Aussies love making the most of outdoor living spaces, with many homeowners putting a lot of time and design dollars into the verandah, deck or pergola to be able to use it year round.
If winter weather keeps you inside for a few months or more, let yourself be tempted back outdoors.
Modern inclusions mean you can enjoy cosy evenings and alfresco lunches with just a few tweaks around heating and decorating.
Landscape designer Dean Herald of Rolling Stone Landscapes (rollingstonelandscapes.com) in Sydney says that the past five years have seen an increase in demand for outdoor winter living solutions.
‘It all comes down to enjoyment and feeling comfortable,’ says Dean.
‘If you re-create that outdoors, then you are really extending the usability of the space.
‘People tend to understand the appeal of evening entertaining but they overlook the pleasure of long lunches on crisp winter days with the sun on your back.
‘Being well prepared for it is the key.’
Turn up the heat
Outdoor heating solutions have come a long way since the occasional gathering around the backyard bonfire or the call to put an extra jumper on.
These days it’s all about replicating the comfort of the indoors.
‘Technology always catches up to trends, and in the last five or six years there’s been a real increase in the products available for heating the external space,’ says Dean.
‘Personally, I think you can’t beat the traditional fireplace. The look, the crackle and the smell of the timber, and the radiance of the heat.
‘It’s like formalising the campfire, and connecting emotions to the solution is always a winner. ‘Evoking childhood memories is a surprisingly important factor in any design process,’ he adds.
‘For many people, an open fire has special memories attached to it.’
Best home solution
The design of the home, the available space and the needs of the people who live there will all influence the decision to have an open fireplace.
‘There may be council regulations and neighbours to consider. A small urban backyard may not be the best location and overhanging trees, fire bans, young families and body corporate issues all need to be taken into consideration,’ says Dean.
If a fireplace is out of the question, there are plenty of other heating options on the market.
Chimineas are a very popular alternative. Decorative and portable, a chiminea is a small fireplace shaped like a lightbulb, with the tall top acting as a chimney.
Often made from terracotta, they burn wood effectively and the design makes them ideal for small areas as they don’t take up much room.
Chimineas do get very hot to touch, so this option is not ideal if you have young children or pets.
Fire pits and braziers are portable and constructed from steel.
Designed to contain small fires both offer the enjoyment of real flames without the elaborate set-up or maintenance.
High-end fire pits can be gas powered but most are wood burning, featuring lids to contain ash and limit the danger of open flames.
Braziers are fuelled with briquettes.
They are small, making them easy to store, but you need to be standing close to feel the heat.
Radiant heaters are cost effective and, depending on the model and air temperature, can heat an area with a radius of up to five metres.
Some models can be connected to the home gas supply and there are electric versions, too.
This type of heater does not function well in windy conditions and needs to be in a large space for safety reasons.
Small electric units can be wall mounted, improving safety, but heat radiance is limited.
Lighting for ambience
Days are shorter in winter and while the sun can be high and bright for part of the day, the conditions can limit the use of the outdoor space.
‘Good lighting is critical to any outdoor space. Daylight can be beautiful in winter but getting the lights right can add to the feeling of warmth in the evenings,’ says Dean.
The trick is to mirror the rules that apply indoors.
Having a couple of options for how the space looks and feels is always a good idea.
You might have overhead lighting for when everyone needs visibility, like during a meal, then perhaps a dimmer to create that lovely lounge-like atmosphere.
If the space is large enough, you may want to switch off overhead lights and instead create illumination with lamps around the perimeter, using candles in the centre.
TIP: Use uplighting to make a feature of any plants or trees in the space.