A garden terrace fulfils a practical role, providing a level area for seating, socialising and/or enjoying a viewpoint. It often also provides a transition between the house and the rest of the garden. Usually paved, gravelled or composed of wooden decking, it provides an way of dealing with changing levels in the garden. Sometimes steeply sloped gardens can benefit from more than one terrace; for example, a terrace may be situated at some distance from the house to resolve a change in levels and provide a different viewpoint.
Over and above these practical considerations though, a well-designed terrace can transform your garden, It can provide an outdoor living space that you can thoroughly enjoy on your own or with others. By designing the area carefully, you can dramatically enhance your time spent outdoors, whether it’s a big or small space. A lovely terrace will invite you to step outdoors, making the most of your garden in the warmer months ahead. You can even extend your time outdoors into the autumn and winter months too, with some lighting and maybe a fire bowl to add some warmth and ambiance.
Based on our experience of bringing clients’ garden dreams to life, here are 8 key design points to consider:
Choose the location carefully
When planning a terrace, it’s important not to assume that the best location lies immediately outside the back of the house. You need to take account of the light conditions and the views from the house out onto the terrace area. Does the proposed area capture the light at the right time of day for your planned use of the terrace (usually the end of the day or early morning are the important times)? If not, you can locate the terrace at a distance from the house and add in a small journey from the house to the terrace, surrounded by planting, to a space that is more suitable for a terrace area in terms of views and light conditions.
Blur the boundaries
It’s also important to merge the house with the terrace and the rest of the garden. Planting plays an essential role here. Avoid a sterile line between house and terrace by using foundation planting along the house itself, and bring more planting into the design by incorporating plant beds into the terrace. This softens the whole combination of house/terrace/garden and prevents the common mistake of hard delineation between the three elements.
Keep the size in proportion
Creating a terrace of the wrong size is a common mistake. There is no hard and fast rule to follow, but the terrace size needs to be balanced with the garden space itself and also to be in proportion to the architecture and size of rooms in your house. You also need to consider the terrace size in the context of surrounding plants – once they have matured, they may spill over onto the terrace and reduce the space available for your use. With regard to furniture that you plan to use on the terrace, make sure you allow ample room on either side for the space to feel comfortable – a good guide is 1.5m on either side of the width of a dining table.
Think about views from the house
It is important to avoid obscuring the view from the house to the garden with furniture or other items on the terrace. Place any furniture (e.g. dining table and chairs) to one side of the main view from the house to avoid a ‘cluttered’ look. You need to draw the eye to a suitable focal point in the garden itself. Be careful not to let other items take over the terrace either – toys, sports equipment or even gardening tools can all detract from the view. SImple storage solutions can be found!
Aim for continuity from the house to the garden
Material choices for terraces, patios or decking are often too eclectic and may not be in keeping with the locality. This can create an incongruous look and feel to the garden. Continuity from the house to the garden can be achieved by more selective use of landscaping materials. Each needs to be carefully chosen to be sympathetic to the period of the house and its architecture. We like to aim for vernacular materials which harmonise with the house and its setting. And remember: if you are installing wooden decking, avoid locating this in a shady or North-facing area. The wooden deck will be porous and grow algae easily, leading to a very slippery, unsafe surface underfoot.
Create zones for different uses
On larger terraces, you can break up the space into different zones – maybe one for a full dining space, another for relaxing at a small table with a coffee in the morning (or drinks in the evening!). You can create separate areas by bringing plant beds into the space. This adds depth and volume along with visual interest, especially if you add some plants with height.
Again, it also ‘blurs the boundaries’ between garden and terrace. A simpler option can be to add planted containers – for guidance on container gardening, check out the RHS guidance here.
Less is more when it comes to plant choices
While borders surrounding the terrace can be deep and generously proportioned, it is good to aim for a limited colour palette. Otherwise, you can easily create rather an eclectic, almost chaotic look and feel to the space – which will not help you to relax while sitting on your terrace! Instead, remember the design principle of repetition for impact and a sense of cohesion.
Prepare for year-round use
During the height of summer, you may want to add an awning or sunshade to the terrace. As the summer fades into autumn, adding some lighting will provide both functional and aesthetic advantages. Obviously, lighting will make the terrace more user-friendly, extending the hours when you can enjoy being outdoors. As well as improving overall visibility, carefully-considered lighting can enhance particular focal points .This might include plants, sculptures or trees. You can benefit from this while sitting outdoors on the terrace or when viewing the garden from indoors. For added warmth and ambiance, a fire bowl can be an attractive and useful feature too.
In conclusion, there are several vital design points to consider when planning a garden terrace. To make sure that you invest your time and money well, think carefully about what you want and need from the space.. Consider too what design aesthetic you have in mind and – importantly – any specific opportunities or challenges presented by the site. If you would like to check out some of our design solutions to these questions, please have a browse here.
All gardens featured in this post were designed by James Scott FSGD MBALI and built by The Garden Company.