The most important room in a brand-new home used to be the kitchen with all the white goods and appliances. Now it has a friendly rival: its outdoor namesake, as the back garden evolves from lawn and flowerbeds to al fresco cooking, dining and entertaining.
The British are even getting less wet about the weather, with gazebos, awnings and even full-blown pavilions offering year-round BBQ opportunities.
The pandemic triggered an unprecedented rise in demand for outdoor cooking equipment, be it grills, ovens or firepits, as well as the furniture to dress the ‘room’.
The lounge-kitchen-diner was a clumsy composite term coined by estate agents; now you can just call it the garden, with the patio area not just a selection of slabs or tiles, but as vital to get right as flooring and carpets inside the home, with designers looking to complement styles, materials and colours, bringing the inside out or outside in.
Paul Vallone, executive chairman of housebuilder St Edward, part of the Berkeley Group, says outside space – be it for dining and entertaining friends, or relaxing with family – is a priority for many buyers, as well as the importance of access to nature and green space for both physical and mental wellbeing, whether it is community space, or the private landscaped garden of a family house.
St Edward is building Hartland Village, near Fleet in Hampshire, with a vision to create an exceptional place in design and architecture, delivering a true community. A traditionally inspired humped-back bridge leads residents over a picturesque lake, providing an impressive entrance into the new village and evoking an immediate sense of belonging.
“Hartland Village will include a new primary school, shops, cafés and other amenities, making it a destination in its own right. This is a community-centric development with a focus on green outdoor space, surrounded by extensive areas of woodland interspersed with open heath creating a distinctive landscape, including a 70-acre country park,” says Vallone, with a wide range of buyers, be they first-time purchasers, London leavers, families or downsizers, drawn to the acres that define the village.
“These spaces inspire healthy living and bring the community together. The country park features wildflower meadows, picnic areas and butterfly banks, and has been extremely popular with our buyers and the wider community. Cycle paths, trim trails and walkways encourage active and social lifestyles, providing links across the village, the country park and the surrounding forests and local towns.”
“Our residents can enjoy their own private outdoor space in their gardens, and the public outdoor spaces at Hartland Village are also a crucial piece of the puzzle and one of the key reasons Hartland Village has been so popular with buyers,” says Vallone.
“The creation of exceptional outdoor spaces, both public and private, is also a key part of our commitment. For every home, we create fantastic outside spaces that provide a natural extension to the indoor living areas and can be used flexibly based on the requirements of our residents, whether that’s space to cook and dine outside, exercise, relax or to put a home office. We’re delivering a lifestyle to our residents.”
Vallone says the pandemic highlighted the importance of outdoor space to people’s health. “Hartland Village was a scheme designed before this, based on our belief that green space is crucial to a sense of wellbeing, and that it is our responsibility as housebuilders to improve the natural environment. That’s why every home at Hartland Village features a garden or outside space. Studies have found that people with private outdoor spaces are more likely to exercise regularly, while cooking outside or gardening brings its own benefits, providing a hobby for families to enjoy together and improving mental health.”
The homes are Hartland Village are designed to ensure the gardens form a natural extension to the living spaces indoors. “Buyers are attracted to the flexibility this brings. In the houses at Hartland Village, open-plan living, kitchen and dining rooms lend themselves well to entertaining, whatever the weather, and they lead seamlessly out into the gardens. Our residents make the most of the thoughtful layout of their homes and really are using their private outdoor spaces for living.”
“St Edward has provided external power, lighting and water taps to every garden as a standard feature, while spacious patio areas provide a great place for hosting BBQs, positioning a hot tub, or simply for relaxing in the evenings.”
James Holmear, group sales director at Redrow, says the housebuilder has never been more aware of a garden’s value to mind and body than over the last few years.
