Inside out

Inside out

Move summer entertaining outdoors with a beautiful courtyard. By Tess Paterson

We have all dreamt of the perfect outdoor entertaining space. Yours might be the deep, wraparound stoep of an old Karoo farmhouse. Big enough for a few generous sofas, plus a dining table for good measure. Oh, and a view of unspoilt veld rolling into the distance. The reality, though, is often somewhat different.

As urban living becomes more compact and vertical, outdoor spaces are being scaled down. But the good news is that you don’t need an enormous area to create a beautiful entertainer’s courtyard. In fact, compact spaces can be more intimate; they just need some careful planning to be put to optimal use.



Location, location, location

‘It’s important to take the natural elements into account when you are planning a courtyard patio,’ explains Sumari Krige of La Grange Interiors. ‘The effects of wind, sun exposure and existing trees are all crucial to the space; even more so if you don’t have a view.’ In Mediterranean countries, rooftops have been used as evening escapes for centuries: think Morocco, Greece and Turkey. They’re the best place to sit back, catch a breeze and watch the world go by. Our own Karoo aesthetic – white-washed walls, large overhangs and a braai at the ready – offers a similar kind of outdoor escape.

‘Low walls are a great way to enclose a courtyard space,’ says Joburg decorator Claire Frost. ‘By creating a rounded profile, you not only soften the look, but also add a design element that can adapt to a Mediterranean or Karoo feel.’ Built-in seating is an excellent space-saver, and will help to make the patio look bigger. Consider gravel flooring, which is both practical and easy on the eye – just be sure to get the right advice on drainage and preparation. What you are really creating is a shell of sorts, a subtly textured canvas that you can fill with all of your favourite items.

Setting the mood

Nothing says ‘South African summer’ like a delicately illuminated al fresco space. The aim is to mimic being in the great outdoors, so you might want to banish harsh wall lights or anything vaguely green-hued or fluorescent.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a tree as a focal point, hang a string of weatherproof fairy lights from it. Colour is a personal choice, but the pros recommend giving the ’70s multicoloured globes a rest and opting for plain white.

The effect is a subtle golden glow. Against rough-plastered walls, it is nothing short of magic.

There are plenty of options for transforming your space into something spectacular and, often, the old-fashioned ones are the most effective. Paraffin lanterns are available in any supermarket, and the metal housing adds a reflective glow.

The trick is to not be afraid of quantity – line them up in rows, either on a shelf or on the edge of each step. They’re also an excellent way to create a sense of arrival – placing them along the pathway will guide your guests to the party, not unlike in a gorgeous game-lodge setting.

If you’re building from scratch, a considered lighting plan is invaluable. For permanent lights along a pathway, it’s best to opt for low-voltage, down-facing lights that will reduce glare. As per your interior, think about ambient versus task lighting (such as a stronger light over your braai area).

Choose LED globes over incandescent for greater efficiency and, when choosing fittings, remember to ask for UV-resistant and non-corrosive fixtures.

‘I love to use lanterns for outdoor mood lighting,’ adds Krige, ‘and a firepit is a brilliant feature to have in a courtyard. In an instant, you have a warm, glowing space that’s conducive to entertaining and relaxation.’ Where space does not allow for a built-in firepit, metal braziers are a fantastic way to add atmosphere.



Mix and match

The joy of this look is that you can really play up different textures. Against the mostly monochrome backdrop, accents of timber, wicker, ceramics and metal will come into their own. ‘My advice is to not have too much of one material,’ says Krige. ‘If you have a lot of teak furniture, for instance, add contrast with some rattan, porcelain and beautiful upholstery. Blending layers of different finishes together will give the space more depth.’

With Africa’s long legacy of weaving and carving, it’s easy to find standout pieces. Try grouping different versions of the same piece together, such as a high-gloss painted Bamileke table next to a raw timber one. Combine metal accents such as decorative ladders with finely woven baskets or plain terracotta pots. While the items may be in the same tonal range, the varied finishes will keep the look current.

Local ceramics with originality and fine, hand-finished quality are making their presence felt. Talent abounds – from Andile Dyalvane and Lisa Firer, to Ardmore and Ceramic Matters. And a courtyard is an excellent place to showcase statement pots and vases. Alternatively, splash out on some gorgeous tableware by creatives such as Mervyn Gers or Potterseed. These pieces are real talking points, and you will create a setting that your guests won’t want to leave.

Plants are another way to add texture, softening hard surfaces and helping to absorb sound. Although seasonal, a scented shrub such as jasmine works wonderfully on a sunny trellis; while potted geraniums or lavender will add welcome splashes of colour. For really sunny spaces, groupings of succulents provide stunning shapes and sizes and year round water-wise interest.

Style statement

Once you’ve got the main elements in place, the real joy lies in making the courtyard your own. It has been said before, but scatter cushions and throws are the quickest way to liven up a space. Crisp geometrics and bold stripes will work excellently here – think Greek island meets contemporary farmhouse. But you could go any route you choose – pretty blue and white, fullon Mexican brights, or (if you’re a diligent duster) contemporary layers of cream and charcoal. ‘The top fabric houses are starting to produce some gorgeous woven outdoor ranges,’ says Krige. ‘My favourites at the moment are the Jim Thompson designs – soft, luxurious and beautifully contemporary prints.’

If geometrics are your thing (and they work particularly well al fresco), you can amp up the look by adding an outdoor rug. Today’s versions range from printed nylon and recycled plastic to flat-woven polypropylene. Look out for colourful ikats and trellis designs, or muted neutrals that mimic hessian and jute.

Pattern aside, the best thing about these rugs is that you can simply hose them down when needed. Alternatively, look out for simple cotton kilims and bring them inside when you’re not busy entertaining.

For some cost-effective fun, hang colourful paper bunting diagonally across the space. Much like the hand-cut wedding banners seen in Mexico, it’s instantly upbeat. Another trend with longevity is the game-lodge look, an effective way to bring drama and texture to an outdoor setting. Contemporary animal prints, leather accents, faux horns and loosely woven storage baskets will create some intrigue – even more so in a gentle candlelit glow. But, whatever your style, it’s all about creating a convivial spot, somewhere personal that invites your friends to linger. All that’s left is to cut the lemons for the G&Ts. Here’s to a balmy summer.

Styling: Rochelle Malherbe & Francoise Jeanne de Villiers; Styling assistants: Charlene Amon, Robyn Lane, Veronique van der Westhuizen; Photography: Juliette Bisset/
October/November 2016

Article written by