Alfresco Plans

alfresco plans

Alfresco Plans

The perfect outdoor entertaining area isn’t a happy accident – it’s a triumph of good planning, says Jim Fogarty, who has lots of great tips and ideas for you to think about. 


An outdoor entertaining area can be as simple or as complex as you like, but your budget will probably determine which way you proceed. Whichever way you choose, thoughtful planning will make your space a more comfortable and convivial place to host many, many gatherings.


Draw a plan

When creating an outdoor entertaining space, it’s a great idea to draw a plan to scale to make sure you can fit in all your needs (ie, tables, chairs, barbecues, etc) as well as accommodate council requirements. A plan is also very handy when talking to contractors and tradies about what you want to achieve – it can prevent expensive misunderstandings.


Avoid hassles

Check with your council regarding their planning laws, and whether any structures you are thinking of adding will require a planning or building permit. Remember that any structure requiring a building permit needs to be built by a registered builder, so start talking to builders at the same time – their experience is often very helpful.

Secondly, aim for a design that is considerate towards your neighbours – ie, it doesn’t impact adversely on their enjoyment of their own property. Talking to neighbours in advance regarding your plans will help to ease their fears about privacy, noise, shadows etc, and can also help get your plans approved more swiftly by council if there are no objections.


Location finder

Connecting an entertainment area to the house creates a smooth flow which encourages people outside. Many outdoor areas are positioned at the back of the house and this can be practical in a small back garden. In a larger garden, you might want to segregate the entertainment area from the house to utilise your space.

There are various practicalities to consider such as access, privacy, shade and comfort, but the best way to locate the right spot is to spend time in your garden and find the location where you feel most comfortable. Take note of privacy issues and find a location that is well hidden from the street and neighbouring windows. Night-time is when you will use it most, so make sure there is good path access and avoid too many level changes for the safety of people not familiar with your property. Paving surfaces should be non-slip and safe to walk on. Any steps should be well-lit and uniform in tread height.


Vital services

Consider what services you will need during the planning stage, and add them to your scale plan.

Electricity: power is a necessity for lighting and is handy for connecting up electric grills, fridges, etc. Talk to a qualified electrician about installing suitable GPOs (general purpose outlets) for electric power in strategic spots.

Gas: a gas outlet which allows you to connect your gas barbecue to the mains will let you dispense with refilling gas bottles forever.

Music: for outdoor speakers you will need to consider cabling. Make sure all paving has conduit access to run cables under the pavers to provide access for lighting. Your electrician can help you plan and set up the cabling, which should be installed before the pavers are laid!

Water: a sink can be handy for food preparation especially when it comes to seafood. Also consider a water feature, whose sound can be a soothing and relaxing backdrop for guests. Tap points, stormwater outlets for drainage and sewer points may be required by a plumber, so talk to your plumber early on about what’s going to be needed.

Lighting: a spotlight will blind people and attract bugs. Instead, look into some of the new LED lighting options, which come in a range of colours for effect and use far less energy. Low-voltage (12-volt) lighting is the safest option around gardens. Speak to a landscape lighting professional for advice.


Screens & privacy

Use screens where required or even feature walls to shelter against strong winds. Hedges and screening plants are a great way to shelter exposed sites. You can direct the breeze by using louvred screens for natural air movement.


Weather shelter

Providing a good spread of shade and protection from the rain will let your enjoy your outdoor area, even when the weather isn’t perfect. There are many ways to provide shade, ranging from tiled roofs to pergolas, shade sails, umbrellas and screens. A fully constructed roof can be expensive and will probably need council approval. A cheaper option can be to incorporate plants with a shade structure for a softer appearance. A climber on a pergola and even some well-positioned shade trees can be a great budget solution.

Tip: having a covered area is great protection from the elements, but trapped smoke from a barbecue can cause problems. Positioning a barbecue just out from the roofline to allow for ventilation will solve this if you do not want the expense of installing fans or flues.


Level changes

Getting levels right is very important on a sloping block of land. Avoid stepping down suddenly from the back door as not only is this dangerous but you will make the house appear to be taller than it really is. The aim is to make the house fall into the landscape so you need to step gradually down. Large pontoons of pavers or a timber deck with small level changes, alternated with small flights of steps, will gradually bring the levels down a sloping block so the paved areas fit with the landscape.


Floors outdoors

Gravel is cheap and can be a good option, but be wary of stones scratching interior floorboards when people walk inside. Decks are a great option especially in situations elevated above ground level. Any paving should blend with the interior floor of your house, but if your house has floorboards, then a deck could be the perfect answer.


Adequate space

The biggest mistake people often make when designing outdoor eating areas is not allowing enough space so people can feel truly comfortable. Consider how many people you will want to seat at a table and choose a table that will fit your usual crowd of guests.

Tip: allow a minimum of 2m space around the perimeter of your table if you are building a patio or deck. This will ensure that you can fit chairs and be able to walk around the table without squeezing past guests. For wheelchairs and other mobility access, allow enough width for turning at corners. Wheelchairs need 1200mm width on a straight track, but to turn a corner they will need more space.


Cooking gear

Don’t be fooled by fashion. Choose a barbecue that suits your needs. You could easily plug an electric health grill into a power point and satisfy the needs of a small family or a couple with no children. A barbecue is a great way for people to congregate and talk over a drink, so position it where it has its own enclave, slightly separated from the main entertainment area. This allows barbecue conversations to be kept separate from the table chatter, which can be a good thing all-round.

Tip: choose the cooking appliance you would like early on in your planning. For a new outdoor entertainment space, it’s worth investing in a new barbecue, especially if your garden is being planned around it. Decide whether you would like your barbecue built-in or free-standing, and also if you want to tap into gas mains or use a gas bottle. Bench space can be very handy, and if your budget and the area available permit, consider a small fridge. Many barbecues now come with bench and fridge add-ons, turning them into outdoor kitchens, and the range available now from barbecue retailers is impressive.


Comfort zones

Choose comfortable chairs or build nice wide benches with backrests. Make sure it is inviting enough to use and not just for looking at. If you want your entertainment area to impress, then invest in quality furniture and fabrics. Uncomfortable chairs can ruin a good dinner.

Style it using fabrics and cushions and get inspiration from fabric and flower colours. Quality outdoor fabrics in complementary colours will help brighten up the area and make it appealing not only to you and your guests. Consider an outdoor heater for those chilly autumn nights. Use pots with bold foliage for drama.



Allow for plenty of plant life. Plants can be used for fragrance, for architectural character, for cook’s supplies (eg, herbs) or purely just to soften an otherwise bland area. Pot up a lemon tree plus pots of mint to use for cooling drinks and home-made cordials. Pots of flowers to provide colour can be changed seasonally. Herbs and succulents are almost impossible to kill as long as you have good drainage for the pots.


Wafting perfumes

What about creating the ultimate summer garden by planting perfumed plants? There are so many to choose from and some plants release their fragrance in the evening. Choose from these fragrant favourites:

Cherry pie (Heliotropum arborescens)

Daylilies (Hemerocallis)

Fragrant herbs (rosemary, basil, several others)




Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis)

Mock orange (Philadelphus)

Native frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum)

Orange jessamine (Murraya paniculata)

Port wine magnolia (Magnolia figo)


Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)