Forget the deck and the BBQ – that’s just too 1970s and impractical during New Zealand’s winter – and as for indoor/outdoor flow, why go for passé transitions when you can have an entire, tricked-out room outdoors? Think fireplace, outdoor rugs and couches… Perhaps you need more space, but with property prices the way that they are, you’ve decided to stay put. Creating an outdoor space lets you expand your horizons, get more natural light and escape the stuffy gloom of house confinement during winter. It goes without saying that a covered area is a must, preferably with side curtains – such as doors, louvres, zip curtains and Glidetrak Patio Blinds – which create an outdoor room that cuts out the rain and cold, while still letting you enjoy the elements bathed in natural light. But once you’ve created an outdoor ‘room’, how do you take your living outdoors into a space that you love, and that is uniquely you? We talked to Matt McIsaac from Landscape Designer Ltd about the essential elements needed to create a stunning outdoor space.

Decide what you want for your outdoor space / room 

“Advances in technology means you can turn your outdoor space into almost anything, but how you want to use the space will have an influence on the decor. For example, do you want an outdoor kitchen, or a place of peace and tranquility where you can escape to with a glass of wine at the end of a long day?”

Create a theme that complements the purpose of the space

“Make use of the walls and ceiling. If you want tranquilly, aim for lanterns or plant hangers. Some people like tropical finish, while others aim for the Zen feeling. Match your desired usage with an appropriate look”

Add a “Focus Feature” 

“A lot of people opt for outdoor fireplaces as the focal piece – but a fountain would do just as well, as would plants or a fish tank.The advantage of a fireplace is that it matches most themes, adds ambience and warms the area. Some people prefer to put a pizza oven in there because their focus is to entertain. Installing a fire in an outdoor room can be tricky, but I know Fresco have managed a few projects like that – there are also gas options. “Gas is easier to design and build because there are more restrictions around wood fires/burners. There are some quality gas alternatives out there now. Whether you can have a fire/wood burner or not will depend on the location of your property. Restrictions may vary from one street to the next,” says Matt. “Water features are finding favour in the market too, and there is no reason why a water feature and a fireplace cannot co-exist — it just depends on what you want to achieve.” “These days there is a huge variety of water and also stone features. It can be as simple as putting water into a prefabricated water feature and plugging it in. When it comes to water features, it depends on personal taste.” “Water blades are popular at the moment – they’re nice and modern. Essentially it’s a stainless steel weir that sits inside a wall, and the water comes down in a sheet or cascade. It has a sleek modern look when it’s all lit up,” says Matt.

Think Natural 

Because you are outdoors, you will find that keeping the decor as natural as possible lets you enjoy an outdoors ambience while staying cosy and dry. “Try to use natural elements in your decor. In a covered space, we would use large pots or troughs to plant a variety of plants that can handle drier, shady conditions. Kentia palms are very nice for this purpose. Clivia miniata is a multi-clumping shrub that offers a variety of bright colours, and they’re low maintenance. Calathea Zebrina is a house plant that is commonly used for its unique tropical looking foliage,” says Matt.

Keep your lighting discreet 

Lighting is essential for creating mood and ambience and, when carefully planned and installed, can dynamically transform a room and the atmosphere. “I suggest you investigate LED lighting, particularly the strips, because they give great light and you hide the lights very effectively within the framework of the room. For example, strip lights on the underside of steps create a lovely up-glow or use them to subtly light your canopy roof.” “Lighting applied to water features, the fireplace and plants can create some stunning effect. I think lighting should be a part of something, like a water feature, rather than a stand-alone thing. Use fittings to keep your lighting discreet,” says Matt.

Don’t spare the comfort factor 

“Built in seating is very popular at the moment. If you just have a canopy over a deck, you can build up an enclosed bench seat that doubles as storage space for the squabs, while drop curtains on the sides protect you from the wind. “We’re also finding that people like the whitewash look. It does have a nice, light feel to it which can be enhanced with a timber finish. Even on a deck, it lightens the space. Whether you have a deck, a canopy or Fresco shading, the white decor is useful because it reflects light.” Matt says whiteboard decking makes a space look bigger; less cluttered and less busy. If you have internal wooden floors (in your house), make sure your decking runs in the same direction as the wooden internal wooden flooring because that extends the perception of space even further.

Create a stunning view 

Your outdoor space is warm and cosy and dry, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t make use of the outdoors. “Often outdoor space is directly on the side of a house, so don’t neglect the view. Consider elements further out in the garden and how you may use them to enhance what you see when you look out; almost like framing a picture of aspects of your garden. “For example, you could have a focal point further in the garden which draws the eye, like a bird bath or a sculpture. If you want to attract birds into your view, think about planting the modest Kakabeak tree, which has stunning red flowers that hang in clusters. Birds love them. The New Zealand Iris (Libertia Ixoides) are also a good option,” says Matt.


There is so much potential for your outdoor space, but don’t get carried away. The important thing is to keep the space simple. Avoid clutter and keep it inviting. In particular, make sure it is accessible and user-friendly. That way you will use it more often.

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