How To Spruce Up Your Outdoor Area With Design Expert Alex Fulton

The weather is turning, the days are getting longer, and there is a definite hint of spring in the air. This is always a super time to clean, rearrange, make plans and prepare for a new season. As spring is the season for growth, organisation and cleaning, your outdoor area is a space that will benefit from some love and design.

Alex Fulton

Alex Fulton may be an interior designer, however she will still include outdoor areas into her design plans. These can be extensions of existing indoor spaces or stand-alone purpose-built areas, either way, they’re the perfect accessory to summer living. Alex gives outdoor spaces just as much consideration, as they complement the way you live indoors, and can add value to your home and how you choose to live.

The way to approach an outdoor area is very much like an indoor space – using the same planning and design principles. The four main areas that need consideration for any space are:

  1. 1. Function
  2. 2. Design
  3. 3. Layout
  4. 4. Budget

The first thing to consider is how the space will be used.

Is it an extension to increase the indoor/outdoor flow? Is it a separate area that needs walkway access? Will it need amenities like water, gas or power? Is it a space for eating, entertaining, conversation, relaxation or elements of all these things? Being very clear about the area and knowing its objective will help you with the next three points.

Mark out the area and walk through the space and see if it’s going to work in a practical sense. There are multiple ways to configure a space to complement the shape and square meterage of the area – for more about this see point three for layout.

If it’s an area off the back of the house, how will it all link together? You don’t want to be walking through the kid’s bedroom to entertain guests, or be at the other end of the house from the BBQ to the kitchen. Do you need to consider shade? Are you protected by the elements? Do you need a pergola, or would an umbrella do just fine? Is the sun going to work with this space? Are you protected from the wind? What’s the difference between morning and evening and will that be appropriate for the space? What products will be best for the use of the area? Concrete, paving, artificial lawn, grass or decking?

It seems like a lot to think about but at least cover your bases and work with what’s around you to get the best within your limitations.


Just as important as how the space works is how the space looks.

What ‘look’ have you got in mind? Will it complement your current style, or will you go for something completely opposite? Have you got some images of what you would like to achieve? Images and having a clear visual identity might help when explaining to a store assistant or a tradesperson about what you need/want. Having a clear vision about how you want this space to look will also help you when you’re choosing products such as outdoor fabrics, picking colour schemes, specifying products, identifying finishes and bring the whole space together in a cohesive space.

It’s also useful to think about longevity and how these design elements will last over the seasons. If you need to put them away over winter, is there anywhere to store them? Or would it be more beneficial to invest in outdoor grade fabric/finish for your new seating area?

You may have an old state home but have an idea to link it to a contemporary and cosy entertaining area – great, but make sure you have a very clear design direction. Make up a colour scheme so that when you’re out choosing wooden furniture or scatter cushions that it will all work together. Design is the difference between an OK space, and an AMAZING space.


Flow is everything in a space – without it an area can seem confusing and disjointed. The continuity of a working space seems like it would just ‘happen’, but it’s quite a science and can make or break a space.

Think about entries and exits and how they link – can you access all the functioning parts of the area with ease? This is a good time to whip out your graph paper and have a play with scale. Whether you have existing outdoor furniture or you are considering buying new products like a BBQ or spa pool, do all your planning with proportions so you don’t get stuck with something too oversized or undersized. Literally cut out graph paper scale shapes of the products you’re wanting to add to the space and see how they all work in together. Is it too cluttered?

Do you need to think about upgrading the size of your outdoor furniture, so the space feels in proportion to the new decking area? Balance, scale and flow of a space make a space ‘work’, and are highly important elements that are crucial to making it snazzy.


Last but never least is budget.

How much money have you got to spend on this space? Knowing function and design will help you work out what you need for the space and therefore you can fairly accurately work out a budget for what you have in mind.

Work out if putting money into this space is going to be beneficial to your quality of living in both the short and long term. If this is a space the whole family is going to be enjoying for years to come, you will want to make sure you have the budget to do it right so it will stand the test of time. Could it be worth considering a personal loan1 to give you that larger budget to play with?

Create a list of what you’ll need and want, and allocate a value to each. Stick to your budget per item, and you’ll eliminate the risk of blowing it all on a state-of-the-art BBQ, but leaving nothing left for outdoor furniture. A good way to manage big ticket items might be taking advantage of a credit card that has interest free options. For example, a Gem Visa will give you six months interest free when you spend $250 or more,2 and the option to purchase products on long term interest free finance deals at a wide range of retailers,3 allowing you to pay back those pricier items over time.

Using your budget, you can determine how big of an investment your make-over will be, and if you might need any financial support to create your dream space.

An example of your budget might be:



Sofa seating unit


Outdoor rug


Pot plants






Water feature




Landscape design plan




If you are coming in over budget after collecting quotes, think about where you could cut costs or stagger the items. Maybe your dream BBQ can wait until next summer while you get everything else set up? Keep looking for ways you could save money on your project. Have you got some tradie mates that would give you a hand, and you could repay them with a BBQ meal? Have you considered the products you are using? Is there a cheaper option or alternative? Quotes and research are the easiest and best way to lock into your budget. Ask around and find yourself some cunning ways to save some dollars.

Most of all, set yourself realistic goals so you are not spending all spring and summer on renovating your outdoor area - make this a doable, affordable and noticeable project that complements your lifestyle and your finances. If you’re well prepared and plan accordingly, you’ll find yourself with your feet up enjoying a glass of something cold in no time!

Find out more about how Gem could help you create a better outdoor area this summer.

Alex Fulton is a Christchurch-based interior designer and runs her own business, Alex Fulton Design. To get in touch or find out more visit

Things you need to know

1Credit, lending criteria, fees including a $240 establishment fee, and our terms and conditions apply.
2Credit and lending criteria, $55 establishment fee and $52 annual account fee apply. Prevailing interest rate (currently 25.99% p.a.) applies after 6 months.
3Long term interest free offers may vary. Available at participating retailers to approved applicants only. Conditions, fees and charges apply. Rates and fees are current as of 2 November 2018 and are subject to change.