From the elaborate follies throughout the world’s most lavish gardens to secret garden nooks and playful mazes, the idea of outdoor spaces encouraging enjoyment – being places to experience happiness – is not new. Yet in a modern life, the power of playful energy and lightness brings to our wellbeing is often underestimated.
Cape Town based Creative Behaviour Strategist, Kim Williams, who focuses on designing interior spaces, understands the mindful design of outdoor spaces and how these profoundly impact our physical and mental wellness.
Kim lists her top tips when creating inviting outdoor spaces:
Add a little fun. Playful living in outdoor spaces has endless unconventional options especially for those who are designing outdoor spaces with children in mind. If you are fortunate to have a pool, adding funky lilos and wacky water features are simple options. Colour is also a great way to spruce up an outdoor space and it can be as simple as changing the cushions or putting your beach towels up on hooks or even as grand as commissioning a mural from a talented local artist. Personally, Kim loves using locally made sculptures in gardens to make them feel elegant yet playful.
Make use of colour. Kim says that the wealth and quality of South African designers are phenomenal, with the furniture range by Douglas and Douglas being one of her favourites. Martin Halden’s outdoor furniture brings a modern retro look to the outside space and makes it feel fun as his use of colour is masterful. There is a plethora of new fabrics that can be uses outside that have vibrant patterns and incredible lightfastness, making them a reliable and creative way to repurpose design elements you already have in your space. There are also gorgeous new planters available that can be uses as features or as places for plants to stand as architectural objects.
Technology can be magical. The technology that exists for our outdoor spaces is incredible. Decks that can slide to cover pools with the flip of a switch, irrigation systems that can water your garden from anywhere in the world through a simple app, and pergolas that incorporate protector screens and create outdoor theatres. There is also recycled technology such as new composite decking that is more resistant to the elements and does not require maintenance.
Consider and respect the elements. As much as we all love nature, being battered by the wind as the braai smoke blows into your eyes and the sun beats down on your skin is unpleasant. Make sure you know which direction your home and garden are orientated so that you get a good reading on how protected your space is and if you need to create additional protection from the wind. Analyse how the sun moves through your space and create areas dedicated to introducing fun. Beach umbrellas and picnic blankets add a touch of colour for events or special occasions and lilos and beach balls can add a playful spirit. Place importance on how the sunlight catches materials, colours, and patterned fabrics you use. Naturally, you want finishes that are going to withstand the weather and the ageing effect the sun has on fabrics. The kind of furniture you choose should be selected both for its beauty and resilience, particularly if your property is close to the ocean.
Be mindful in minimal spaces. The most important thing with an outdoor space, particularly small spaces, is to make it feel like an extension of the house by creating a connection to the greater design scheme. Flooring is a great way to do this, and decking, stone, tiles, and even artificial grass are great options. The technology and quality of artificial lawns have long surpassed something reminiscent of a school cricket pitch and artificial lawns interwoven with pavers or patterned tiles makes an area more interesting. The trick to selecting an artificial lawn is to make sure it has some brown in it, so it looks natural. For small spaces, Kim prefers creating wrap-around elevated planting areas with wooded or tiles walls to create the feeling that nature is enveloping you as you enter the area.
Make it fun but also safe. Nothing is less fun than an unplanned trip to the hospital with your toddler because they ran and tripped. For children, and for the elderly, it is extremely important to consider floor levels and how the space transitions between them. Making sure the gradient of the steps is not too challenging, having supports such as planters that can be uses as bannisters and making sure the walkways around the pool are wide enough and all increase the safety of your space. With small children, there should always be a barrier when it comes to water, either a net over the pool or a small fence around the pond. Using soft furnishing like a cushion around the area will also help. If you can build or renovate your home, when you are designing, make sure that you can see the outside area from anywhere indoors.
Try to mask more functional items. Water tanks, pool pumps, laundry lines, black bins, and woodpiles are essential to our spaces but often abrasive to look at. Kim passionately believes in laser cut decorative screens that will easily swallow unsightly pool pumps and provide additional storage and seating. These are available in a variety of patterns for your screens and customizable to hide all manner of functionalities such as water tanks and raised decking around swimming pools. Making use of dark colours – such as black – in small nooks of the garden to camouflage retractable laundry lines, and black bins also helps these functional items dissipate into the background – especially if you add cleverly placed plants. Some functional items can be turned into a feature, which Kim likes to do with firewood by stacking it decoratively and adding it as an element of the design.
The climate in South Africa beckons us outside and we pride ourselves on our outdoor spaces being beautiful. The emotional value of being outside is vital to our mental wellness and helps to encourage a sense of wellbeing by giving us a space to take a mini-mental holiday.
Simply having a place to sit back and cultivate a connection to nature is more important now than ever as we spend so much time in our private space. So, why not embrace a more playful energy and add a little of South Africa’s more adventurous spirit to your outdoor space.