Outdoor living room ideas – 18 ways to make the most of your garden

Outdoor living room with neutral colours
Image credit: Future Plc/Joanna Henderson

Our outdoor spaces have become even more valuable to us over the last couple of years and with the sunshine finally here, we look to outdoor living room ideas to ensure we make the most of it.

No matter size of garden, patio or outdoor space you have, you want it to feel like an extension of your home and still have that comfortable, relaxing vibe to it. Start with seating and thinking about how you’re going to be using your space. If you’re big on entertaining, a dining set could be a good choice, or perhaps a large built-in banquette. If you’re more of a solo sun worshipper, then maybe a day bed or sun lounger will suit your space better. Whatever you choose, be sure to adopt similar planning and researching time as you would to your living spaces inside. Hopefully,  this will be the area of your home you will use the most this summer.

Outdoor living room ideas

From outdoor kitchen ideas to garden seating ideas, all it takes is a little planning, design know-how and expert advice to transform your garden with an outdoor living room idea.

Whether you’re looking to extend your living space, divide what you have into zones or update the furniture, our relationship with our gardens has never been more important. Any change, big or small, can be transformative, so we asked the experts to share their insider tips and advice on where to start…

1. Layer up seating with soft furnishings

Sofa with cream and brown cushions, coffee table, olive tree in a basket on a wooden verandah deck outside a white wood clad house.

Image credit: Future Plc/Joanna Henderson

Just like you would in your living room, layer up your benches and armchairs will plenty of cushions for the ultimate spot for sundowners. A natural palette of neutrals and terracotta touches will work in almost any outdoor space, and will have a soothing, calming affect. Floor cushions are great for impromptu visiting friends and will add to the relaxed vibe.

2. Open up the space with a mirror

 L-shaped sitting area with cushions on wooden benches.

Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole

Mirrors are a great addition to any size garden, with the power to totally transform the space. Not only does it open up the space to make it seem bigger, it will reflect areas of garden that you might not be able to see from your seating spot, so allows you to enjoy more of it. Just like you would in your indoor living room, hang a mirror at a central point above your seating, or in the middle of a slim space.

3. Lay a rug over decking to add colour

Outdoor space with seating and rug on floor

Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole

If our outdoor space is lacking slighting on colourful plants and flowers, a great way to introduce more, is with an outdoor rug. While a heavier blanket will work better on a lawn or grassed area, a rug is the perfect addition to a patio or decked space. Outdoor rugs are made with different fibres to their indoor counterparts, so they should with stand most weathers through-out the summer, but will need to be rolled up and stored over winter.

4. Combine a dining and living space

Outdoor living space with dining set up and outdoor rugs

Image credit: Matalan

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Let’s face it, as soon as the sun makes an appearance, we want to spend as much time outside as possible, whether its at meal times, working in the shade or chilling with a good book. So create a space to combine all these things with an open-plan living and dining space. Bench seating is great for squeezing on several small bums, so ideal for family meal times. Armchairs and coffee tables will bring a reading nook vibe and layered rugs will keep toes cosy come sunset.

5. Utilise a parasol to keep things cosy

Dark grey outdoor furniture with blue and white cushions and vases, on a patio in front of a house, seen from the garden

Image credit: Future Plc/Claire Lloyd Davies

While a parasol will be great for blocking out direct sunlight during the day, it will also help to keep things cosy and intimate come the evening. It acts as a little ‘roof’ to your outdoor living space, keeping in the warmth of candles or patio heaters and will also act as protection should an evening shower hit. It’s one of the most simple but effective outdoor living room ideas.

6. Choose outdoor furniture that can be used inside too

Outdoor seating made of rattan with matching coffee table

Image credit: QVC UK

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Just because outdoor furniture has the word ‘outdoor’ in it, doesn’t mean you can’t use it inside too! Mary Bunting, buyer at QVC says, ‘Go for furniture that wouldn’t look out of place in a living room or a conservatory. Outdoor suitable materials are key as they are more durable and suitable to be left outdoors, but can also be used inside too.’

Rattan, cane and woven furniture are all popular choices for both inside and out and will work in both spaces through out the year.

7. Break up the space with levels

garden with levels outdoor living room idea

Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole

‘If you have existing level changes, it’s best to work with these rather than fight them,’ says landscape and garden designer Tom Massey, director of Tom Massey Studio.. ‘Retaining walls can be very expensive. If your garden is flat, adding levels will add costs, but also interest and excitement to the space. If you were going to excavate a pond, then you could use the spoil to create a mound. Thinking creatively and limiting material taken off site is a good way to save money and lower the environmental impact of the build.’

8. Create a seamless flow

Patio garden split into zones with seating area in corner

Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole

‘Connecting different links between spaces enhances the sense of rhythm and flow. Try using a limited palette of hard materials, or drifting key plants between different areas of planting,’ says Tom.

