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the heat is on

From Habitat magazine - issue 08

After generations in the same family, a cliff top garden now boasts a cosy outdoor dining setting complete with a fireplace.

Outdoor accessories

The owner of this Auckland property, David McCulloch, arrived here with his parents when he was just nine years old. Apart from when he went flatting in his youth, he has lived here nearly all his life. “When I married Laurel, we ended up buying the house from my parents and coming back.”

He says the garden was a lot different back then. And it stayed that way while David and Laurel’s children grew up. There was a lawn for the dog and the obligatory sand-pit for the children to play in. They built a room for the spa towards the front of the section, “but the rest was covered in the old, exposed aggregate that you used to get”.

Garden and outdoor dining space
Large Tic Tac Toe for outdoor use (limestone composite with stainless steel), outdoor seagrass cushions in a carry-bag set of four with olive green trim, limestone composite decorative bird, Nairobi tealight holder, limestone composite for outdoor use, from May Time Marketing. Subtropical plants include bromeliads and agaves. Copper lighting for weather resistance and good looks. Get the dark-stained timber look with Resene Waterborne Woodsman tinted to Resene Crowshead.

Look after your wooden deck – stain with Resene Kwila Timber Stain or Resene Furniture and Decking Oil to enhance its natural good looks.

When the children left home a couple of years ago, David and Laurel decided it was time to refurbish the area to better suit their new lifestyle. “We wanted easy-care – no lawns. We wanted all the gardening to be raised at knee height and plants that didn’t require much gardening.”

Although they sought to increase the amount of usable outdoor living, the challenge was the very exposed site. “Living on the side of a hill with a panoramic, 180-degree view, you get the winds. So the landscaping is all about making the natural windbreaks work for you.”

First to be added was a comfortable outdoor pavilion towards the rear of the section. A kind of lock-up party room, it has a sitting area, sound system and kitchenette. The pavilion left a sheltered area against the boundary, handy to the house, where they could establish an outdoor living area, large enough to accommodate up to about 20 people for a dinner party, that still captured the views.

The McCulloch’s top priority was an outdoor fire – a real log fire to create the warmth, the ambience and the smells. “It simply had to be a real fire,” says David. “A lot of people tried to convince us otherwise because gas would have been a lot easier. You wouldn’t need all the logs and wind wouldn’t be such a consideration. But now everyone loves it. It’s amazing how everybody wants to put another log on the fire or toast marshmallows late at night.”

Buddha statue
Lily pads
Outdoor furniture
Get the washed terracotta look with Resene Beethoven used as a colourwash effect.

While the McCullochs were keen to make a contemporary statement, the design had to marry with the house, a bungalow built in 1921. Timber framing above the area is in keeping with the original home. So, too, are the white weatherboards that support the raised garden beds. These are edged with a double layer of kwila timber which not only matches the silvery timber used on the decks, but provides another place for guests to sit.

Landscape designer Melissa Grove of Ambrosia Design devised a way to better link the setting to the view using a boardwalk of kwila. Against a bed of small-leafed, green groundcover between the outdoor setting and the boardwalk, this device sweeps the eye from the entry gate, past the house and out towards the view.

Melissa’s planting scheme – a mix of small subtropical palms, agaves, bromeliads, red flaxes and gardenias – is confined to the raised garden beds, softening the vertically slatted, dark-stained timber fence behind. In such a setting, lighting had to be carefully planned so as not to distract from the view at night. Lights are concealed in garden shrubs or feature as small copper up-lights on the tent-like timber structure surrounding the area. Sound is also incorporated, by remote from an iPod in the pavilion, linked to tiny speakers underneath the Clearlite roof.

A long radiant heater attached to the roof means the McCullochs and their friends or family can sit outside at night and not have to cram around the fire to stay warm. The other thing they envisaged to make this outdoor room perfect was a water feature with the soothing sounds of a fountain. Not quite completed, an antique copper basin floating in a small pond of water lilies awaits the plumbing which will bring this dream to fruition. In the meantime, many happy days and nights are now being spent in the garden, enjoying the breathtaking backdrop, irrespective of the weather.

