How to Link Your Indoor and Outdoor Spaces
From framing the view to uniting the flooring, there are lots of ways to help your house and garden connect beautifully
Professional advice from: Chris Jones of Jones Associates Architects; Peter Reader of Peter Reader Landscapes; Stephen Fletcher of Stephen Fletcher Architects
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“The garden area immediately adjacent to the house is a really important space for designing a successful garden,” Peter Reader says. “It marks the transition from inside to outside and has to welcome and draw you into the garden.
“Interest and a clear linkage are key. The most common function such areas serve is as a patio area for sitting, eating and entertaining.”
“If you have big sliding or bifold doors opening up the indoor dining space to the garden,” Chris Jones says, “you’ll probably find it’s just as pleasant to eat inside with the doors wide open to the garden, but with the benefit of shade and immediate proximity to the kitchen.
“This means you don’t have to double up on dining tables – one on the inside of the glass doors and one on the outside,” he says.
Alternatively, doing without a terrace or decked area, and just having a narrow path at the boundary with the house, can allow greenery to extend much closer to the property, Chris says.
Alternatively, Chris suggests, you could have a children’s play area along the back of the house. “That way, the kids could play outdoors, but be seen and supervised [by the adults] in the kitchen.”
“If possible, I would always use the same type of flooring from inside to outside,” Stephen says. “For example, internal stone tiling can ‘become’ external stone tiling (ideally with joints aligning). Polished concrete inside and out is another option.”
“For visual continuity, stone tiling is best,” Chris says, “with a flush threshold detail at the bottom of the sliding or bifold doors. You’ll need to choose a stone that’s suitable for outdoor use, such as granite or slate, and be aware that the stone tiles externally need to have a minimum thickness of 30mm. You can, of course, use thinner tiles of the same material internally.”
The external paving should be laid to fall away from the house, he says, so the slot drain at the threshold of the sliding or bifold doors is only taking the rainwater running off the doors.
Bear in mind, he adds, that any outside surface will get dirty and age in a different manner to an inside one. “Porcelain is likely to perform better for those reasons,” he says.
“Having a timber floor internally and decking externally in the same timber doesn’t really work if you’re trying to achieve a continuous appearance,” Chris says. “The timber externally always weathers to a different colour from the internal flooring.”
Whatever material you choose, Peter adds, make sure your anti-slip surface is appropriate for the setting. “Also, if the outdoor and indoor levels are the same, make sure the damp-proof course is protected and isn’t breached.”
“Whether the garden is at a higher or lower level than the floor inside, the important thing is to avoid an abrupt change in level too close to the house,” Chris says. “It’s good to have a comfortably sized paved or decked area immediately outside the doors, with steps at the end leading either up or down to the main garden.”
Stephen agrees. “Ideally, create an external area at the same level as the internal area and push the steps or retaining wall further out,” he says.
If your patio space is large enough, consider having different levels within it, Peter suggests. “This makes for more interest and brings the inside/outside level change into the design. Break up the level change by using items of interest, such as built-in raised planters. The planting will also soften the effect.”
Wide steps with wide treads will help the two spaces and the height differences flow into each other.
“A nicely designed fence can continue the ‘lines’ right to the back of the garden, increasing the illusion of space,” Stephen says. “Fencing with thin, horizontal banding draws the eye out and can neatly contain different elements of a garden, such as a seating area, outbuilding or planting scheme.”
“Boundary lines can be dressed to echo the interior of the house and blend the spaces,” Peter says. “Paint them in colours that match or echo those used inside. There are a number of colours that can really show off the plants, as well as darker shades that look like shadow and can make the garden feel bigger.”
Don’t forget lighting. “You can create atmosphere by uplighting brick walls or natural boundaries, such as hedging,” Peter says.
As well as colour, think about materials and the degree of privacy you need. “Could the boundary also be used as a framework or surface for plants to grow up?” Chris says.
“Colours and materials can be matched inside and out,” Chris says. “Let your garden lighting be an extension of the lighting scheme inside. This can be a very effective way of tying the two spaces together at night.”
“Use wood in similar colours and shapes, and houseplants and outdoor plants with the same kind of leaf shapes or habits,” Peter suggests. “If you have large areas of glass, lighting is really important. If the garden isn’t lit, the effect at night can be of a big black void along one wall of the room. It doesn’t feel attractive or cosy and can be intimidating.”
Talk to your garden designer about your interior design style as well as your garden requirements, Peter says. “Consider hiring an interior designer and a garden designer, particularly if they’ve worked together before. They can liaise to deliver the best result.
“Understanding the use of materials, styles and colours is really helpful,” he says, “and any good garden designer will be making careful note of the interior furnishings on the first visit for this very reason.”
Track down interior designers and garden designers in your area.
“In an ideal world, a beautiful view will be ‘framed’ by the careful positioning of windows,” Stephen says. “One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is the Shingle House in Dungeness, Kent. I stayed there several years ago and was mesmerised by the view of the sea from the kitchen window, designed to be enjoyed when sitting at the dining table.”
But even if you have no view at all and a very confined outdoor space, you can create something beautiful to look at, he says. “Incorporating a living wall [a lush, vertical planting scheme] or a display of wall-hung rustic doors along a boundary, as we did in one of our previous projects, for instance, will create its own kind of view and add plenty of interest.”
“Consider creating journeys and stories within the space and elements that draw you into the outside space, either physically or just visually,” he adds.
“Ensure any focal points, such as a mature tree, pond or sculpture, are clearly visible from the house and are effectively lit up at night,” Chris says. “Hide from view anything you don’t want to see, such as a washing line or shed. If there’s a vista beyond the garden, perhaps the garden itself needs to frame the view beyond.”
The obvious advantage of wall-to-wall glass is that it blurs the boundary between inside and out.
“Sliding doors maximise the view by virtue of very thin frames and large, uninterrupted expanses of glass,” Chris says. “Bifold doors have the advantage that they can be opened up completely [with sliding doors, at least one has to stay in place]. They also allow you to have one of the doors as an ‘active leaf’, which can be used as a convenient hinged ‘back door’ to the garden without having to slide open a big, heavy panel.”
Opening up a corner with either sliding or bifold doors can be particularly effective at “blowing open the box” and letting the outside flow in, Chris says. “You can have bifold windows as well as doors,” he adds.
“On warm days,” Peter says, “these types of glazing solution allow you to effectively eradicate any barriers between the house and garden.”
The style of existing windows and doors will have an impact on how easy it is to open up the space, Peter says. “Early uPVC versions often had a large amount of plastic frame, which reduces the area of glass and obstructs the view.”
Having said that, all the same tricks for connecting the spaces still stand, it’s just more difficult to create a direct visual link. “Create focal points that draw attention by using the same materials or styles inside and out,” Peter says. “That way, your eye will be drawn to the elements of the garden that best link the two spaces.”
“Carefully consider the layout of the garden and the planting,” Stephen says. “Maybe pick out an interesting tree or sculpture and make the most of it with lighting.”
“Painting the wall around the window white is another good way to minimise any distraction from the view,” Chris adds.
“Roman, roller or Venetian blinds can all be kept right out of the way of a window and a view, depending on the interior design,” Stephen says. “Net curtains are likely to detract from the view, so go for lightweight white sheers that can be pulled completely clear of the glazing when opened.”
How have you designed your transition spaces? Any tips to pass on? Share your ideas in the Comments section.