“We’ve seen them stop being just an outdoor space and transform into a hub of activity that has wellbeing, health and socialising at its heart. We’ve seen this reflected in the increased popularity of bi-fold doors, which create the perfect bridge between indoors and outdoors. However, we’ve also seen an increase in people landscaping and designing their gardens with the same care and attention they would their kitchen or living room.”
Holmear says this had led to people focusing on areas such as decks and patios, opting for more socially focused gardens, with extra seating and entertainment space and plenty of room for outdoor dining and BBQs.
“However, it isn’t all about long summer days. An optional extra we offer through our My Redrow platform are luxury garden pods. As people demand more from their spaces, an extension of the home for the garden is fast becoming a sought-after addition. Whether used as a home office, gym or playroom for the kids, these exterior garden buildings provide a stylish separate place where the family can spend time. Offering a light and airy internal space, they are fully lined and insulated so they can be used all year round.”
Last month Redrow put its ‘better way to live outdoors’ concept into action, inviting residents and prospective homebuyers at its Great Milton Park development in Newport, south Wales to a BBQ lunch, showcasing great food cooking over the flames, as well as Redrow’s new garden pod.
The event was run in partnership with John Lewis in Cardiff, with home stylists bringing outdoor furniture and accessories to the party, as well as offering design tips.
The food was cooked by renowned pitmaster Jack Rowbottom of Jack’s Meat Shack, a live-fire cooking expert and food content creator, using a selection of Char-broil grills, including its hybrid Gas2Coal barbecue, with a menu that included Caribbean chicken thighs, coffee rubbed ribeye roast with chimichurri and grilled salmon fillets.
The food was washed down by BBQ Sizzler Pale Ale and Pitmaster Rye IPA, a beer partnership between BBQ magazine and Gosport-based Powder Monkey Brewing Co, while the Beefsteak wines – a Malbec, a Malbec Rose and a Sauvignon Blanc – were also specifically chosen to pair with the grilled meats.
There are six show homes from Redrow’s Heritage Collection at Great Milton Park, combining Arts & Craft architecture with contemporary interiors, as well as the new multipurpose garden room. Redrow area sales manager Andrew Williams said the event, attracting around 50 guests including prospective new buyers, confirmed the “real sense of community” the development inspires, with gardens and communal green spaces high up on buyers’ wish-lists.
Developer London Square also recently held a BBQ for residents at its Pickle Factory scheme in Bermondsey, London – a range of apartments and duplexes, featuring new garden squares and walkways, as well as a Beach Garden, the perfect space for communal barbecues and outdoor entertaining.
The Pickle Factory was once home to Branston, the iconic pickle brand celebrating its centenary this year. The Beach Garden now has a Kamado Space BBQ unit with
a Kamado Bono grill for the use of the residents at the development, with the first communal barbecue at the scheme cooked by Ruffled Truffle caterers and the space and the barbecue already proving very popular with the apartment owners.
“London Square has always put garden squares, courtyards and landscaped spaces at the heart of all its developments, in the tradition of famous squares across the capital. We always set out to bring a community together and well-designed communal spaces provide a hub for residents to get to know each other,” says Jo McDonagh, group sales and marketing director of London Square.
“Since the pandemic, everyone has become even more aware of the value
of outdoor space. As a developer, we have pledged to building all our future developments with private outdoor spaces for every resident.”
At its award-winning Star & Garter development in Richmond, London Square designed private barbecue areas into the landscaped gardens overlooking the Thames.
“The garden has become an essential outdoor living space for our buyers. At Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, we have a show home with a hot tub, pergola and terrace, a space for an outdoor kitchen/barbecue, as well as a summerhouse and climbing frame. With our changes in climate and warmer weather, eating al fresco and spending time in the garden has become a way of life for many people.”
At London Square’s Tadworth Gardens development in Surrey, buyers could create their own bespoke garden, with three styles on offer – the family garden with a play area, the cottage garden with pretty country style planting and shrubs, or a more formal contemporary garden design.
