Making the most of your outdoor space

If you live in London then the chances are you’re severely lacking in one department: outdoor space. If you’re extremely lucky, you might have what you’d call a “patio” but really you’re probably talking about a small thinnish concrete slab out the back of your house. In a valiant effort towards an urban jungle it may be half covered by some nice potted plants or an arrangement of solar lights. Sound familiar, or is it just my backyard?!

But this external space really can do more for us! We were so inspired after talking to Katie from Design Studio 31 that we wanted to look at some successful house extension projects that have taken a holistic approach by incorporating the landscape (and that “patch” of wilderness) into the heart of the design.

Here we’ll unpick the strategies they’ve used so that you can apply them to your own projects. So let’s go get our hands dirty!

Don't be afraid of angles in your garden

Sigh! This is the perfect example of maximising a narrow garden plot and integrating it into the design of the home. The architects, Fraher and Findlay have used a diagonal angle to house the big pivot door, the only access to the rear garden, which is a very different decision to the normal “box on the back” approach. This has created a dynamic plan which is echoed by the raised planting beds opposite, and makes the outdoor space look and feel bigger.

They added some continuous raised beds and a wooden external seating bench too, which runs parallel with their boundary, negating the need for additional fold out seating which can take up a lot of space.

Continue your inside to the outside

This ‘garden’ house designed by De Matos Ryan isn’t your typical London extension I grant you! But jaw dropping beautifulness aside, what is so wonderful about this design is the inside-outside nature of the outdoor space. And excitingly, you CAN create this look on your own home renovation project, even on the most modest of budgets. How, I hear you cry!

Well firstly, the architects here have used some simple and thoughtful solutions. To start off with, they’ve used the same floor material inside and out to give that sense of continuity and of flow through the space. It also means that when you open the big sliding doors, you feel like you’re outside even at your dining room table!

Image credit: Marshalls


To achieve this look successfully, you need to be careful with the drainage and select a slot drain. Your architect will help you with this but it’s also worth remembering to lay the external floor material AWAY from the doors on a slight angle to help with drainage and prevent any overflow from coming inside.

Another clever tool they’ve used is to continue the same kitchen units and worktop through to the outdoors. Not only is this super practical (as everyone has a collection of unsightly gardening equipment like watering cans, pots and bags of soil, random plastic toys and whatnot), but also it emphasises the feeling of the inside and outside being as one.

Go vertical in your outdoor space

Image credit: Peter Clarke
Image credit: Male Trends

When space is at a premium, a solid option is to “build upwards”. We love both these examples of courtyard spaces where vegetation has been used to radically add a sense of nature in a dramatic show of greenery and new life!

However popular though, these walls are high maintenance and need a lot of thought and care to make them a success. So here are a few guiders to get started:

Image credit: Easy Decors

+ Specify the right kind of plants – typically you want to go for all-shade or all-sun plants

+ Use plants that have the same rate of growth (otherwise the faster growing ones are going to take over and aggressively shade the other ones)

+ Choose the right spot – you need a place that has an even amount of exposure.



For the less green fingered amongst us, an easier option is the classic trellis and trailing plant option.

Although it looks just as lovely, it may take a bit more time to establish a full coverage. It’ll be worth it though, I promise!

Use zones in your garden area


In researching for this article, there were numerous images that appealed to me over and over and it took a while to pinpoint exactly what drew me in. But it was the outdoor spaces that used the concept of layering and zoning that did it.

This is basically when you portion off different parts of the garden by changing up the type of plants, or the level, or the activity that is going to take place in that area. You may think this would make the space look smaller, but actually the reverse is true!

In the images above, even though the overall aesthetics of the outdoor space are different – one more formal and the other a little wild – they’ve both employed these tactics. There’s a mixture of planting; a single small tree alongside some potted plants that vary in size and some vertical screening. They both have defined areas for seating and a BBQ, and they both have a level change which they’ve emphasised by using a mixture of materials from stone, timber and grass.

We hope you’re as inspired as us to jump into the car and head to your nearest B&Q! To fire up your imagination even further, here are some top recommendations from the brilliant Katie Flaxman of Studio 31 to get you started. Happy Bank holiday everybody!

Cotinus Coggygria

Cotinus Coggygria

A deciduous shrub known as ‘Grace’ with large purple leaves and fruiting plumes, where it gets its name ‘smoke bush’.

Prunus Serrula

Prunus Serrula

A multi-stem tree known as the Tibetan cherry – A relatively small tree with stunning coppery bark, creates a living focal feature, particularly attractive if up lit.

Trachelospermum Jasminoides

Trachelospermum Jasminoides

Known as the star jasmine, fragrant, delicate white flowers. 

Also evergreen!

Nepeta 'Walkers Low'

Nepeta 'Walkers Low'

A Herbaceous perennial with silvery leaves and blue/mauve flowers create clouds of summer colour which are great for bees and other pollinating insects.

Anemone 'Wild Swan'

Anemone 'Wild Swan'

A long flowering herbaceous perennial, flowering from May to November. White flowers are a bluey-grey on the underside. Great for partial shade.


You and Your Project

We would love to know how your project turns out!  Follow us on Instagram and tag us #wearehomenotes in images of your works in progress or your finished dream home!

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