For some reason, when it comes to outdoor design, what always inspires me most are highly whimsical, fantastical concepts that appeal to the kid in me. I just love the idea of a garden as an enchanting place designed for make-believe and its grown-up counterpart: escapism. So for my "Dream Outdoor Room" I chose playful elements intended for kids and adults to enjoy together.
When I was a kid I was always begging my parents for something new for the backyard: a tire swing, a rope swing, a tree house, and on and on. But a rope swing in our little city garden would've smacked me right into the neighbor's wall, and the one large tree in our yard, an old pear, wouldn't even support my brother when he tried to climb it, so a tree house was definitely out. Still, these fantasies never lost their appeal. I'd love to come home from work and wind down with a cocktail in the tree house. When we have kids I hope we'll live someplace where I can build one for all of us.
In the meantime, here are the bits and pieces of my dream outdoor space:
• 1 The fantasy garden. Elements listed clockwise, beginning top left.
• 2 Any fun fantasy garden can also be enjoyed at night. Some colored lanterns are a must for lighting. These are a DIY version from Martha Stewart, made from different colors of vellum and Christmas lights.
• 3 A little playhouse made from natural materials is perfect for family powwows. This lovely willow-branch hut is from The Willow Farm.
• 4 As long as we're dreaming, why not go all out with the treehouse? Install the modern conveniences so guests can stay there when you're not using it for meetings of secret clubs and such. German architects Baumraum are responsible for the beauty in the photo.
• 5 Got to have some mysterious little creatures in any fantasy garden. Kids and grown-ups will be equally fascinated with turtles; and as pets, certain aquatic turtles can live quite happily in a backyard pond (and not always so happily in aquariums). Photo from Mooseys Country Garden.
• 6 How about a gigantic family hammock suspended over veggie garden beds? Great for communal napping, storytime, or what have you. The one in the photo, from Pruned, was created as an art installation by designers Jane Hutton and Adrian Blackwell.
• 7 We've got the turtles, but some imaginary animals are surely needed too. A giant camel topiary seems like just the thing. I've always envied the dinosaur topiary peeking over the fence of Robin Williams' house here in San Francisco. Maybe a camel's the next best thing? From Topiary Artworks.
• 8 The Outdoor Fatboy is a great take on a childrens' classic—the beanbag—reinterpreted for adults. Available from Design Public.
• 9 A fire pit area combined with a sandbox is a perfect idea for a family garden... kids can play in the sand during the day and roast marshmallows with parents at night. This beautiful design is by Thuilot (via Studio G).
• 10 Outdoor felted stones are fun for kicking around or perching atop. From Vivaterra.
In the center of the photo, of course (not pictured on its own): A swing set. The garden for grown-up kids wouldn't be complete without it. This lovely one was designed by Blasen Landscape Architects.
(Images: As linked above)