It's good for us to escape outside at times of relaxation. Yet in today's busy world, we tend to switch off and stay indoors, preferring a cozy sofa to a blast of crisp air in the park. Try to counteract that instinct. By consciously preparing a quiet spot for peace and contemplation outdoors, however tiny, you are more likely to drag the yoga mat outside on a sunny morning or enjoy an al fresco early autumn supper. For city-dwellers, there is always a fight to find decent exterior space. But even for those who live in the countryside, with a big garden at their disposal, there is much to be said for creating a cozy, enclosed nook outdoors.
A balcony that leads, hotel-style, directly from a bedroom or sitting room is the easiest, and most user-friendly, link between outside and in. If your property already has a balcony, then celebrate. It is also comparatively straightforward to add a first-floor structure to a new extension, though much trickier to get planning permission to add one to a listed building, or one in a conservation area, as it alters the exterior character. The tiniest balcony, just big enough to hold a circular table and two chairs, can make breakfast in the bedroom special, or provide a bird's-eye view of the world while you just sit and think or read a book. Increase the ambience by training a creeper - and perhaps a string of exterior fairy lights - around the safety balustrade or adding a pull-down canvas awning to provide protection from the sun.
In a city apartment with no back garden but that has available flat roof space adjacent to a room, or on top of the property, consider a roof terrace. Because it is at high level, it will get plenty of sun and sky views, and because it will be less overlooked than a conventional garden, it will feel more private. Vital first steps to take include checking that you don't need planning permission and that the roof is sufficiently robust to withstand the weight of people, flooring and plants. Consult a structural engineer, who will advise on necessary loadbearing support and the correct height of a parapet. Many new buildings are constructed with rood-terrace use in mind and already have steel beams in place beneath the flat roof.
By its very nature, a roof terrace feels appropriately intimate, as it will have a compact floor area and requires high enclosing walls. Play up that mood by choosing attractive parapet materials. For an industrial look, pick metal mesh, bars or tension stainless-steel cables. For a prettier, more conventional finish, painted tongue-and-groove, willow fence panels or creeper-covered bamboo trellis, teamed with small trees and plants in giant tubs, are attractive. Think about clever lighting to maintain the mood at night: strings of Chinese lanterns, plant spotlights or candles in storm lanterns are all atmospheric choices. Many garden design companies specialize in small, bespoke urban gardens and roof terraces. Although they are not cheap, the extra space you reclaim outdoors will be well worth the cost, so think about booking a consultation.
Whether you have a balcony, roof terrace, deck or - in certain properties - a front porch, select dedicated furniture for the space. There's no point creating a place for enjoying peace and quiet if you must drag out a chair from inside to do so. Decide if this is a spot for lying down, for eating a peaceful meal or a bit of both. These days, garden furniture comes in almost as many style choices as interior pieces, either in weather-resistant hardwoods like teak, or in high-tech synthetic materials that withstand rain, cold and sun damage. Do your research: the extra investment in quality pieces may be well worth it if cheap chairs fall apart after a single summer's outdoor use.
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