How to make the most of your outdoor space

Unless you are lucky enough to have a garden flat or a roof terrace, most apartments offer little escape from the indoors.  Therefore, to add tangible value to your block of flats or conversion, useable and attractive communal outdoor space is essential.

However, before rushing out to dig a Capability Brown-inspired lake and purchase a pretty but, believe me,  very noisy peacock, it is worth taking some time to consider what your outdoor space is for and who will use it. For example, a block of retirement flats will have very different requirements to a modern block of apartments aimed at young families. Whoever the space is for, there should be a combination of areas or zones to allow it to be used in different ways depending on the weather, season or activity. Zoning is used for interior design to maximise how an area is used, and the same concept should  be adapted for use when planning exterior design and landscaping.

Unfortunately, the UK is not blessed with an abundance of clement weather, so sheltered areas are important. The easiest way to create shelter is with a simple pagoda or roofed structure. These can be as plain or elaborate as your taste allows but should be big enough to accommodate a good percentage of the number of occupiers in the block. A solid roof is not entirely necessary as some quick growing climbing plants will give adequate cover in a light shower. Integral seating or a number of benches beneath the structure make the area far more useful. If at all possible, a central table, permanently fixed, will allow the area to become an outside eating or entertaining space. Wells Reclamation,, based in Somerset, have a fabulous range of garden structures to create your sheltered zone.

If budget, design and space allows, there is now a trend for ‘adult’ tree houses and more elaborate garden structures. By using the trees, not only are you freeing up extra space on the ground, but you add spectacular levels of interest at different heights.  Blue Forest,, specialise in the more top end garden structures. Their new creation, The Eco Perch (pictured), is affordable and sustainable complying with the Caravan & Mobile Home Act. It is a prefabricated structure which can be sited on the ground or in the treetops.  It is highly insulated, double glazed and fitted out in a modern contemporary design with LED lighting and A-rated efficient LPD or electric heating. There is a living/dining area, sleeping pod and bathroom.  With the correct system in place, it could be ‘rented’ by the tenants when having guests to stay. 

At a simpler level, individual or double seating throughout your garden is important to enable the occupiers to enjoy the outside but to maintain some element of privacy. Benches,  appropriate garden furniture and stone seating structures add interest and character to the space while giving essential functionality for the occupiers. Local garden centres, or online companies offer many opportunities to purchase the right furniture in the right style. If you are opting for a more traditional style, reclamation and salvage yards throughout the country will have something to suit. will give you a list of reclamation yards in your areas.

As with any space, inside or out, accessories and decoration will always add individuality. Having a few well-placed statues or stone features will create the right ambience and make the space more homely. Occupiers faced with a steep annual service charge will accept this attention to detail as it can only enhance their ideal of a lifestyle choice. Outside spaces are often used for entertaining friends, family and colleagues and so a little extra extravagance will always be appreciated. When choosing statues, art or exterior installations, go as big as the space and budget will allow. There is nothing worse than a puny statue dwarfed by an expansive garden – it will look cheap and tasteless. Companies like Sculptured Arts Studio,, have a range of classic hard carved options available. They range from busts and figurines to urns and garden furniture.  These will add a level of classic sophistication to your design. If you are keen to have original features, then Wells Reclamation, has a vast stock of large reclaimed statues in marble, cast iron and stone.

If statues or art are not your thing, then perhaps a water feature or fountain is something to consider. Like anything in the garden these can be as plain or elaborate as desired but always build something as large as possible. As with statues and art, a tiny fountain looks terrible and will always be a source of disappointment or ridicule. However, do consider the safety aspect associated with standing water and provide enough fencing and grates to prevent accidents. If in doubt, talk to your insurer.

If your block is aimed at families, then the occupants will be very grateful if a play area is provided. The regulations for the equipment are very strict so do consult an expert before you buy. Wooden play houses with integral slides, tunnels and climbing frames are not only brilliant fun but also look good. Unlike plastic, wood ages nicely and maintains its look for longer. Trampolines are very popular at present, but there is a huge fear of broken bones and bumped heads. A great solution is to have one at ground level suspended over a hole in the garden. The children can walk on and have no fear of bouncing off. If this is not feasible, then at the very least invest in additional safety netting to give parents peace of mind.

The final consideration is maintenance. Outside communal areas are either the responsibility of the occupiers or the management. Both will be over the moon with a stylish, functional and - more important - low maintenance space to look after. If possible make paths with gravel or chippings rather than paving slabs. Slabs will need to be pressure hosed regularly to avoid moss growth and may cause slippery accidents in the winter. However, if paving is your choice, then go for natural stone; riven or tumbled and not honed or polished to give adequate grip in wet or icy weather. Again, Wells Reclamation has one of the largest selections of natural stone flooring at great prices. Choose slow growing grass for lawn areas and evergreen planting to enjoy year -ound greenery.  In a children’s play area consider Astroturf or similar to prevent broken bones and unnecessary accidents.

It is worth considering that when inside, we spend a vast amount of time looking out, and so what we see should be pleasant and appealing. Tenants and owner occupiers of flats with communal outside spaces should expect the same as someone with a private garden and so spending a little extra time and money on the outside, should not only make life for your occupiers or tenants a little more enjoyable, but could also allow you to command slightly higher rents and/or purchase prices in the long term.

Emma Smith is an interior designer and can be contacted at Emma Smith Interiors

Tel: 01749 675644