and reciprocate it outside.”

Of course, if can be hard to know where to start. We’ve asked Stevenson for her top tips when overhauling outside spaces of all sizes, on every budget.

How to decorate a small garden or balcony

“If you don’t have space for seating, a few pots and plants, plus lighting for the evening, can be very inviting,” says Stevenson. “Little lights pull the eye out. You’re more likely to use it, even if you have to perch.”

Go for comfort. Use some weather-appropriate cushions. Add a throw, and if it gets cooler you can cosy up, she adds.

Bermondsey-based artist Mary Claire Kirwan has just designed an abstract-pattern blanket of pinks and greens in collaboration with historic woollen mill Cushendale. Costing £320, and 100 per cent Irish wool, it’s not just for the summer.

Al fresco dining

If you have space for dining, go for a little bench or a clever table. “Fermob designs a little bistro table you can hang off a wall,” says Stevenson, there aren’t bulky legs and it’s good for small spaces. Available from Amara for £349.

Pizza ovens burst on to the scene in those summer months between lockdowns last year, but demand is showing no sign of slowing. Gozney, used by Pizza Pilgrims and Franco Manca, has seen sales increase by 140 per cent over the past 12 months. The compact Roccbox model for homes and on-the-go is priced from £399.

 (Roccbox)
(Roccbox)

Pricey but recommended by their super fans are Big Green Egg BBQs. There’s a small Minimax version priced from £780 that comes with or without legs that you can easily pack away over winter.

Stevenson’s recent high-end projects have included outdoor kitchens — yes, even in London gardens. “Even during the winter, if the weather is good you would use it,” she says. Must-haves include grills, teppanyaki plates — hot plates without a need for charcoals — and heat sources for the garden.

“If you love to cook, have space for a few pots with kitchen plants — a mini herb garden, easy even on a balcony — to pull you outside,” says Stevenson. “Some fresh parsley, chives and a few tomatoes will get you used to using your outdoor space a bit more. Anything that takes you out there is a good idea.”

Blow the budget

“For more extravagant pieces, 1st Dibs has beautiful planters and garden sets,” says Stevenson. One idea is to find things you love, suitable for outdoors, then have cushions made with proper outdoor fabric.

“Remember we’re in the UK, not Provence — things are going to get wet,” she says.

Where to make savings

You could have cushions made and spend less on accessories, which tend to be more temporary.

“Spend on the things that need to be quality. There’s no reason to spend £200 on a candle, for example. Spend more for pieces that are going to stay outside. Planters, for example terracotta ones, are quite reasonable. Keep it simple to create a harmonious environment, less is more — especially if your space is small.”

 (Anther + Moss)
(Anther + Moss)

Pick one material for all your planters and change the shape to give a bit of interest, she adds. Anther + Moss’s The Dalton pots come in red brick-coloured concrete and would suit a covered balcony or patio. Priced from £12.

Lighting

“If you don’t have access to a power source outside, go for tea lights and candles,” suggests Stevenson.

Reluctant to recommend string lights, she says it can be difficult to hide the wires unless you have a tree or a tall plant you can wrap them around.

Create shade

There are often fun parasols in Anthropologie, says Stevenson. But what if we’re not all trying to recreate the beach look? Even fun ones can be expensive, after all.

Stay away from the pale blues, she says. “Go for a dark green, Fifties Italian vibe, and match your seating to that.”

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