One of the hottest trends in home design is outdoor dining. Though this isn’t as attractive an all-year-round prospect in the UK as it might be in, say, Barbados or California, there are still ways to open up your kitchen or dining room into the garden, and enjoy your food in the fresh air.
In the summer, thoughts naturally turn to barbecuing and family get-togethers – a bit of a no-no during the coronavirus pandemic. But let’s hope it’s a go-er for this summer. Alternatively, you can cook indoors and serve al fresco, given a suitable outdoor dining area.
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The ideal way to connect your kitchen and outdoor dining area is with patio doors, or even better, space-saving sliding glass doors. Often, designers will floor the kitchen and outdoor dining area with the same tiles, making a seamless transition between the two. But don’t limit yourself – a balcony can make an ideal outdoor dining area too. Just equip it with a tiled floor, metal table and chairs, and a line of bamboo plants in pots to provide some privacy potted plants, and it will be just like eating out in the garden.
An easy way to set up an outdoor dining area is to site a folding shelf under your kitchen window. Use this as a dining surface and you can sit on the patio and pass food out to the garden.
Think about where the sun is going to fall at meal-times; if you have plenty of space, you might even be able to set up more than one outdoor dining area, perhaps for barbecuing in the daytime, and more formal dining in the evening.
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Outdoor dining furniture can be removable, or built into the garden; for instance your decking could extend to form a built-in bench or table, and an also serve as a storage unit for folding furniture.
For additional seating, metal folding chairs are flexible and can be easily stored away in the winter, and wrought iron dining tables can often be folded away too.
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If you want something more permanent, reclaimed wooden dining tables in the rustic country style are trés chic.
For outdoor dining, exposed bulbs on an overhead canopy or pergola incorporating climbing plants can provide adequate soft lighting, without blocking the view of the garden, or you can use a battery-powered table light, or candles in glass jars.
For permanent shade, you can use the hedge management techniques called ‘pleaching’ or ‘plashing’ to interweave living and dead wood. Plant a row of trees and weave the branches throughout a hedge to create a canopy – it won’t keep out rain, but it will create shade. Canopy plants can be tied back like curtains to create space.
For temporary shade, an awning of canvas, hessian or sailcloth looks great suspended from ropes or stretched across poles or trees, or if you have around an hour to erect it and a free metre around it to peg it down, try a waterproof cotton canvas ‘tea tent’.
As the autumn wears on, enjoying your garden is going to become dependent on getting enough warmth.
The eco-friendly way to do it is to put on another jumper – but you try eating a corncob wearing gloves. No, at some stage you are going to want to choose a patio heater.
The first thing to bear in mind is that gas heaters are extremely wasteful of fuel and heat. They also have a large carbon footprint, giving out 85 percent more CO2 than an electric heater. Electric heaters are cheaper to run, too.
You might think that a log burner is a more ecological alternative, but it depends on what you’re burning; damp wood or anything contaminated with chemicals is responsible for a lot of atmospheric particulate pollution, so check the environmental standards of whatever burner you are considering, and make sure to use clean, dry fuel.
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Also think about where you can store your heater out of the way in the summer – some are massive. Other than that, what are the pros and cons of different types of garden heating?
- Electric heaters reach a good temperature quickly and are easy to use. They can be free-standing or table-mounted, plugging into a mains socket, or wired into a wall-mount. They are efficient as they use radiant heat rather than air convection, and are generally best where you can decide which spots need heating and which don’t. Electric heaters come in several varieties including halogen and infrared, and some are so compact they can be concealed under a parasol.
- Gas heaters can be cheaper to buy than electric, and provide wide-ranging heat at levels up to around 13kW, so they’re good for larger areas. Though temperature is usually adjustable, they are expensive to run, at about £1.20 an hour, about five times as much as an electric heater, and take a while to warm up. Some are also extremely space-consuming, at up to seven feet high.
- Biofuel heaters run on more eco-friendly fuels such as bioethanol, which burns clean with no scent or smoke, so they can also be used indoors – they’re small and portable enough to carry around to where you need them.
- Fire pits are extremely on-trend, and are good at heating a small space around you. Fuelled by either charcoal or wood, they are made from steel, clay or cast iron, and many come with a safety lid, and cooking grill so they can be used as mini barbecues.
- Chimineas (or should it be chiminae?) are also achingly on-trend. Pot-bellied clay chimney ovens used in Mexico for baking bread, they have been adopted as garden heaters. You can still use them as ovens though – wrap potatoes in foil to bake them in the coals, place food such as pizza directly on a ceramic tile or metal sheet to cook, or lean skewers inside to cook over the coals. An alternative is a chimenea made from high-temperature, powder-coated steel covered in a layer of temperature-resistant paint. These often have a handy log store to provide fuel throughout the night, and are waterproof, so they can withstand some rain (though as with the clay version it’s recommended that you cover them when you can).
- For a low-impact temporary heating solution, try torches or Roman candles. Perfect for when there’s just a slight nip in the air, they supply a gentle heat while adding a glowing ambience to your al fresco experience. Citronella candles will also keep biting insects such as mosquitos at bay, and they’re as easy to use as sticking them in the ground and lighting the wick.
- You can even make your own torches using wine bottles clamped to fence-fittings with a bottle wick fuelled by lamp oil.