“For buyers with gardens, autumn and winter are great months for planning and buying equipment and also planting out the garden to look fabulous the following spring and summer. Count down to the good weather, starting in January with the first snowdrops, through to spring daffodils and before you know it, it’s time to fire up the barbecue or get out the kids’ paddling pool,” says McDonagh.
“With outdoor heating, great lighting and awnings, gardens can be used all year round for dining al fresco or enjoying a morning coffee.”
Outdoor space has always been a high priority for luxury housebuilder Octagon.
“It’s generally the starting point for any of our builds. We make sure we are utilising the amount of land we have, working with the orientation to maximise sunlight and creating as much usable space for clients as possible. Octagon homes come fully landscaped, as we want our gardens ready to use as intended from day one,” says Tim Banks, chief executive of Octagon.
Banks is seeing a lot more requests for different ‘zoning’ areas, such as a chill out zone with sofas around a fire pit, alongside a more formal dining area that’s covered from the sun.
“Likewise, the all-important outdoor kitchen and BBQ area is regularly requested, featuring high stools, a breakfast bar and also a kids’ space or leisure area to play.”
Octagon has recognised the soaring popularity of outdoor cooking, be it barbecues, wood-fired ovens or fire pits.
“As the range of outdoor cooking options continues to expand, so do the cook-out zones in our homes. Wood-fired ovens are becoming a standard request in our Bespoke homes, along with a fully functioning prep and kitchen area, complete with plenty of secure storage for tools and gadgets,” says Banks, who has also seen the rise in demand for outdoor TV screens and sound systems, throwing al fresco parties for big sporting events.
Outdoor rooms are being created with the use of indoor-outdoor furniture, says Banks, with gardens styled as an extension of the indoors, with bi-fold doors offering a seamless transition, such as at Octagon’s Broadoaks Park development in West Byfleet, Surrey.
Octagon, through its Bespoke division, can also deliver outdoor buildings and pods, be they for entertainment, work or exercise.
“Our in-house interior design team are experts at transforming spaces, and work with a large number of clients to really bring a home and garden to life. Chancery Homes’ newest acquisition, Hampton Court Place [from Octagon’s upper-mid market brand Chancery Homes] in Thames Ditton, will have private balconies and access to outdoor space to most of the apartments, while two large communal roof terraces will ensure we utilise the square footage as much as possible for residents to enjoy the outdoors.”
James Lamb of estate agent Savills says the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns fundamentally changed the way many see their outside space.
“Where perhaps previously people might have just wanted to have an outside space that looked nice, now they want their gardens, terraces and balconies to function as living rooms – both in the summer and all year round.”
This explains the popularity of outdoor kitchens, fire pits and covered terraces.
“We recently sold a house that was fully kitted out both internally and externally and we saw how the gardens were a really big selling point. And while garden living is traditionally associated with the summer months and drier weather, having spaces that can be lived in, even in the darkest months of winter, are a big draw, so outdoor heating is something that also shouldn’t be overlooked,” says Lamb.
Estate agent Tom Hayman-Joyce of Hayman-Joyce in the Cotswolds has seen increasing demand for outdoor space and gardens from buyers and the desire for barbecues, pizza ovens and fire pits, as well as fully fitted outdoor kitchens.
Agent Daniel Nash from Nash Partnership in Hertfordshire says since the pandemic, outdoor space has become much more important to house-hunters, be it private gardens or good access to woodland and forests, fuelling the rural market.
From across the property firmament, brand-new and second-hand, the song remains the same; a phenomenal growth in outdoor living and dining, with more and more people seeking inspiration, education and entertainment, with the more enlightened housebuilders recognising the huge opportunity to connect with residents and buyers in compelling ways.
Show home openings on new housing developments used to be a ribbon-cutting by the local mayor, followed by white wine and vol-au-vent and don’t get crumbs on the carpet.
Now we step outside, gather round the fire and the food and embrace both the airspace and the headspace beyond the bi-folds. Welcome to the best room in the house.
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