Outdoor Entertaining Areas

How to plan your outdoor space, zone by zone

Here's how to do it
Cath Muscat

Setting up outdoor spaces to cater for various occasions can make entertaining the masses a breeze. 

Take a seat

Nothing says ‘unwind’ like a space stocked with inviting sofas and comfy cushions, but at busy times like the holidays, being prepared is the ultimate key to relaxation. “Design your lounging area so you’re ready for unexpected socialising,” says Susan Tait of Tait. “Modular lounges that seat large groups and are comfy to lie on offer excellent flexibility.” For a cohesive feel, carry your indoor decorating style outdoors, with chic upholstery and accessories. Classic styles won’t date and are a good long-term investment. “Textures are big this season, so mix chenilles with linens and chunky weaves,” suggests Susan. “For a warmer palette, opt for earthy terracottas, oranges and dirty pinks or, for a cooler look, consider soft sage, bottle greens and cornflour blue.” Outdoor rugs also serve as another fantastic way to create zones and keep tiles or decking soft and cool underfoot during summer.

TIP: Give your lounge area an intimate feel with partition walls, screens or hedging. Arrange seating to encourage conversation and provide surfaces for drinks and nibbles. “A central coffee table can work, or in a smaller space, a few side tables are handy,” says designer Susan Tait.

outdoor living

Divine dining

Outdoor entertaining and food go hand in hand, so pick the right dining setting for your space, and then position it in an area that allows easy access to the kitchen and barbecue. “In small courtyards, a compact table, paired with lightweight stools which can be moved around the garden, is a great option,” suggests Jen Stumbles of Eco Outdoor. “For larger areas, consider a durable teak table that can withstand the elements.” Comfy chairs are a must if you want lunch guests to linger, so stock up with seat pads if your outdoor furniture is less than forgiving. Shade is a priority in warmer months – pick a covered spot under a tree or pergola, or invest in a cantilever umbrella you can wheel out when needed. “A separate drinks station will also keep people outside and free up the kitchen for food prep,” adds Jen. A tub of ice is a perfectly adequate low-tech option to keep drinks cool, but if you go for a more permanent solution in the shape of a bar fridge, make sure it’s suitable for outdoor use.

TIP: Bring all of the trappings of a luxe dining experience outdoors with pretty linen, a low central floral arrangement that won’t block guests’ views of the garden or each other, and lots of candles. Battery-operated ones look authentic and are a safer option than the real thing.

outdoor dining
(Credit: Armelle Habib)

Find sanctuary

With the right accessories and greenery, a gazebo nestled in the back corner of the garden can be the ultimate chill-out zone – the perfect spot to relax with friends, or just escape the hubbub. To keep it casual, designer Adam Robinson suggests steering away from any metal furnishings in favour of comfy sofas and textural pieces. “I really like the ‘Westhampton’ daybed from Naturally Cane, and a hammock is the perfect way to create a laid-back vibe,” he says. To establish a lush retreat, look to incorporate floating stairs to define and elevate the zone, and plant around the perimeter. “For shade, opt for varieties like bird of paradise, tuckeroo and water gum,” adds Adam. Scented plants, like frangipani, gardenia and orange blossom, contribute delicate fragrance that will only add to the ambience.

TIP: To maintain a five-star resort feel, invest in good-quality furniture and update your accessories regularly. Cushions, throws, vases, objets d’art – even rugs – are all items which can be updated easily, so you never grow tired of your backyard hideaway.

(Credit: Marcel Aucar)


Designated play areas that inspire the imagination and burn off energy will keep children entertained. Toddlers to 10-year olds will love simple activities like chalk drawing on paths, a teepee on the grass, and elaborate cubby houses complete with swings and a sandpit. “Get the kids involved in setting up the cubby, whether it’s choosing the paint colour or decorating it with pots of herbs or flowers,” suggests Adam Robinson. Tweens and teens, meanwhile, will enjoy after-dark entertainment. “A fire pit, with stools or logs to sit on and roast marshmallows, is a great crowdpleaser,” says Stephanie Paterson of The Outdoor Stylist. “For something a bit different, create a simple outdoor cinema, using a projector, big white sheet and bean bags on the lawn.”

TIP: String colourful paper lanterns to define a play zone and give kids their own space, and look for toys that are easily transportable. “Equipment like totem tennis, blow-up pools and soccer goals are great to get out when kids have friends over,” says Stephanie Paterson.

(Credit: Nicky Ryan)


Gorgeous outdoor lighting is a must, not only to add wonderful ambience, highlight feature trees and define zones, but also for safety reasons, especially in a space where stairs and multiple levels might offer a trip hazard for your guests after dark. Opt for a mix of fixtures that will provide both functional and atmospheric illumination. “On pathways I love dome lights on poles, as they safely light the way at night and are subtle during the day,” recommends Stephanie Paterson. “For dining areas, pendants provide great mood lighting without being harsh, as do wall lights in outdoor lounge areas.”

TIP: Nothing sets off a party and gives it a festive summery vibe like rows of festoon lights, which can be strung between trees or over your deck, says designer Adam Robinson. Clusters of twinkling fairy lights are also a winner. Just ensure your lights are IP rated for outdoor use.

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