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Six tips to plan your outdoor space taken from our Houses

Soho House Senior Designer, Sophie Baker, shares the simple building blocks for creating an outdoor space – from harnessing lighting to playing with height

By Megan Murray

It's good to get outside. Over the years, we've put a lot of thought into the outdoor spaces at our Houses, building everything from a pool overlooking the iconic Chicago skyline to a restaurant in the eaves of a one-time funeral parlour on New York's Lower East Side.

'The trick is to approach an outdoor space the same as you would an indoor one,' says Soho House Senior Designer, Sophie Baker. 'Plan and dress it like a living room with layers of textiles, lighting, and soft furnishings.'

While every garden, terrace or balcony is a different shape and size, there are simple building blocks you can apply when designing open-air areas to create comfort, ambience, and aesthetic. Here, Baker shares some of the techniques used by the Soho House design team when creating our rooftops and exterior spaces around the world.

Use seating as a focal point

'When designing your living room, most people pick out the sofa first, so think about your outdoor space in the same way. We like to create a focal point by positioning a sofa opposite two comfortable chairs. In a medium-sized garden it's the cornerstone of socialising and can be built upon with extra chairs around the edges.'

Think in moments

If you're planning out a larger space or an awkward shaped area, it can be easier to create 'moments' of seating. For example, a dining moment, a socialising moment or a lounge moment with chairs and coffee tables dotted around. Think about the space and how to optimise it; if there's a lovely corner or water feature, add two chairs, accompanied by a side table, a rug, and an outdoor-friendly table lamp. Dress the whole spot as you would a nook inside.

'You can stagger these moments, or have smaller areas coming off a main set-up. An armchair with a pouffe to rest your feet on can be really nice in an isolated spot, and again, dress it with a rug underneath, cushions, a side table with a lamp, etc.'

Use textiles for depth

'Accessorise your outdoor space with plenty of soft furnishings in different colours and textures; this will really bring it to life. We use outdoor rugs to bring a scheme together and always position one in front of seating, particularly a sofa.

'Layer seating with cushions and throws, use tablecloths and napkins to dress up a table for dining, and emphasise the depth this brings by using contrasting textures and introducing patterns.'

Play with height

'Elevate an outdoor scheme by introducing different levels of height. There are several ways you can do this; an easy one is a parasol. There are so many beautiful options now with interesting colours and trims.

'Use large potted plants to draw the eye upwards and position them on the edge of the scheme to help section off the area. Consider installing a pergola overhead and decorating it with plants and flowers.'

Multi-layer lighting

'Lighting is one of the most important parts of an outdoor space and we like to create layers by using a variety of different types. We often use festoon lights on the rooftops of our Houses, particularly on trees, along the side of a pool or on a pergola.

'Use smaller lights inside planters for ambience, as well as table lamps on side tables or coffee tables, with floor lamps positioned behind seating. Using a variety of heights adds to the overall effect.'

Create a covered space

'If you have the space, harness your garden's full potential by investing in a covered area in case of high winds or rain. At Soho Farmhouse, the central outdoor area has a wooden structure in the middle and large log burners. Even when it's a bit miserable, people love to wrap up undercover next to the fire.

'Plus, it means you can have indoor furniture outside. At Farmhouse, we also use sofas and ottomans covered in robust wool kilim rugs - they're comfortable and the different fabrics give a rich, cosy feel.'