Vintage chairs and benches are the perfect accompaniment to a relaxed garden space. Life outside can be tough on furniture, so it’s important not to be too precious about what you place in the garden-using secondhand pieces gives you permission to relax about the odd mark. The well-worn upholstery on an old chaise longue or the distressed paint on a Lloyd Loom armchair looks at home when it is placed against a natural backdrop. And, because it was designed to be used inside, when flea-market furniture is placed outside it provides an important link between home and garden, a place to unwind after work and enjoy being outside without feeling too far from the comfort of indoors.
This is an excerpt from the Book called “Gardenalia “ by Sally Coulthard. Continue reading to learn more about Relaxing Spaces , thanks to the author.
There is an old Spanish proverb, “How beautiful it is to do nothing. And then to rest afterward.” Relaxation is an essential part of our daily lives and yet one we find most difficult to organize. Our garden spaces, in particular, aren’t always arranged in a way that makes it easy to enjoy a welcome break. That’s where the laid-back charms of bric-a-brac furniture and kitsch collectibles really come into their element.
Architects have long understood that, when you’re planning a space, you have to think about how it will work for the people using it. Aesthetics should start with broader ideas about how people are going or sitting down. Creating a casual seating area outside needs just as much thought as a dining room or convivial kitchen-get it right and these special outdoor living areas enrich the pleasures of entertaining and transform everyday life, whether it’s breakfast with birdsong, romantic meals at sunset, or cocktail parties with friends. The right configuration can invite conversation, encourage relaxation, and bring families closer together.
Relaxing under cover-whether it’s an overgrown pergola or a quirky entertaining she-combines the best of domestic life, bringing the outdoors in and the indoors out. From country verandas to cool canopies, these fresh airy rooms create an easygoing space where we can cook and eat alfresco, take a nap in the sun, or enjoy the view sheltered from the weather but open to the elements.
Vintage gardenalia and secondhand pieces create the perfect mood for outdoor entertaining. School benches and industrial worktables provide instant seating for large groups, while a pair of church pews or antique benches will comfortably accommodate an intimate gathering. A throw, plump pillows, and a well-worn rug will soften any hard surfaces and add to the inside/out illusion. Create a cheerful, summery feel with mismatched wooden chairs painted in ice-cream pastels or off-whites, kitsch florals, and vintage bunting. Fill vintage pitchers and pails with bright blooms and foliage. Opt for a retro look with salvaged office chairs, aluminum tables, and 1960s fabric prints, or create vacation chic with bentwood café chairs, wirework benches, and striped fabrics. For a pared-down, recycled look, team distressed wooden benches and chairs with neutral fabrics-sackcloth, calico, unbleached cotton, or linen, decorations made from raw materials and objets trouves, such as candles, moss, river rocks, and driftwood, complete the look.
When it comes to dining en masse, salvaged furniture creates inexpensive, large-scale seating in a hurry. Village hall trestles, pool tables, or antique cast-iron fencing topped with glass- almost any flat surface can be repurposed into a welcoming dining table. For large numbers of people, look toward public or institutional furniture-canteen tables, refectory benches, hospital gurneys, and industrial work surfaces. Architectural sections of wood-large doors, cupboards, floorboards, shutters, and paneling-also transform into dining tabletops on a garden scale.
Create a casual, knee-height table surface with a reclaimed railway trolley, wooden palette, or a vintage door on blocks. Large wooden cable drums and office coffee tables look quirky dragged out of context and into the stress-free surroundings of a garden. Glass-topped bird tables, stools, washstands, blanket boxes, sewing tables, shoe racks, butcher’s blocks, and upturned creates all make quirky occasional tables for guests to place their glasses or plates. To add to the atmosphere, ceramic sinks, wheelbarrows, old coppers, oil drums, and laundry tubs filled with ice make instant drink coolers, while old glass bottles, jars, and decorative cans make charming and inexpensive flower or candle holders.
When you are creating your outdoor dining space, give a thought to protecting your guests from the elements. A simple recycled tarpaulin or sail strung between the trees provides instant makeshift cover from sun and light showers or, for something more substantial, consider an antique gazebo or vintage canvas sun shelter. An old summerhouse or tool shed can easily be converted into an outdoor dining room, ensuring the weather won’t ever spoil your fun. An overgrown trellis, arch, or gazebo will also provide a degree of protection- keeping the worst excesses of the midday sun from your guests. So many garden spaces focus on what’s at ground level-the joy of creating a covered dining space or relaxing area is that you can build a structure that takes the eye upward and outward, making the space feel more expansive and exciting.
