Many social occasions – from Sunday brunch to after-work drinks – seem more special and more relaxed when enjoyed outdoors. Having ten people for lunch indoors can seem like a squeeze; move them outside and suddenly everything tastes better! Newspapers, croissants and coffee on a Sunday morning take on a holiday feel if you can enjoy them in the garden.
Alfresco entertaining may well be foolproof if you live in California, but it’s harder to plan in Britain. It’s nerve-wracking to plan a garden buffet lunch or children’s birthday party if your ideas may be scuppered by showers. Garden umbrellas and canvas gazebos just don’t cut it if the wind gets up.
More dependable is to use a summer house, garden room or gazebo – either as entertaining spaces in themselves, or as back-up in case there’s a passing rain shower. As places to entertain, garden buildings are more fluid than interior spaces. The best summerhouses and pavilions almost merge with the garden itself, so there is no fixed dividing line between inside and outside. It makes for a more memorable and sociable occasion.
Garden entertaining also creates great possibilities for decoration – solar lights, storm lanterns or strings of sparkly outdoor lights are readily available and affordable from DIY stores and can transform a garden. Add in a few throws and cushions and you can cheaply transform your summer house into something from the pages of a magazine – a transformation much harder to achieve in your sitting room.
Similarly, having 12 children rampaging around your house for an 8th birthday party is usually a recipe for injury and breakages. Put them in the garden, theme the summer house with pirate/circus/princess/superhero decorations and tableware and you have a solution whatever the weather. Even if it rains, party games seem more fun in a summer house than indoors.
The cheapest solution for garden entertaining is a wooden garden gazebo – they give protection from rain and sun, either for people or for food/drink. They can look brilliant festooned with strings of lights, and give all-round views of the garden. Gazebos also make great barbecue areas.
Summer houses, garden rooms and pavilions offer even more possibilities for garden entertaining because they provide more protection against the elements – whether you want to hold a buffet lunch for 16 or an 8th birthday party.
If you’re just going to entertain in summer, a design with 19mm-thick walls will give you all the shelter you want. With 28mm walls, the summer house should be insulated enough for warm spring and autumn days; and with 34mm or 44mm walls, you can plan a garden lunch, brunch or drinks party throughout spring and autumn.
The main things to consider if you have grand plans for garden entertaining are size, doors, windows, and where you position your summer house or pavilion:
- As with any party, an overcrowded space prevents people from mingling, whilst too much space looks sad. So work out the sort of numbers you are likely to invite to your summer house, and take it from there.
- Double doors work best for meals and parties because they allow people to wander in and out freely, whereas single doors can become bottle necked. A wider doorway also enhances the sense that the summer house and the garden are a continuous space.
- Having several windows on more than one side creates a convivial space because people can see out into the garden – either enjoying the view (of the garden or other guests) or congratulating themselves that they’re out of the rain! As well as square and rectangular cabin designs with attractive side and front windows, there are hexagonal and octagonal summer houses available these days, with windows on several sides. Tilt & turn windows give you the greatest flexibility to control the temperature inside a summerhouse.
- Finally, if you’re going to entertain outside, you want to show your house and garden at its best. Don’t have the windows or doors looking out onto the compost heap or some rusty bikes.
If you choose the right summer house for your garden, it won’t just be great for entertaining; it can also add value to your house and make it more sale-able.