Outdoor fireplaces

Before installing an outdoor fire, consider the following points from Heat Outdoors, the company which built the McCulloch’s fireplace:

Outdoor fireplace

  1. Do you want a wood or gas fire? If you simply want ambience and something that’s easy to maintain, go for gas. Wood fires have a greater heat output, but they can be messy and you need somewhere to store the logs. There’s nothing like a wood fire, however, for a truly evocative setting.

  2. Determine the best position for the fireplace to make it the focal point of an outdoor setting. Create a cosy courtyard feel, away from the wind in a protected position. While indoor fires can be put anywhere in an inside room, high and unpredictable winds compromise the efficiency of your outdoor fire. Wood fires especially can be smoky if placed in a draughty spot.

  3. Outdoor gas fires need gas certification and in some cases, building consent. The chimney flue is typically taller for outdoor wood fires so in most cases building consent would be required, and depending on your location you may need resource consent as well. Fireplaces must be built approximately one metre away from the boundary.

  4. Effective gas and wood fires need the correct ratio between chimney dimensions and the fire opening. It’s all about balancing the amount of air needed to ‘draw’, with the height necessary to extract the exhaust.

  5. Outdoor fireplaces can be made from a variety of products. Heat Outdoors recommends building with concrete products for safety and durability. They can be left raw or finished in brick, plaster or schist. Heat Outdoors has recently launched a locally produced fireplace made of lightweight concrete which, as a ‘complete knock down’ (CKD) unit, can easily be relocated if required.

Alternative Solution

this outdoor dining area smoulders with style

Jeremy Head from Landscape Architect, suggests this alternative landscaping scheme:

Alternative solution 1

This design draws on our raw, primeval landscape, and features muted, natural colours, with a limited planting selection to suit the city courtyard setting. River or volcanic boulders are set around a sunken seating area with comfortable cushions and bolsters. At the end of the concrete-slab table is a stone-clad fireplace topped with a smooth plastered cap. A boardwalk of chunky macrocarpa runs along one side, past the dark-tiled pond. Fine steel tracery welded into tree-like shapes adorns the plastered perimeter wall, which is painted Resene Moroccan Spice. A white shade sail suspended in a lightweight steel pergola shades the seating area during the day. At night, the space is transformed by pond lighting, fairy lights, and a subtle red glow emanating from beneath the decking.

phone: 03 326 7379   mobile: 021 308 048   email:

Accessories: Oi oi (Leptocarpus similis), from Kings Plant Barn. Concrete table, from Custom Concrete Ltd. New Zealand iris (Libertia grandiflora). M3 Standard pot with graphite glazed finish, from Burrelli. Jetmaster outdoor fire, from The Fireplace.

Alternative Solution

cool and crisp, an inviting spotto linger

Campbell Strachan from Landscape Leaders, suggests this alternative landscaping design:

Alternative solution 2

This low-maintenance outdoor space has a warm and refreshing feel with a clean, modern look. Elements of fire and water add vitality. The focal point of the space is the wet wall water feature on the rear fence. Water flows down the stones to a small pond, then through a shallow exposed aggregate riverstone bed and into a rectangular pond. Kentia palms flank the plastered fireplace, while the rear wall is softened by fragrant, espaliered star jasmine, which complements the white flower of the renga renga lilies at the base of the wall. The powder-coated aluminium roof fitted with adjustable louvres provides shade and additional light as required.

phone: 09 434 6407   mobile: 021 557 658   email:

Accessories: Agave(Agave attenuata), Star Jasmine (Trachelopermum grandiflora), Kentia palms (Howea forsteriana), LouvreTec alloy louvred roof, from LouvreTec. Fatboy 2200 Rectangular Setting, from Devon Lifestyle Ltd.

words: Vicki Holder
pictures: Frances Oliver

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