The hottest designs for cool outdoor living

Alfresco rooms are now prime real estate as outdoor design heats up, conjuring sophisticated living spaces with a cool, contemporary vibe. Charlotte Abrahams steps out in search of the latest looks

Ligne Roset polyester Saparella chair, from £1,248, footstool, from £577, and diabolo, from £1,303
Ligne Roset polyester Saparella chair, from £1,248, footstool, from £577, and diabolo, from £1,303

The graceful flow of indoor and outdoor living spaces in the apartments at Covent Garden’s Floral Court Collection is one of the development’s standout features. The living rooms open out to expansive terraces designed for entertaining and, within one residence, a private outdoor dining space resides at the heart of the home – the roof having been removed. These ideas are certainly not new but are noteworthy given that square footage in this central London locale is at a premium. “Exterior space has become prime real estate as people come to appreciate that it can be used as a living or dining room for four to six months of the year,” says Emily Williams, co-founder of Brady Williams, the studio behind the design of the indoor-outdoor dining room.

Ilia Eckardt for Tribù knitted polypropylene rope Monsieur Tricot lights, £700 each
Ilia Eckardt for Tribù knitted polypropylene rope Monsieur Tricot lights, £700 each

This shift in perception has had a discernible impact on design, crystallising the concept of the outdoor room, which increasingly is furnished to a level of sophistication once solely reserved for the home’s main receptions. As a valuable extension of the home, every detail from the fireplace to the curtains and accessories are planned as part of a considered scheme. Often the same furniture and flooring are used both inside and out, creating a sense of cohesion throughout. Consequently, design trends now set the tone from house to garden. The current 1970s interiors revival is a case in point – a likely impetus behind the move by both Ligne Roset and Roche Bobois to release outdoor versions of their low-slung sofas: the former re-releasing Michel Ducaroy’s outdoor Saparella (diabolo, from £1,303, fireside chair, from £1,248, and footstool, from £577) alongside versions of its tub-shaped Ottoman sofa (from £2,861); and the latter revising its classic Mah Jong sofa (from £20,990), originally designed by Hans Hopfer in 1971 for outdoor living. Ligne Roset’s Oliver Roset says much work has gone on behind the scenes to allow his clients to echo the Ligne Roset aesthetic from living room to courtyard and terrace. “We had to re-prototype the Ottoman, creating a channel in the seat for the rain to run through. We also added water-resistant inner liners and introduced new fabrics that are suitable for the outdoors,” he says.

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It is this combination of technical advancement and high design that has given rise to the creation of contemporary lounge collections worthy of any interior setting – from corner and modular seating systems to coordinating coffee tables and lighting. Much of this innovation can be attributed to big-name designers who constantly push the boundaries. Piero Lissoni’s 30-year design directorship of Italian brand Living Divani is a case in point; his Extrasoft sofa system (from €9,978), a series of modular seats that can be configured as desired in a geometrical arrangement, exemplifies his intelligent approach and elegant, understated aesthetic. Belgian architect and designer Vincent Van Duysen’s unmistakable blend of warm, tactile minimalism is equally evident in the Franck series (dining chair, £2,646, and dining table, £14,788, and side table, £4,868) conceived for US brand Sutherland Furniture in 2018, fusing simple silhouettes in teak with grey stone. 

Cane-line aluminium, stainless steel and teak Drop kitchen, £5,305 for the main module, aluminium and ceramic Drop dining table, £2,215, and polypropylene and teak Peacock chairs, from £595 each
Cane-line aluminium, stainless steel and teak Drop kitchen, £5,305 for the main module, aluminium and ceramic Drop dining table, £2,215, and polypropylene and teak Peacock chairs, from £595 each

Spanish outdoor furniture specialist Kettal’s design credentials derive from numerous high-profile collaborations, from Marcel Wanders and Konstantin Grcic to the Bouroullec brothers and the prolific Patricia Urquiola, whose new Band chair (from £745) for the brand sees textural Terrain fabric stretched over teak frames in a mélange of modern colours inspired by landscape hues. Last year, Urquiola weaved her magic on Kettal’s Vimini Lounge series (two-seater sofa, from €4,535, coffee table, from €765, and dining armchair, €998), a collection defined by woven wicker reinterpreted as a sinuous form that is modern yet recalls classic braiding and baskets. 