Stylist Selina Lake adds: ‘I’m not sure they always need to connect visually – you could decide on a different planting scheme for each zone – think scented herbs for somewhere to sit and relax, wild grasses and wildflowers for a charming dining space, or a Scandi-style seating area with all-white flowers.’

9. Extend the interior decor

outdoor living room with jute rugs on floor and open fire with logs

Image credit: John Lewis & Partners

Extend your indoor space by dressing your outdoor living area with thoughtful furniture choices and accessories – such as armchairs and cushions. Woven rugs, like the jute rugs pictured above, are a great decor option for grassless garden ideas.

10. Define with edges and boundaries

garden with fencing and wooden bench

Image credit: Future Plc/Annaick Guitteny

‘A mixed boundary with some planting, some screening and perhaps some features like integrated sculptural elements can add interest,’ says Tom. ‘Boundaries can end up costing a lot of money, especially in larger gardens where the linear meter rates stack up.’

11. Illuminate with an outdoor lighting scheme

garden lightning ideas on a pergola with outdoor sofa below

Image credit: Future Plc/Joanna Henderson

‘Festoon lights can be left out all-year-round and provide an easy and inexpensive way of adding magic to any outdoor space, while solar stake lights or path markers are a great solution of lighting your garden without plugs or wires,’ Tom adds.

‘The most simple and effective thing to do is to uplight trees – this looks dramatic and gives an ambient level of light. Too much lighting though and your garden can feel tacky and overblown.’

12. Enjoy alfresco mealtimes by creating an outdoor dining area

garden outdoor dining table and chairs surrounded by palms and lanterns

Image credit: Dobbies

‘Start with location,’ says Tom. ‘Ask yourself if you want morning or evening sun? Do you need shade/prefer to dine in the shade? What about proximity to the house? You could put the dining terrace at the end of the garden, rather than right outside the house, meaning you go on a journey to get there, making it more of an event and experience.

Selina adds: ‘The very nature of dining al fresco evokes a relaxed, informal mood – I’d always choose a lovely spot in the garden over a practical decision. I have a mini meadow area near the bottom of my garden, and I happily carry all the tableware there as it’s such a charming spot.’

13. Add shade to make the space more versatile

shade sail over a garden seating area

Image credit: Dobbies

Get more from your outdoor living room by incorporating an element of garden shade, such as awnings and pergolas. Being able to shade the space during the hottest parts of the day will mean the area is available to use throughout all hours of the day.

‘Always ask “do I need it”,’ advises Tom. ‘In a shady garden, one will just add more shade, but on a sunny terrace, a pergola can make it useable in hot weather. It’s not always nice to sit in direct hot sun’.

14. Be thoughtful with hard landscaping

GRAVEL GARDEN PATH with lush green plants bordering it

Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole

‘Hard landscaping is a good idea for connecting areas,’ says Tom, ‘but this can be loose and informal, such as a planted gravel pathway, stepping-stones or floating timber boardwalk. Think beyond paving – it’s not always the best solution and it is high cost too.’

15. Purposely use paint outside

black painted garden fence with festoon lighting and gravel path in front

Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole

‘If you have an existing fence, painting it black makes it recede and can make the space feel bigger,’ says Tom. ‘Planting is also offset by the dark backdrop. Painting is cheap and can make a big difference, but remember if you paint it once, you will need to paint it again and will result in ongoing maintenance.’

‘Exterior paints and wood stains are great for revamping tired furniture – try painting black for a Scandi feel’ advises Selina. ‘For walls, a newly-built wall painted white is a great way of reflecting light, but I’d never paint an old, weathered wall – that would be a shame.’

16. Create a sense of calm with a water feature

Garden water feature from stone wall

Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole

‘The sound of running water is so relaxing. Look for one that is just “plug and play” without any complicated set-up needed, or even an outdoor tap,’ says Dani Taylor, creative director at Cox & Cox

17. Give your outdoor space a focal point

garden dining space with tall palm tree and patio space

Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson

‘Tables are great for adding interest,’ says Selina, ‘but I’m not talking about a dining one, rather a side table that can be used to create displays with planters or collections of gardenalia. I love a vintage metal folding table, which can be moved to the perfect spot each season, ready for a new display.’

Tom suggests a tree; ‘One can be a fantastic sculptural element and cost a fraction of the price of an actual garden sculpture. Look for trees with multi-stem form and seasonality, such as hawthorn, crab apple or Amelanchier species.’ Dani adds; ‘A fire pit also makes a great focal point.’

