Designing Comfortable Indoor-Outdoor Living Spaces

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    Fundamental to how we live and experience our homes, we’re uncovering what makes a well-connected outdoor living space with three Australian architects and designers.

    This year, more than ever, we’ve had to confront how our homes can better serve us – both inside and outside and through the relationship between the two.

    Enhancing our lives through a connection with the outdoors is what architects Polly Harbison and Davina Bester of Milieu Creative, and interior designer Tahma Smith of Mrs Smith are well-versed in. We spoke to Polly, Davina and Tahma on elevating our outdoor spaces with a focus on comfort and usability, tailored to the client and climate. Investing just as much time in how an outdoor space comes together, as they do in a home’s internal spaces, these three designers relay the importance of them being a seamless extension of the other.

    Through each project we explore how they’ve leveraged the opportunity to enjoy being outside as much of the year as possible, for some quiet time, to be inspired and to entertain en plein air.

    In partnership with Cosh Living

    Castlecrag by Polly Harbison Design

    When Castlecrag first landed on the desk of architect Polly Harbison it was a dark, post-war ‘rabbit warren’ of spaces. Together with landscape designer Bates Landscape, they revised the home to better blend with the bush and in doing so, created a series of interconnected open plan living spaces and garden rooms. 

    Working within the existing footprint of the home, the Polly Harbison Design team strategically removed parts to simplify and refine the built form. They also added a new outdoor room as a vital connection to the garden, with Tribu sofas tucked around an outdoor fireplace. “The arched form of this outdoor space takes its design cues from the landscape, with an independent character that elevates the existing house,” Polly says. 

    The design team strengthened the connection with the landscape in their Castlecrag project not only through creating large openings but ‘gentle platforms that step down to each level of the garden’.

    Polly says outdoor living spaces are given equal consideration as internal living spaces from the initial conceptual stages of design. “The outdoor dining table needs to be as close to the kitchen as the indoor table. That ideal outdoor breakfast spot won’t be used if it is too far from the toaster and coffee machine,” she adds. 

    When looking at what’s essential to an outdoor room, Polly notes it should be tailored to the climate, use materials that age gracefully and quality furnishings. “The goal with an outdoor room is to build just enough to create a microclimate that allows you to spend more time outdoors – without losing that essential free feeling of being outdoors,” she says. For Polly and her team, framing the view of the sky is as important as framing distant views and foreground views of plants.

    “As with our Castlecrag project, connecting to the landscape is often solved by improving the levels of the landscape,  and ensuring an easy flow from inside and out. This is achieved not just by creating large openings and doors outside – but creating gentle platforms that step down to each level of the garden.”

     

    – Architect Polly Harbison

    Bay House by Milieu Creative

    Perth-based Milieu Creative were engaged in the redesign of the Bay House, host to front-row views of Gordons Bay Cove in Coogee, Sydney. With these views as the backdrop to every level of the home, Milieu Creative focused on the seamless integration of indoor-outdoor living. 

    Milieu Creative introduced oversized windows and doors, as well as flush floor levels from the inside to out, letting the natural landscape become part of the interior. Milieu Creative managing director Davina Bester says the layered site which falls to the water below was designed so each level is an extension of the home, to create additional living and entertaining zones. These zones include the pool and dining level, seating and lawn for the kids to play, as well as a landscaped garage rooftop. “At street level, the courtyard was engaged with the architecture to allow the space to become much more usable with a young family,” Davina says. 

    On the flip side, the design team were also mindful of how outdoor living spaces could be experienced as a backdrop to the interior. Davina says this came down to lighting, to create the perfect ambience. 

    Davina believes you should treat external spaces as you would internally. “Create areas for seating, entertaining, reading, cooking etc,” she says. “With our beautiful year-round weather, we tend to live outdoors most of the year so creating zones that cater to this are best.” Their ultimate goal is to understand how their clients enjoy their time outdoors, enabling them to design spaces that encourage these experiences. This makes the sanctuary personal – down to each material and the furniture selection

    “We believe you can treat external spaces as you would internally. Create areas for seating, entertaining, reading, cooking etc. With our beautiful year-round weather we tend to live outdoors most of the year so creating zones that cater to this are best.”

     

    –  Architect Davina Bester

    Wolseley Home by Mrs Smith

    Interior design studio Mrs Smith were asked to revive this Wolseley Home with waterfront views that were so inspiring, they were weaved into all aspects of the design process. “The layering of greenery, staggered in heights, envelops the outdoor space to create an alfresco ‘formal’ experience that could soften by day and add drama at night,” Mrs Smith founder Tahma Smith says. She says materials were organic and raw which was echoed in the furniture selection.

    The relationship between indoor and outdoor on the top floor living area of the Wolseley Home was to be open and engaging, but separate when needed. Tahma says she focused on bringing the outside in through crafted vignettes of green, layering of materials and furniture selects being considered for their impact overall. This, alongside ambient light, she says, is what drives versatility and comfort. “I plan my outdoor areas as though they are an extension of the narrative created internally,” she says. “I like my furniture pieces to look and feel inviting. Organic shapes, a restrained colour palette and slouchy textural fabrics are my go-to.”

    The designer sees materiality as one of the most important factors to consider when creating an outdoor living space. She also likes to include furniture pieces that invite yet withstand the elements, like the Tribu Tosca Armchairs from Cosh Living. “I rarely use a material that feels overly treated,” she says. “I use colour sparingly that mimics both the natural environment and the interiors palette overall.” 

    “I plan my outdoor areas as though they are an extension of the narrative created internally. I like my furniture pieces to look and feel inviting. Organic shapes a restrained colour palette and slouchy textural fabrics are my go-to.”

     

    – Interior designer Tahma Smith

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    The outdoor dining space in the Wolseley Home by Mrs Smith features the Tribu Tosca chairs.

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designing comfortable indoor-outdoor living spaces