Buy a rug, choose good lighting, get a parasol: Top tips to make the most of your outdoor space

Bring the inside outside and make the most of leisurely drinks and food in the garden

The “grand stretch” has well and truly arrived, and after being stuck indoors for months, we are all craving a little bit of sunshine, or failing that a bit of fresh air. So, at this time of year, we will be looking at our gardens, balconies and patios and trying to see what little changes we can make to ensure our outdoor spaces are ready to inhabit over the coming months.

Emma Butler of White Meadow Interiors says the first step when getting ready for the summer season is to give your outdoor area a bit of a spring clean.

“Clean your garden area and get rid of anything which isn’t needed as this is taking up valuable space and can be an eyesore,” she says. “A power wash can make a huge difference to get a fresh look – then you can start thinking about the design.

“I would start with a large outdoor rug – this clearly defines the space as a room and Dunnes Stores have a 120 x 180cm option for €50, which is very reasonable for creating a seating zone. Alternatively, you could paint a “rug” – Carlow based company The Paint Hub offer great advice about suitable outdoor paints, or you could use stencils to create something really special.


“If you prefer an informal atmosphere, I’d suggest a lounge set to relax on rather than a table and chairs set – JYSK have a nice one at €165, which is very good value – and you can add privacy with a planter box, also from JYSK, for €85 and some nice tall hedging plants from Cullen Nurseries. Then you could accessorise with colourful cushions – sometimes I just use ones from the house, but Amazon cushion covers are a great option at €16 for four. Adding to this, a fab wool blanket from H&M for €30 is great for when evenings start to get cooler.

“Also, good lighting creates a cosy environment and Ikea has a great option of battery operated string lights for €17, while Dunnes Stores has solar lanterns for €15.”

Caitríona Mc Govern, head of home and lifestyle with Brown Thomas Arnotts, says getting the right look is important, as we all hope to spend as much time outside as possible for the duration of the summer.

“Our outdoor spaces have become such a valuable extension to our home and multifunctional living spaces, having the right furniture to suit these needs, be it a Rathwood hanging pod chair or a beautiful HAY dining set will ensure this space is maximised,” she says.

“A cosy spacious sofa centred around a fire pit for social gathering, which will flow late into a summer evening, or a comfortable lounger for summer sunny days, will ensure that pieces not only function well but will withstand the harsher elements of an Irish summer and retain their beauty.”

Celine Gill, who runs an interior design studio in Limerick, says there are many ways in which we can enhance our gardens, while being sustainable but not breaking the bank.

“Buying something you love, which is good quality, that you commit to looking after, is made [or sold] by an Irish company, from sustainable materials or works using sustainable power, is what sustainable means to me,” she says. “This may seem a lot to consider but it’s about just thinking a little longer before you buy. Every small change makes a difference.

“And there are some great Irish design stores offering maintenance free, eco friendly outdoor furniture from 100 per cent recycled plastic, otherwise destined for landfill – including Murray’s Recycled Plastic and Irish Recycled Products. Or if don’t like the look of plastic, you could go for wood or steel – something like a 5ft bench made from FSC certified Acaia wood €499 would be beautiful.

“To decorate your outdoor space in a budget and environmentally friendly, use your existing crockery and glasses, rather than disposable or plastic options. This means you can invest in some nice glasses and crockery. Article have lovely options made from recycled glass for €8.95 and ice buckets from unwanted glass for €45″.

“You also need to consider shade and Pieces have a beautiful garden parasol for €279, which, if looked after well, will last for years.”

Gill, who runs Style at Number 5 Interiors, says solar lights which can be left out all summer from are a great investment, and candles will always look fabulous and create added atmosphere. Combine these with some colourful throws and seasonal plants and you will transform your outdoor space.

“Nicely scented plants like lavender, colourful heathers and spiky Cordyline add colour and shape and some large plants with full foliage like the Japanese maple will create a diverse mix,” she says. “Whether you have a large country garden, a small apartment balcony or something in between, if you set up your space with a little table, chair, parasol and a few potted plants, you are more inclined to get out and use it regularly, for your morning coffee or evening glass of wine.”

Butler agrees, and says no matter how much space you have to play with, it’s worth making a few simple changes to ensure you can make the most of it.

“Balconies can be tricky to make private and inviting, but a cost effective way of creating privacy is to add a bamboo screen to the rails,” she says. “I would also invest in a NÄMMARÖ storage box and privacy screen from Ikea – it costs €134 but can be used to store all the outdoor items that would take up precious indoor space and it also doubles up as extra seating. B&Q have foldable side tables for €26 and matching chairs for the same price, and if you’re worried about keeping plants alive, they also have artificial ones, or Aldi is great for picking up ‘half dead’ plants on sale – normally these only need to be submerged in water for a few hours to bring them back to life.

“I also find it really handy to have a basket (some great options in H&M, Amazon, and Penneys) for all the eating bits and bobs as it makes life easy to throw in cutlery, napkins and condiments to carry between the house and garden without making multiple trips – and it’s always ready for the sunshine.”

Get cooking

Once the scene has been set for your outdoor summer space, you will need some food to entertain guests and TV chef Neven Maguire of MacNean House has a winning recipe, which is simple to prepare but still have the wow factor.

Spiced chicken BLT burgers

  • ·2 tbsp Dunnes Stores Simply Better Organic Spicy Pepper and Herb Seasoning
  • 2 large chicken fillets
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 4 rindless smoked streaky bacon rashers (dry-cured if possible)
  • 2 small ripe avocados
  • 4 sourdough burger buns
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp tomato ketchup
  • 50g baby spinach leaves
  • 2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • thick cut crisps as an optional side
  1. Preheat the grill to high.
  2. Put the spicy pepper and herb seasoning in a shallow dish and season generously.
  3. Put the chicken on a chopping board and cut each fillet in half so that you have four thin fillets, then drizzle over half of the oil and toss to coat in the spice mixture. Heat the remaining oil in a large non-stick frying pan and cook the chicken for 5–6 minutes, turning once.
  4. Stack them up on one side of the pan and fry the bacon for a few minutes, until cooked and tender. Snip each rasher into three pieces.
  5. While the chicken is cooking, stone, peel and slice the avocados and toast the cut sides of the buns under the grill.
  6. Spread the buns with mayonnaise, then add a smear of mustard to the bottoms and ketchup to the tops. Top with a handful of spinach and a few tomato slices, then arrange the chicken on top with the bacon, avocado and red onion.
  7. Press down lightly and arrange on plates with a small handful of crisps, to serve.