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Functional terrace and the sustainable design trends

The Resident looks into the golden rules for a functional terrace and the sustainable design trends that have come to stay

After two years of lockdowns, isolation and social distancing, we are all craving the outdoors. Not only have our terraces and patios become our main entertaining space, they are now also our go-to place to recharge and reconnect. A new lifestyle trend of embracing slow living and nature-based mindfulness has placed the outdoors at the centre of our lives, making us realise just what a privilege it is to live outside.

The concept of outdoor living as we know it is quite recent. Since time immemorial, in southern regions like the Algarve, people socialised and rested indoors. It is only with the development of tourism that we moved these activities outdoors. According to reputed Algarve-based architect Marlene Uldschmidt, the terrace for leisure is a modern concept. “The entire idea of outdoor living was not contemplated until a few decades ago. Houses were built to protect and filter light, especially in places like the Algarve, where we are flooded with sunlight. People worked all day in the sun. Once at home, the last thing they wanted was to be outdoors. Houses were small and dark, a sort of shelter for simple tasks like cooking, eating and sleeping. The terrace was the so-called ‘alpendre’, an extension of the house used to dry fruits, vegetables and clothes.” Thankfully, customs changed with time, and terraces are now an essential part of our southern lifestyle.

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To create a functional outdoor living space in a region that boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, there are simple but essential rules that must be followed. The first is obviously managing sunlight. “No matter what your style, a terrace must provide protection. Light needs to be filtered to create a cosy place to spend the day,” explains Marlene. “There are plenty of options to choose from, such as a pergola with creeper plants, waterproof textiles or even some shade sails anchored to the ground.”

With a growing awareness and need for sustainability, eclectic eco-conscious outdoor spaces have become increasingly popular. “These can use lush vines and a mixture of materials such as wood and structural steel,” she points out. But keep in mind that, since the Algarve is hot during the summer, but can get cool in the side seasons, it is essential to have flexible shade as well as fixed pergolas or covered terraces.

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Flooring is another important element when planning a terrace. “The choice of materials is part of the overall design concept for the villa,” explains the architect. “The patio becomes an extension of the interior, and this needs to be considered while planning the overall concept.” Terracotta tiles or natural stones are good options, as well as timber decking, if executed properly. Since outdoor dining and cooking have become an important part of living in the Algarve, it is essential to choose surfaces that are easy to clean.

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Once those two elements are in place, we can think about comfort. As we spend more time outdoors, we also spend more on comfort for these spaces. Gone are the days of seasonal furniture. Outdoor sofas, tables and chairs have evolved to be used year-round and are made with weather-resistant materials. They are more sophisticated and refined than ever, and outdoor kitchens are as well-equipped as interior ones. The disposition of these elements is strategic. With villas now being designed for indoor-outdoor living, outdoor dining areas are often an extension of the indoor kitchen. So, for practical reasons, they must not be too far from the kitchen, and they must be protected from year-round weather to ensure a comfortable entertaining and relaxing setting.

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Judy Clayton, owner of outdoor furniture shop Dunas Lifestyle, in Almancil, has noticed the growing importance of terraces over time, as well as their growing size. “Covered terrace areas have been added to older villas over the years, and newly built villas have been planned with more shade to accommodate seating and dining settings, often with built-in outdoor kitchens and bars. Pool areas have also grown to include added casual seating areas under pergolas or parasols, giving homes added useable outdoor space.”

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In her showroom, Judy has carefully curated the portfolio of brands she represents. “We have chosen only to offer the world’s leading brands,” such as Dedon from Germany, which is extremely resilient and comes with a sense of fun, and Tribù from Belgium, known to be exceptionally classic yet contemporary. The quality of the materials, comfort and cutting-edge design are all-important factors when choosing outdoor furniture. Flexibility is another key element of modern outdoor living. Being able to adapt furniture to the occasion and number of guests is a huge advantage. And this is where modular furniture comes in.

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Designed for practicality, these pieces are also devised for extra comfort, with large plush cushions in modern fabrics that are pleasant to sit on, weather-resistant and easy to clean. “Our furniture is designed to be bespoke, so we can create sofa areas to fit any terrace, making the most of the space. With each piece of furniture comes a vast choice of fabrics and layout options, so no two terraces are ever the same.”

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The materials best suited to the Algarve climate and homeowners who are not year-round residents are those that require little maintenance. Teak wood is great for outdoor furniture as it naturally “lives” in its environment. The teak furniture featured at Dunas Lifestyle comes from sustainably managed forests owned by the brands, most of which now use a variety of ceramics for table tops. These are easy to maintain and are matched with a strong powder-coated aluminium or teak base, making for very durable yet elegant tables.

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“It’s time to say goodbye to white,” exclaims Marlene. “Houses need a touch of colour as well as surfaces and objects inspired by nature, in gentle nuances and soft colours that celebrate intimacy,” as we now gather with family and friends again. Organic materials like rich marbles are favoured, warmer tones and “greige” cover walls, and natural elements like wood, stone, and clay are used as complements.

As for furnishings, resulting from a more mindful approach to outdoor living, the natural trend has come to stay. With sustainability in mind, designers are seducing us with relaxing earth tones and eco-friendly materials. “Sofas and casual chairs are covered in high quality ‘sunbrella’ fabrics which do not fade or shrink in the wash. The choice of these has grown hugely in the last few years,” says Judy, who also offers a complete reupholstery service for older furniture that needs a new lease of life.

Beautifully textured fabrics are accented with coloured and patterned decorative cushions, throws and rugs, with the addition of lanterns or LED lighting to create a warm, welcoming ambience at night. And accessories in natural materials such as leather, rope and rustic fabrics are added to match the soft neutral shades of contemporary outdoor furniture. Sustainability is no longer a trend; it is becoming the basis for the future of design.

By Alexandra Stilwell