Contemporary Garden Design

How many of us have the time these days for the mowing, weeding and pruning of a traditional garden space? Contemporary garden design increasingly focuses on turning an outdoor space into an extension of our living area that fits better with modern lifestyles.

The term ‘Outdoor Room’ is often used to coin this approach to modern garden design and it works well now that modern materials and products give us the same set of choices – floor surfaces, seating, lighting, décor and even heating…

As property prices have increased over recent years, people have begun to utilise outdoor areas a little more inventively, with tiny urban courtyards being turned into intimate café style gardens and green terraces increasingly replacing any unutilised roof space.

Contemporary garden design prompts us to approach an outdoor space in the same way we might do an interior design project. We thought we would put together a few ideas to inspire those looking to open up their living space into the garden.

The main areas to look at when planning your outdoor space are the way you’ll define spaces, the materials you plan to use, furniture, planting, lighting and privacy…

contemporary garden design 1

Defining spaces

What do you want to use your garden for and how are you going to design it to suit?

For example, if you’re looking to create a garden for socialising, you’d obviously look to focus effort on seating & dining areas, but you should also consider outdoor lighting to ensure you can stay out in the garden into the evening. If it’s an area to relax and escape with a book, your choice of garden furniture will obviously change, but you should also give thought to elements like screening out any overlooking gardens & windows, as well as noise if possible.

Using planting or garden structures to create separate areas for kids/veg patches etc, is a great way to get a little more out of your garden space. The key is to decide on how you plan to use your area before you embark on a garden design project.

contemporary garden design 2

Use of materials

Huge choices in the materials used to create your outdoor space now exist and how you choose can have a big impact on both the look and the feel of your garden. How do materials feel underfoot, do they reflect heat/light, are they maintenance free? For example, a fully decked area can look superb, but will need maintaining and will change colour over time.

Obviously, the more maintenance your garden requires, chances are the less time you’ll have to actually relax in it! Although swapping lawned areas for maintenance free stone or deck can seem a little harsh, use planting can ensure you still have a good amount of organic growth, while dramatically reducing upkeep.

Think past the norm when it comes to materials. Glass and mirrored surfaces can give an impression of space, as well as tying in with interior elements. Steel, aluminium and other metallic elements can look harsh in isolation, but blend-in well in garden spaces, as they reflect the elements around them.

contemporary garden design 3

Choosing furniture

Garden furniture used to offer little choice. Contemporary design and modern materials have brought much more choice where garden furniture is concerned. Weatherproof materials and modern production methods offer weatherproof forms that can be left in situ year round (essential for those with no storage) and flexible multi-purpose pieces that make the most of your available space.

Modern gardens can now be complemented by very cutting-edge architectural furniture, created from materials like aluminium and glass. On the other side of the coin, modern materials have allowed creation of modern synthetic wicker and rattan furniture, which look more traditional and can help soften a modern outdoor space, while remaining weatherproof.

A nod to the trend of extending your living area, popularity of garden sofas, coffee tables and even garden beds has grown in recent years and these pieces work to increase the social focus of your contemporary garden. Furniture can define a garden’s purpose and where space is at a premium, should be chosen carefully.

contemporary garden design 4


When it comes to planting, a popular methodology when it comes to contemporary garden design is simplification. The removal of large lawned areas and continuous planted borders in favour of more strategically placed organic elements can help to create a clutter-free look to your garden and will also reduce maintenance, so if fine by us! Use architectural plants to help define areas of your garden and create focus. Grasses and bamboos are easy to care for and fast growing and can help divide areas or cast shadows come evening. The use of large garden planters for your organic elements can work well where no planting area exists (i.e. in many urban gardens/courtyards) and means the plants can be moved around to different effect as your requirements change (or as your plants grow!).

Building large architectural planters (from brick/heavy wood) can work especially well when building in perching areas to maximise seating for extra guests and lifting up your planting areas means you don’t have far to bend when tending to your plants!

Enclosing a planting seating area with architectural planting can help make an area intimate and inviting, especially if you are flanked by neighbouring gardens or overlooking windows etc.

contemporary garden design 5


Modern garden lighting really comes into it’s own when defining areas within a contemporary garden space. Used to pick out detail and draw the eye to extremities of your garden, the shadows cast in low light can really add drama to your outdoor space. Have a look at the garden lighting guide we posted for a few pointers.

Lighting does not have to be electrical, natural light from wood-burners, fire-pits, candles, etc can create focal points in your garden and work well as a hub when using a space to relax with friends.

contemporary garden design 6


Unlike your living room, neighbours may overlook your garden, so creating privacy is important if you want to relax properly outdoors. Areas can be screened with strategic planting (which can take a while) or by using purpose made garden screens. The great thing about garden screens is that they can be moved around as your need changes, so can grow with your garden.

contemporary garden design 7

Images courtesy of Alan Capeling Landscape & Garden Design... Many thanks!