May 2, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2014 issue
Gardens great and small
Words: Kristine Bonnici – Interior designer
Spring is finally here and our thoughts inevitably turn to doing up our exterior spaces. Relaxing, whether alone or with family and friends, is an essential antidote to daily stress. From a quiet corner where we can curl up with a book to a place where we can entertain friends, we need to establish our place in the sun.
A key element in all my design projects is natural light and I always try to maximise the light coming into the house. Whenever I’m designing an exterior space, I blur the distinction between inside and out, seeing the exterior as an extension of the interior. I often do this by using similar colours, textures and materials, adding focal points and making sure that the design concept is followed throughout the project.
One of the main advantages of living in Malta is our temperate climate and we should use our exterior spaces as an extension of our interiors. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have large gardens or terraces. However, it is still possible to create a patch of greenery by putting window boxes with colourful flowers on each sill. Hanging baskets placed in small balconies provide scent and colour without impinging on valuable floor space. Small garden tables and chairs on a balcony will provide a place to read or enjoy breakfast. Even if you don’t have a balcony, find a sunny spot inside the house and create a special place where you can relax surrounded by houseplants. Don’t underestimate the importance of creating an area where nature can be brought closer and appreciated in relative comfort. Dappled light filtering through leaves has a magical vitality. What you see beyond – tantalising glimpses of the outside world – seen through windows and doorways is just as important as what the room contains. Houses that preserve the link with the outdoors are instinctively appealing and generate an oasis of peace and calm.
Gardens and terraces need to be flexible, personal, and above all comfortable. Make a list of priorities before designing your exterior space. Take all relevant factors into consideration. Do you need space for entertaining friends, a pool area, a safe play area for children or an area for family pets? Think about how much time you have to maintain the plants in your garden. Plan a shaded area where you can enjoy the peace of the garden away from the hot summer sun.
Creating a successful exterior design project is similar to working on the interior of the home. Although the garden lacks rooms for defined tasks, the design scheme requires similar basic principles – unity of style, unity of scale and the creation of a focal point.
It is important to determine the style that will be used in the garden. A more formal style with symmetrical planters, a rambling cottage garden, a natural setting following the surrounding landscape or the peaceful oasis of an Eastern Zen garden. Choose a style that evokes feelings of comfort and security and maintain this principle throughout the design.
A garden without a focal point is a strangely disconcerting one. There may be warmth, beautiful greenery and a comfortable place to sit, but without a feature to which all eyes instinctively turn, it will never be a space in which people feel totally at ease. Creating a focal point is necessary in any design scheme – whether interior or exterior. The focal point may take any form – a water feature, decorative seating, a large tree, an ornate statue or a modern garden sculpture. The positioning of this important element is often the starting point for the design scheme.
Another important consideration when planning your garden is the scale and proportion of the elements used. It is essential to choose plants and trees that suit both the conditions and the size of the site. Large-sized plants grow tall and broad and will overcrowd and intimidate a small space. Seek professional advice and research your choices well.
Getting the basics right is fundamental to landscaping. Getting the levels right, choosing the right floor finish, the type of plaster on the walls, the correct balance between sunny areas and shaded spaces, all these elements require careful thought, and each decision will invariably affect other choices you will have to make.
One aspect that is often overlooked is exterior lighting. There are a number of key elements for lighting a garden successfully. Garden lights include special architectural fittings, low energy lighting, exterior floodlights, spotlights, floor lamps and candles. The easiest way to vary the lighting in a garden is by installing lights on different circuits to provide as much versatility as possible. As in the interior, different types of lighting are required in the garden.
Don’t limit yourself to just using the light in the garden. The light shining out through the interior windows onto the garden is an excellent source of ambient light and creates an interesting backdrop to the garden. A glazed link between the interior and the exterior will provide the best of both worlds allowing you to enjoy the outside from the inside of your home and using the interior to illuminate the exterior of your home.
Accent light in the form of spotlights will create pools of light to accentuate the features in the garden. Backlighting plants and trees can create beautiful, ethereal effects. Task lighting is also necessary to provide light for dining or cooking al fresco. Orientation lighting to illuminate paths and stairways is necessary to create a safe environment. Decorative lighting can take the form of fairy lights placed around a tree. Flares, candles or “fjakkoli” provide interesting kinetic light – naked flames perfectly complement nature adding an extra-special ingredient to parties.
Choose your garden furniture with care. Consider maintenance costs and storage options. Exterior furniture is now looking more and more like interior furniture, with sofas and chairs available in beautifully upholstered fabric. There is now a much wider choice, ranging from low-slung contemporary pieces to reproduction furniture in materials suitable for the outdoors. Consider building your furniture from materials used elsewhere in the house such as concrete or masonry to blur the distinction between your interior and your exterior space.
Enjoy the elemental quality that nature provides and use it to relax and regenerate your spirits after a hard day.
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