From the elaborate follies scattered through the world’s more lavish gardens, to secret garden nooks and playful mazes, the idea of outdoor spaces encouraging enjoyment – being places to experience happiness and share joy among friends – is not a new one. Yet in modern life, the power of playful energy and the lightness it brings to our wellbeing is often underestimated.
Kim Williams, Cape Town-based Creative Behaviour Strategist focused on designing interior spaces, knows that the mindful design of outdoor spaces profoundly impacts our physical and mental wellness, and she believes that few things can awaken the soul like laughter outdoors.
Here are Kim’s Top Tips when Creating Playful and Inviting Outdoor Spaces
Add a little fun
Playful living in outdoor spaces has endless unconventional options especially for those who are designing outdoor spaces with children in mind. If you are fortunate to have a pool, adding funky lilos and wacky water features is a simple option.
Colour is also a great way to spruce up an outdoor space and can be as simple as changing up your cushions, or putting your beach towels up on hooks; or as grand as commissioning a mural from a talented local artist. Personally, Kim loves using locally made sculptures in gardens to make them feel elegant yet playful.
Make use of colour
Kim muses that the wealth and quality of South African designers are phenomenal, with the furniture range by Douglas and Douglas being one of her favourites. Haldane’s outdoor furniture brings a modern retro look to the outside space and makes it feel fun as his use of colour is masterful. There is a plethora of new fabrics that can be used outside that have vibrant patterns and incredible lightfastness, making them a reliable and creative way to repurpose design elements you already have in your space.
There are also gorgeous new planters available that can be used as features or as places for plants to stand as architectural objects.
Technology can be magical
The technology that exists for our outdoor spaces is absolutely incredible. Decks that can slide to cover pools with the flip of a switch, irrigation systems that can water your garden from anywhere in the world through a simple app, and pergolas that incorporate protector screens and create private outdoor theatres, can add a sense of magic to your play space.
There is also recycled technology, such as beautiful new composite decking, that is more resistant to the elements and doesn’t need to be maintained – meaning you have more time enjoying your outdoor space instead of maintaining it.
Consider and respect the elements
As much as we all love nature, being battered by the wind as the braai smoke blows into your eyes and the sun beats down on your skin is not pleasant. Make sure you know which direction your home and garden are orientated so that you get a good reading on how protected your space is and if you need to create additional protection from the wind.
Analyse how the sun moves through your space and create areas dedicated to introducing a little fun and playfulness. Beach umbrellas and picnic blankets add a touch of colour for events or special occasions, and lilo’s and beach balls can add a playful spirit. Place importance to how the sunlight catches materials, colours and patterned fabrics you use. Naturally, you want finishes that are going to withstand the weather and the ageing effect that the sun has on fabrics.
The kind of furniture you choose should be selected both for its beauty and resilience, particularly if the property is close to the ocean.
Be mindful in minimal spaces
The most important thing with an outdoor space, particularly small spaces, is to make it feel like an extension of the house by creating a connection to the greater design scheme. Flooring is a great way to do this, and decking, stone, tiles, and even artificial grass are wonderful options.
The technology and quality of artificial lawns have long surpassed something reminiscent of a school cricket pitch and artificial lawns interwoven with pavers or patterned tiles make an area more interesting.
The trick when selecting an artificial lawn is to make sure it has some brown in it so it looks natural. For small spaces, Kim prefers creating wrap-around elevated planting areas with a lovely wooded or tiled wall to create the feeling that nature is enveloping you as you enter the area.
Make it fun but also safe for the whole family
Nothing is less fun than an unplanned trip to the hospital with your toddler because they ran and tripped. For children, and for elderly people or family members who use walking aids, it’s extremely important to consider floor levels and how the space transitions between them. Making sure the gradient of the steps is not too challenging, having supports such as planters that can be used as bannisters and making sure the walkways, particularly around the pool, are wide enough all increase the safety of your space. With small children, there should always be a barrier when it comes to water – either a net over the pool or a little fence around a pond will give you peace of mind.
Using soft furnishings like a cushion around the area also helps. Lastly, if you can build or renovate your home, when you are designing make sure that you can see the outside area from anywhere indoors, so you can have one eye on your kids.
Try to mask more functional items
Water tanks, pool pumps, laundry lines, black bins and woodpiles are essential to our spaces but are often abrasive to the eye. Kim is a firm believer in laser cut decorative screens that will easily swallow unsightly pool pumps and provide additional storage and seating. These are available in a variety of patterns for your screens and customisable to hide all manner of functionalities such as water tanks and raised decking around swimming pools.
Making use of dark colours – such as black – in small nooks of the garden to camouflage retractable laundry lines, and black bins also helps these functional items dissipate into the background – especially if you add cleverly placed plants. Some functional items can be turned into a feature, which Kim likes to do with firewood by stacking it decoratively and adding it as an element of the design.
The climate in South Africa beckons us outside and we pride ourselves on our outdoor spaces being beautiful. The emotional value of being outside is vital to our mental wellness and helps to encourage a sense of wellbeing by giving us a space to take a mini mental holiday.
The good old-fashioned braai strengthens our bonds between family members and friends and quiet glasses of wine with our partners as we look at the stars.
Simply having a place to sit back and cultivate a connection to nature is more important now than ever as we spend so much time in our private space. So, why not embrace a more playful energy and add a little of South Africa’s more adventurous spirit to your outdoor space.