Things to Consider When Designing Your Alfresco Dining Area
You’re planning a new outdoor dining area – how exciting!
Not only does an alfresco area extend your living space by utilising your back or side yard, it enhances your life and increases your property value. It’s like a triple win!
Now that you know you’re on the right track with your idea to create an ideal entertaining space, before starting your extension or renovation project, it’s important to ask a lot of questions.
Some good starting points include: Are you planning to use your outdoor alfresco dining area all year round? Will you use it to host dinner parties? Or is it just an extra dining space for family only? Will the space be an extension on your living area and therefore require living room comforts such as sofas and a TV? Will drinking beverages be a big part of your alfresco area? What space do you have to work with? Does your alfresco area need to easily connect with the house to encourage your family or friends to get outdoors? Does the area have (or need) privacy, shade and/or path access?
If it seems as though there are a lot of questions, that’s because they are all important. You see, when designing an alfresco area, there really isn’t a ‘one size fits all approach’, so the design depends on what’s right for your home and lifestyle and answering these questions can help with the process.
Below we outline 8 more steps to guide you with your ideal alfresco design.
Let’s get started!
1. Sketch it out
Creating an outdoor living space requires thought and time. To get started, sketch out your ideas and list any key points that you’d like to include in your design. Remember to include any existing paths, flower beds, fences, and deck areas in your sketch. If you need a reminder, take a tour of your garden and make note of everything you want to keep and everything that you want to remove. Remember to observe how much of your garden is in the sun and how much of it is in the shade and also where the best view is located.
Once you have a rough idea of what you’d like your alfresco area to look like, we suggest finding and consulting a landscape designer. While you could definitely DYI, an expert will be able to transform your sketch and vision into a real life oasis without as much headache as it would take to do on your own. If you’d like a referral to a landscaping company, reach out to us at Armstone. We are connected with a few quality designers and can recommend the best contact based on your budget and style preferences.
And in case you’re not sure where to start with your sketch and inclusions, we suggest doing a quick search on Google, Pinterest and Instagram for inspirational ideas. Another excellent source is browsing landscaping design posts, speaking to friends and family, or visiting the Armstone showroom in Glebe where one of our expert staff can help you
2. Plan for all weather
The challenge with designing an outdoor alfresco area is definitely planning for all weather situations. Ideally, you want your outdoor area to have a balanced amount of space in the sun and shade. You also want it to feel comfortable enough that you’re protected from the elements like wind and rain. You can achieve this by installing tiled roofs, pergolas, shade sails, umbrellas and screens. A word of caution before you decide: a fully constructed roof can be expensive to build and will probably require council approval before you get started. In saying that, it’s a great asset for your home. If you’re on a budget, we suggest checking out polycarbonate roofing as it’s an economical material and protects your area from both sunlight and weather. If you want a cheaper (and more environmentally friendlier solution), incorporate plants and well-positioned trees and voila! Shade problem solved!
In the case that you want to use the alfresco area in winter, consider some heating solutions like installing a cosy fireplace or pizza oven. Here is an article we wrote with some ideas on how to design the ultimate backyard stone fire pit.
3. Add services
If you intend to use your alfresco area for dining and entertaining, you need to consider adding some vital services to your grand plan. These can include electricity, gas, outdoor speakers, water and lighting. Once you’ve decided what you want (or need) included, contact a qualified electrician about installing general purpose outlets (GPOs) in strategic spots. Also consider connecting your gas barbecue to the mains so you’re not forever refilling gas bottles. Here it is super important to note that if your area requires cabling, plumbing, lights, music and other installations like a sink or water feature, these must all be secured before laying the pavers and installing the flooring.
4. Choose appliances
If you’re planning to build your alfresco area from scratch and use it for dining and entertaining purposes, do you know what is nice? Treating yourself to a new barbecue! If you choose to do so, decide earlier rather than later and definitely ensure to include it in your plans. In terms of positioning it within your alfresco space, most people congregate around a barbecue for a chat, so we suggest placing it where it has its own enclave and is slightly separated from the main entertainment area. This allows barbecue conversations to be kept separate from table chatter.
Another appliance people add to their alfresco is a fridge. In case you choose to add one, make sure to incorporate it into your plans from the beginning because (like we mentioned in the third point about services), it will require cabling and all this needs to be organised before you start paving.
5. Reflect your style
As with all home improvement projects, choose materials for your alfresco area that reflect your style and home aesthetic. While you might be on a budget and it will be tempting to choose materials you can afford, we suggest choosing materials that work well together and create an effective, long-lasting and safe outdoor area. A good place to start is to look at everything you have inside your home and note which elements you’d like to bring outside. Consider how you’d like the indoor and outdoor aspects of your home to work together and complement each other.
Though you want your alfresco area to look good, we recommend choosing materials that will be functional as well. For example. if your alfresco space experiences excessive winds, a lightweight aluminium dining table could be dangerous because it can easily blow away. In this scenario, you might want to consider something a little heavier (and more on trend) like a purpose built concrete, stone or wood table.
Fancy something bright and bold for your alfresco? picture above is the Jura Grey Structural Porcelain paves
6. Consider contrast
Did you know that contrast is the secret ingredient that designers use to create memorable spaces? You see, when something contrasts against a backdrop or overall design it creates visual interest and adds a unique element to its personality. Depending on the mixture and medium, this effect can be subtle or stimulating.
Contrasting colour and texture brings natural stone to life in an awe-inspiring way. Too much colour, however, will create a busy space that feels cluttered and uneasy. For example, if your alfresco area is mostly paved with rectangular-cut flagstones (which can make the area look quite formal), you can contrast this by adding smaller pieces as a border or in ad-hoc locations. A dark brick alfresco area edged with white crushed stone appears crisp and tailored – again a wonderful way to use contrast to create visual interest.
When applying contrast, remember to keep it simple. Installing mint and mango coloured floors such our Himalayan Sandstone Pavers is a great way to start.
* Himalayan Natural Sandstone
Plants and greenery really complete an area. When choosing plants for your alfresco, consider your local environment and climate conditions before choosing the flowers and plants you want to install. Some things to think about is adding plants for varying purposes. For example, architectural character, cooking supplies (herbs, chillies, fruits) or even shade. You might even want to plant a lemon tree in a pot and add mint to the base for all those refreshing cocktails you’re going to make.
Before choosing your plants or flowers, consider how you will use your alfresco area and the type of fragrances that will suit it. For example, day-lilies, frangipanis, lavender and mock orange all have strong fragrances and might not suit your particular lifestyle or the purpose of your alfresco area.
8. Size matters
While the size of alfresco area largely depends on what you want to put in it, we suggest that a minimum width of 3.5m is a good starting place. A design that is any smaller than that won’t leave you with much room to move around your table and chairs. When choosing the seating furniture, consider not only the length of the table but also how many guests you intend to entertain. Once you decide on the table size – whether it’s a 4-seater, 6-seater, 8-seater or 10-seater – add at least 1m to each end to allow for ease of movement.
There you have it!
8 important tips to get your alfresco design started the right way.
And in case you’ve found the space you need and are ready to start creating your dream outdoor space but still need some guidance around choosing materials or pavers, reach out to our expert team at Armstone.
We have an extensive range of beautiful natural stone or porcelain pavers. Our selection includes marble, granite, limestone, travertine, bluestone and sandstone and we would love to help you choose the best one to complete your new alfresco area.