Phillip WithersDesign courtyard views that take you outside

I’m lucky I’m so in love with the work I do. I get to meet many interesting people and see many interesting houses. I use the word ‘houses’ as I feel a house only becomes a home once you turn it into a people-focussed environment, and making that sort of environment involves bringing in lots of plants. Then what started as just a house turns into a place where you feel like you can come home and find somewhere you belong, filled with peace and calm. A place that isn’t just about function, but connects with human emotions too.

The courtyard I did with Max and Karstan on 'The Block'. Photo Martin Philbey

The courtyard I did with Max and Karstan on ‘The Block’. Photo Martin Philbey

For this reason, I truly believe that a garden is just as important when viewed from the inside of a house as it is from the outside. It plays a key role in working with the shelter provided by the house to create that ‘I’m home’ environment. It’s great to be in a garden, but it’s not always possible, due to weather or time limitations, so how it connects with the inside is critical. I suppose the best way to explain it is to say that what you can see of your garden from your house, will bring your house to life.

Rees Roberts + Partners LLC Horatio St project

Rees Roberts + Partners LLC Horatio St project

So in this blog post I want to focus on the key role a landscape designer can play in making this inside-outside connection work. I always start by looking at the positioning, size, materials and design of the windows, and both the internal and external doors, as often your views to the outside are across one room, through an internal opening or doorway and across another room and then finally through the window. These, and also the size and shape of the internal rooms become the garden view ‘architecture’ or frame. I also look at how the internal rooms connect to the outside both in appearance and function. Although plants do play an essential part, it’s also about how we match those two spaces.

When it’s done well, the garden view that’s often hidden overnight behind blinds or curtains should delight you and make you step back in wonder as you open those curtains every morning to see that beautiful view – one that makes you want to step outside. If this is not what you have now, then here are some tips about how you can make it happen.

Terraced house in Casavells by 05 AM Arquitectura, showing flooring matching decking

Terraced house in Casavells by 05 AM Arquitectura, showing flooring matching decking

Most modern home design sets up the living area to look out to the back garden or courtyard. This area is key to making your house have that special feeling of ‘a home’. A simple tip is being able open up double doors with the flooring moving seamlessly from inside to out, such as timber floorboards inside that align perfectly with a matching timber deck outside, or with both areas of flooring matching as closely as possible in colour and texture. In small spaces, another good tip is to use built-in seating for a smooth, uncluttered look. Extending the seating’s horizontal line between inside and outside further connects the two areas. Use the bare walls both for decoration and a place for an abundance of plants with vertical gardens and hanging plants. Cascading plants above head height really give a space a lush, jungle-like feeling without taking up precious floor area.

Wilson Architects Sunshine Beach, Queensland

Wilson Architects Sunshine Beach, Queensland

The design needs to have a focal point where the eye can rest as you look out the windows and doors, such as a view of falling water, beautiful outdoor furniture, a sculpture, ornamental pot, or a screen that’s backlit at night, but lots of plants are the essential ingredient for building that sense of a relaxing home environment and for establishing an emotional connection with the outside area. Imagine looking out from the kitchen area through your living room, and straight out the doors, over the entertaining area to a backdrop of textured living green, making patterns of nature that whisper in the backdrop and flicker in the wind. And it’s this simple idea that will breathe life into your home and brighten up your life, I’m a firm believer…

Think Outside Gardens

Think Outside Gardens

I visit many courtyards within the city at present and I find always find that adding more plants is the answer for these spaces. It can be easier when you’re out in the suburbs as there’s usually more existing garden to help create that feeling of being surrounded by a natural environment, compared to these inner city dwellings which are usually stuck with tight, hard, and stark views to deal with. This isn’t a place for finding inner peace and that will be reflected back into our homes if we don’t change it by greening it up and bringing in colour and feeling. But these outside spaces are often also pretty small, so we need to be ever so clever with how we keep as much usable space as we can, as well as finding ways to enrich the senses.

Courtyard on The Block TV

Courtyard on The Block TV with pots, vertical garden and hanging plants against coloured wall screens.

I love this contemporary style of garden, and using plants, features and colour and their positioning in different ways like hanging, vertical and espalier planting so that you don’t lose that precious space but still get that plant-filled, lush feeling. Classy outdoor furniture works well too as you can position your seating or table so it’s useful, doesn’t take away from a space and also enhances the view. Good outdoor design for these small spaces involves being careful not to break up the space too much, ensuring that paths are kept open and the spaces stay simple.

Courtyard design by Phillip Withers Landscape Design

Courtyard design by Phillip Withers Landscape Design

Making the indoor-outdoor transition work well creates that desire to open the backdoor and be outside among plants, something that is becoming more important as our urban gardens get smaller and smaller.

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Phillip Withers

About Phillip Withers

Phillip started his design through more art based development studying a Diploma in Arts at RMIT. He was then drawn to garden design through garden maintenance and construction, studying a Diploma in Landscape Design and Sustainability at Swinburne University. He started Phillip Withers Landscape Design and has been lucky enough to create 3 show gardens in different forms, from achievable, to student, to professional. He has also taught Computer Aided Design with Kangan Institute and now Swinburne University. Phil is also a keen traveller and believes that it is the key to keeping design interesting…

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