The biggest challenge with outdoor entertaining is keeping guests cozy when the evening draws in-providing plenty of natural wool blankets, throws, thrift shop pillows, and bolsters will keep guests toasty and warm and more inclined to linger. Vintage lanterns and flares will add spots of warmth, but for a real blast of heat use an old wood-burning chiminea or fire pit.
For maximum visual effect, think about where you are going to set the stage of your alfresco meal. It’s tempting to plonk your table and chairs in the middle of the lawn but think of other spaces that might work better. A hidden corner of the garden or a meal among an orchard will create an intimate dining space-the plants and trees acting as walls and ceiling, perfect for hanging lanterns and tealights to brighten the dusk.
Push the chairs and tables right next to the house and rig up a canopy, and you create a street café vibe and have the added advantage of being close to the kitchen. The back wall of the house also makes the perfect backdrop for decoration, whether it’s fairy lights or a fabric screen. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a large garden, create a dining space at the farthest point from the house. Part of the adventure of the evening will be picking your way down the garden path and eating a meal under the stars.
Lighting is one of the most underused elements of the garden and yet has the potential to add real drama and ambience to any outside space. Whether you want an outdoor chandelier or tiny tealights, antique lighting and recycled objects only add to the effect. The choices are dizzying. From storms lanterns to barn lights, fishing lamps to railway lanterns-lights that had an original purpose in an industrial or agricultural setting make a rustic addition to any garden, while spectacular indoor lighting-chandeliers, wall sconces, and candelabras-creates real glamour in an outdoor setting.
From Victorian street lamps to jam jar tealights, the size and scale of your lighting can be adapted to suit your space and budget. Experiment with different sources of lighting. A combination of vintage lights and recycled candle holders will create real sparkle and help to highlight key areas or plants around your garden. Make a large outside space feel cozy and intimate by adding clusters of lanterns or candle holders-group them in corners or on flat surfaces to create low pools of light. Well-worn chandeliers create a fabulous atmosphere of faded grandeur. Group three or more together for a truly sumptuous effect.
Use pierced tin cans or Moroccan-style lanterns to create patterns of light, and make the most of any reflective surfaces such as mirrors and water to bounce candlelight back and forth, perfect for adding that extra glow. Tealights provide dots of light or “runways” to guide your attention toward a focal point. Clustered in a large groups they create pools of magical, twinkling light.
You can also use vintage and secondhand lighting on a more day-to-day practical basis. From the elegant simplicity of wall-mounted fishing lamps to the grand statement of a reclaimed street lamp, everyday outdoor lighting can be as incentive and original as you dare. Just make sure you get a qualified electrician to rewire any old-fashioned preregulation lights, especially for use outdoors.
Bunny Williams’ design talents extend well beyond interiors and out into the garden. Well known for her knack of balancing objects, colors, and textures to create an appealing, undisciplined look. Bunny has created a refreshingly relaxed outside space at her eighteenth-century New England home. Her approach is simple. Good design should always start with comfort. It’s a philosophy close to Bunny’s heart and one that runs through every aspect of her glorious Connecticut home and grounds. An approach that’s usually applied to interiors also works when planning an outside room Questions such as “Where are people going to sit, eat, and entertain?” and “How does the scale and style of the furniture and objects work together?” are addressed right from the start.
Groupings of furniture, close together, are a trademark of Bunny’s style and one of the keys to casual entertaining, whether indoors or out Furniture has to look great, but it also has to be practical Rustic, café-style seating, teamed with quirky tables, blend perfectly with the handmade bricks and natural stone that make such a robust but attractive outside floor surface.
Garden ornaments steal the show, perhaps not surprisingly. Bunny and partner John Rosselli, realizing how difficult it was to find sources of vintage garden decoration, started Treillage-a shop selling antiques and one-of-a-kind items for the garden. Placed around the garden these exquisite but pleasingly weather-worn accessories bring life and character to the outside space, making it feel homely yet refined. “Use things of different heights. Just like in a room, you don’t want everything at eye level or it’s boring,” explains Bunny.
So often, gardens are designed from the bottom up-it’s great to see structures and ornaments used on different scales and at different heights. Gardenalia is also eminently portable-you can move and refresh your garden décor in the same way you would rearrange your living room. And, if you are creating an outdoor dining space, advises Bunny, try to make everything on the table feel natural. One great trick is to move pots from the garden into the dining area and onto table surfaces-that way, the whole entertaining experiences feels relaxed and organic.