Sunbrella acrylic curtains from the Windows Collection, from £73.85 per m
Sunbrella acrylic curtains from the Windows Collection, from £73.85 per m

The woven aesthetic is still very much a trend this year, given the focus on comfort. This is certainly true of Danish company Cane-line, which has introduced new woven-rope additions of its Peacock chair (from £595) reworked in its own weather- and UV-resistant polypropylene rope. “We developed the Soft Rope technique with weavers in Indonesia,” says CEO Brian Djernes. “It’s a tight weave requiring both strength and a delicate touch. The lounge chair takes a weaver two to three days to finish, but ensures that the furniture is as comfortable as possible.”

Living Divani fabric Extrasoft sofa, from €9,978
Living Divani fabric Extrasoft sofa, from €9,978

The same desire informed Hong-Kong-based architect and designer André Fu’s first foray into outdoor furniture. Rock Garden (lounge chair, from €3,048, side table, from €1,139, and sofa modules, from €9,976 for a set), launched in April with furniture brand Janus et Cie, is the culmination of his quest to counter the rigid profiles of traditional garden furniture and capture the fluidity of Japanese garden design. “It is a very specific proposition to design for the outdoors – the materials tend to be stiff and the engineering required to join the elements together is a critical consideration,” he says. “I used teak because it works well outside, but counterbalanced the masculine lines with a curved armrest so that the overall shape is rather poetic and oriental in expression.” 

Focus Fireplaces steel with rust finish Gyrofocus fireplace, from £10,840
Focus Fireplaces steel with rust finish Gyrofocus fireplace, from £10,840

But comfortable seating is just one ingredient in the mix that conjures glamorous outdoor living – cooking, dining, even sleeping are increasingly important, just as they are inside the home. Enter contemporary outdoor kitchens – Cane-line’s Drop series, for example, teams a slick aluminium kitchen concept (from £5,305) with a coordinated table (£2,215), while Exteta has two striking designs, one fusing leaf-rust marble with steel (10th kitchen, from £35,648), the other set on wheels and encased in mahogany (Roller kitchen, from £11,895) – alongside statement centrepieces such as Paola Navone’s marble and terracotta Nevada dining table (price on request) and Dedon’s Rilly (€6,250) by GamFratesi, a canopied two-seater lounger/daybed, both unveiled at Milan Design Week. 

Rubelli Tenstripe fabric, £118 per m, and Fiftyshades fabric, £75 per m
Rubelli Tenstripe fabric, £118 per m, and Fiftyshades fabric, £75 per m

Soft furnishings – those finishing touches that not only instil a sense of warmth and luxury into a room, but pull a design scheme together – are a big design story for 2019. “We’re seeing more people hanging curtains around pergolas and daybeds to create softer areas protected from the elements,” says Pieter Verhelst, marketing manager for Sunbrella. Consequently, it recently launched its 3m-wide Windows Collection (from £73.85 per m), crafted from solution-dyed acrylic (in which dye is applied to the naked acrylic rather than the finished yarn so that the colour permeates to its core and doesn’t fade), offered in 58 colour and texture options – all UV-resistant, rot- and mould-proof. 

Vincent Van Duysen for Sutherland Furniture teak and polyethylene Franck chair, £2,646, and teak and bluestone Franck table, £14,788
Vincent Van Duysen for Sutherland Furniture teak and polyethylene Franck chair, £2,646, and teak and bluestone Franck table, £14,788

The interplay of colour and texture underpins many of the latest designs, and new tactile materials are emerging as the hottest looks for alfresco rooms – “outdoor leather” among them, used by Baxter for its Elephant sofa (price on request), revealed in Milan, and by Exteta for its luxurious 10th sun lounger (£10,450). Linens are ever popular and 100 per cent linen fabrics (from £156 per m) treated for outdoor use can be sourced from specialists such as de Le Cuona, with its exceptionally fine-weaved products. 