18. Add a fire pit to make the space suitable for all seasons

outdoor living room with firepit and gravel surrounding

Image credit: Future Plc/Colin Poole

Whether you choose to build a permanent solution or buy a moveable design a fire pit makes an outdoor living room more versatile. No matter how chilly the evenings get, sitting around a warming fire makes the space more useable throughout the entire year. ‘A fire pit is great to sit around with the family, toasting marshmallows or cooking sausages, and is the perfect excuse to get everyone outside,’ says Dani.

How do you make a good outdoor living space?

Outdoor living room idea zoned garden

Image credit: Rei Moon

‘I’m not a huge fan of the term “outdoor room”,’ says Tom. ‘A garden is an outside space, and in my view, the main focus should be on plants and planting. Gardens obviously need to perform a range of functions for the human users, but I believe should also cater for local wildlife, and help support biodiversity.’

‘When thinking about a garden I always consider balance between hard and soft landscaping, too much hard and it can feel cold and sterile,’ Tom explains. ‘A garden should be full of life.’

Start big, says Selina, ‘Think about the bigger items of furniture, like you would with your indoor spaces. Invest in something comfy that can be easily stored away at winter. Then add your accessories, and a few pots with flowering plants that grow quite tall, like delphiniums, foxgloves or verbena bonariensis, which can be positioned around the furniture, helping it to feel more embedded into the garden.’

For Dani, it’s about shelter and heat. ‘If you’re going to spend money on an outdoor room, then it’s about using it as much as possible. You don’t need to add a permanent structure – pergolas or a sail shade look fantastic – but a large parasol can work just as well for a smaller space. And for evenings, consider a fire pit.’

What is garden zoning and why is it a good idea?

small garden lawns

Image credit: Colin Poole

‘Zoning is a design trick used inside and out,’ says Selina. ‘It basically divides up a space into different areas, eg in a garden you’d have somewhere to dine, relax, entertain or sunbathe. Zones work particularly well for families as you can create a hang-out area for teenagers, a stylish sofa space for coffee mornings and a family table that’s perfect for al fresco dining and bringing everyone together.’

Tom adds; ‘All too often I see gardens that have a large-paved terrace outside the house, a huge lawn and tiny borders with a few drab shrubs. This doesn’t offer any mystery or excitement – there’s no reason to explore as the whole space is revealed immediately. Zoning and screening can provide intrigue and destinations to draw you out into the space.’

‘You can use festoon poles and lights or even solar path lighters in planters to create pathways’ advises Dani for defining the space.

What furniture materials are best for outdoor living room ideas?

Best sun loungers 2021 - luxury sun loungers, reclining chairs, garden daybeds - Cox and Cox Turin

‘If you are looking for wood, then acacia is a good-wearing option,’ says Dani, ‘it’s used in ship building. For a metal option, choose aluminium as it’s light, lasts a long time and doesn’t rust. Most cushions are waterproof – or showerproof – but you should try to bring them in over the wetter months and cover the frames of your furniture with a breathable outdoor furniture cover.’

‘If you want low maintenance, thinking about how materials weather well is important. Choose timber that will fade naturally to a nice silver or corten steel that rusts to a deep dark brown,’ says Tom.

How do I make an outdoor living room feel cosy, inviting and comfortable?

‘It’s about layering and coordinating,’ says Dani. ‘Keep furniture neutral and add colour and personality with things that are easily changeable, such as paint, textiles and lighting. Think about where you’ll store everything when the weather turns though, with sheepskins and cushions that work inside as well as out.’

Mary says, ‘Choose a centre piece and build your space around it, this could be a low coffee table, an indoor/outdoor rug or a fire pit that can keep you cosy when the sun goes down. Think about covering up your gas cylinders that are used to fuel your firepit, and go for a cover that can double up as a side table.’

‘Complete the look with mature architectural plants that bring instant impact and drama to your space, compliment with indoor/outdoor basket effect planters as these give that indoor vibe and can be used outdoors all year round. It’s important to add ambiance too. Lanterns and festoon lights can transform any outdoor space and create a welcoming glow so that you can continue to entertain and enjoy your space well into the evening.’

What interior design tips I can use outside too?

‘I love to see jugs, vases and buckets filled with freshly-cut flowers,’ says Selina. ‘They will instantly jolly up a space.’ Dani suggests a statement piece of furniture, ‘like a hanging chair positioned at the bottom of your garden to give you something to draw the eye. Or an outdoor mirror on a wall to give the illusion of more space. And if you need occasional extra seating, then use a daybed just as you would a bench inside.’

‘Your garden should be an extension of your home and style. Don’t compromise on garden furniture or accessories that you would never have inside,’ says Dani. ‘All-in-one solutions are really exciting, like a corner set with a built-in fire pit. They provide a real luxe feel to your garden and are super practical as you can lounge and dine.’

Additional words: Holly Walsh


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