What the late Sir Terence Conran didn’t know about creating stylish spaces is, frankly, not worth knowing. In this extract from the latest edition of his bestselling book, Plain Simple Useful, Sir Terence shared his essential outdoor styling advice
(LEFT) VERTICAL PLANTING SPACES UTILISED TO GREAT EFFECT IN A COMPACT TERRACE; (RIGHT) SIMPLE AND ELEGANT PLANTING CREATES STYLE AND RYHTHM IN THIS PRETTY GARDEN. IMAGES: ZANE LEE/UNSPLASH
Sir Terence Conran always believed that objects and surroundings that are plain, simple and useful are the key to easy living. His discerning approach resulted in effortlessly stylish, confident and timeless designs, with plenty of room for personal expression. It’s the antithesis of superficial styling and an ethos that doesn’t just apply to interiors. “Outdoor living is all about connecting with the natural world,” said the late Sir Terence, “Even if you live in the city and have no more than a balcony or a tiny courtyard at your disposal, it can still provide a welcome release, furnished with a small table, a seat or two and a few plants growing in containers or pots.” If you are planning an overhaul of your outdoor space, Conran’s clever ideas for designing, planting and lighting are the perfect place to start…
CREATING AN OUTDOOR ROOM
1. With the exception of the most minimal of outdoor spaces, try to arrange the layout so that the whole garden is not immediately visible from a single viewpoint. Winding paths or changes of level, for example, can build in an element of surprise and make a garden seem much bigger than it is. Framing devices, such as pergolas, have a similar effect.
2. Even a compact outdoor space can have great impact, such as weathered metal containers planted with grasses, small shrubs and perennials bordering a simple seating area. Signs of wear and tear are part of the charm. Plastic has no place in the garden. Garden furniture is at its best when it is simple and clean-lined – the planting should always take centre stage.
(LEFT) WEATHERED PLANTING CONTAINERS ADD CHARM TO THE GARDEN. IMAGE: JADE SEOK/UNSPLASH; (RIGHT) THIS TRAILING PERGOLA FRAMES THE SPACE AND ADDS INTRIGUE TO THE GARDEN. IMAGE: TIM COOPER/UNSPLASH
PLANTING THE OUTDOOR ROOM
3. Gardens are in a constant state of flux. Plan your planting to provide colour and interest across the seasons, from the earliest shoots of spring bulbs right through to autumn berries and foliage. Specimen trees and shrubs with strong architectural shapes will add winter interest when little else is growing. And don’t neglect the unseen dimension of scent, which can bring another sensory experience.
4. The grass isn’t always greener. The monoculture of the lawn does little for biodiversity. If your outdoor space is limited, it can make sense to do without a lawn altogether, combining a paved area for containers and seating with generous flowerbeds and borders to encourage insects and local wildlife.
5. It is better to overplant rather than plant too little. Shrubs, annuals and perennials dotted about here and there have a forlorn appearance and create extra work because they leave spaces for weeds to become established. You don’t have to spend a fortune to create a look of abundance. A mass of low-cost varieties in drifts of colour and texture give added impact.
COOKING AND EATING OUTDOORS
6. Pay attention to comfort levels. It isn’t much fun eating lunch with the hot midday sun beating down on your head, so it is essential to set up the eating area in a naturally shady location – under an overhanging tree, for example – or to erect some form of awning or umbrella over the table.
7. Barbecues generate a fair amount of heat and smoke, so take care to fire them well away from planting that might otherwise get scorched. If you like to cook outdoors on a regular basis, it may make sense to construct a designated barbecue area, rather than rely on a ready-made version. Ensure the grill is positioned at the correct height and make sure that surrounding surfaces are heat-resistant.
(LEFT) HANGING LIGHTS ADD ATMOSPHERE TO A COMPACT BALCONY. IMAGE: JOHANNES HOFMANN/UNSPLASH; (RIGHT) WARM WHITE INDOOR/OUTDOOR FESTOON LIGHTS FROM AMAZON ADD A FESTIVE LOOK TO THE GARDEN
8. Make use of multiple sources of light. A single bright wall-mounted light may provide enough illumination to eat by – and will also serve to deter intruders – but it will kill the atmosphere stone-dead. Small, soft points of light that lead the eye from place to pace without causing glare will preserve a welcome sense of mystery.
9. Vary the direction of lighting. Illuminate trees or shrubs from behind or beneath, to create intriguing silhouettes and shadow play. Graze walls or fences with side lighting to accentuate texture, or position lighting under benches and other built-in features. String fairy lights through branches or climbing plants for a festive look.
10. Avoid light pollution. Over-bright garden lighting affects the circadian rhythms of many species of wildlife. It may upset your neighbours’ natural sleep cycles, too, or at the very least annoy them. Furthermore, it is a waste of energy. Your aim should be to provide enough gentle illumination to orient yourself.
Plain Simple Useful: The Essence of Conran Style by Terence Conran, published 11 June 2020, £27 hardback (octopusbooks.co.uk)
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