GamFratesi for Dedon aluminium and woven rope Rilly lounger, €6,520
GamFratesi for Dedon aluminium and woven rope Rilly lounger, €6,520

Back at Milan Design Week – ever the barometer of upcoming style – a glamorous installation by furniture brand Talenti, showcasing Italian fabric house Rubelli’s first-ever range of fabrics (from £75 per m) for both indoor and outdoor use, highlighted the emphasis on colour and texture. Its multihued collection, aptly named All About Colours, features a manmade material that feels like a natural one. CEO Nicolò Favaretto Rubelli will not share how this is achieved, but does reveal that the depth and range of hues are made possible by high-grade light-fast dyes (the same used by the automotive industry). Italian fabric primo Dedar took an equally experimental approach to colour, introducing 100 shades for 12 fabric designs (Campus, for example, £135.50 per m) inspired by the jet-set 1960s lifestyle captured by American photographer Slim Aarons.

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Colour can certainly set the mood within a living space, but good lighting is essential in this respect. According to Heather McCann, creative director of UK outdoor furniture brand Indian Ocean, advanced technology has “revolutionised” the art of illumination outdoors. She points to its new Mozaix floor light (£915) – an elegantly arched design topped by a traditional-style shade crafted in contemporary aluminium that complements its lounge series of the same name (Mozaix Lounge Set 1 including sofa, coffee tables and small and large lamps, from £21,190) – which can run for five hours without sunshine. “Solar technology has improved vastly and with better circuitry and more efficient battery storage, the latest lamps require only light rather than bright sunshine to work effectively. This means they can be used year-round with very little variation in performance,” she says. Reduced maintenance is a benefit too. Exteta’s 10th tree lights (from £2,950) by Massimo Castagna, for example, are fitted with 3,000k-strength LEDs that are so long-lasting they are sealed tightly within the casing, ensuring the lamps are completely protected from the elements.

Castagna’s inventive use of materials is also a notable feature of his lighting. The organically shaped globes that crown the brass trunks of his 10th tree lights (from £2,750) are made from polycarbonate, a plastic many times more shatter-resistant than glass. In using brass outside in this way, Castagna tested the skills of the company’s craftsmen by requesting a finish suitable for this environment. “They’ve used a natural oxidation process to burnish the brass, which is then coated with a layer of transparent varnish so the lamps can withstand the most difficult conditions, even in marine or coastal settings,” he says. Belgian designer Ilia Eckardt has a similarly inventive approach to materials, combining polypropylene rope with knitting and crochet techniques to produce what is claimed to be the world’s first knitted, weatherproof lighting collection, designed for outdoor furniture specialist Tribù. He’s named his lights Monsieur Tricot (£700 each). “I grew up around my family’s knitting studio, so they’re a tribute to my mother and a nod to my passion for authentic crafts,” he says. “The crocheting is done by hand with a very big needle – we pull the cord through a loop to make a new loop that creates the effect. The knitting is done by machine and then hand-finished.” The end result is refined, organic and rather cosy.

Of course, nothing says cosy more than a real fireplace. “Our clients want an additional room they can escape to all year – and a proper fireplace facilitates this,” says Dominique Imbert, founder of contemporary fire specialist Focus Fireplaces, which recently introduced a rust-finished iteration of the iconic Gyrofocus (from £10,840), a groundbreaking 360-degree pivoting fireplace first designed in 1968 that remains as futuristic-looking today. “I wanted to create something special with a finish that would look good against a variety of architecture,” he says. “Rust changes over time and the initial orange tone will slowly evolve into a much browner patina that’s full of warmth and texture.” 

It’s true to say that even the most welcoming outdoor living space can lose its appeal on a drizzly, grey day, but for Emily Williams the benefits of investing in a beautiful outdoor room far outweigh the drawbacks. “After all,” she says, “any interior space is improved by a spectacular view.”     

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