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Bright, hi-tech ideas to make the most of the great outdoors – at home

Voice or app-controlled lighting, music, fans, all-weather TVs and stylish yet compact barbecues will help create a luxury space outside – whatever the size

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 10:06am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 7:56pm

“Sunflower, play my music and Hue, light the lamps.”

You are sitting outside as day turns to dusk and do not have to lift a finger: the smart home Internet of Things (IoT) – the network of physical devices home appliances, vehicles and other items embedded with electronics, software and sensors which enables these things to connect and exchange data – which has recently moved outdoors, has done it all for you.

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Sunflower, the robotic umbrella, has completed its daytime task of tracking the sun’s movement and automatically adjusting for optimal shade and now changes with the evening’s mood.

The Californian start-up, ShadeCraft Robotics, has designed Sunflower to be “an IoT hub for outdoor activities” and has thoughtfully incorporated a sound system, lighting and camera with Bluetooth, Wi-fi and cellular capabilities to support voice control.

Voice-command or app-controlled lights

Similarly, the newly released Philips Hue outdoor lighting range from Signify gives users app-based or voice control over the brightness, colour and ambience of wall-mounted luminaires, spot lighting and pillar posts, whether at home or away.

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Using a location-awareness app on your mobile phone, the Hue lights that have been selected – both outdoors and indoors – can turn on automatically to welcome you home.

With shade, music and lighting sorted, you are on your way to turning an outdoor space into a luxurious, alfresco extension of the living area.

If you have an outdoors at all “then embrace it and don’t waste it”, says outdoor styling specialist Anna McConnochie, who shares some tips on how to recreate that restful resort feeling – without leaving home.

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Soft lamps ‘best for relaxation’

For her high-end clients, the lighting scheme is the first consideration for McConnochie, of The Home Stylist – a company of designers and project managers offering bespoke solutions on styling, renovating and staging properties.

Lighting is very important. People can’t relax under bright lighting, but a layered lighting scheme is soothing and luxe
Anna McConnochie, The Home Stylist

“Lighting is very important,” she says. “People can’t relax under bright lighting, but a layered lighting scheme is soothing and luxe.”

Soft lamps on side tables and candles flickering here and there are an instant mood-enhancer, but McConnochie likes the element of surprise as well: think tiny, concealed bulbs hidden overhead, twinkling like stars, and subtle uplighting peeping among the plantings.

McConnochie says she “always” incorporates lighting into the landscaping on her projects, and this includes on a living green wall, which is a great way to create a privacy screen or conceal an unattractive structure.

Music is also must. A high-end outdoor speaker can be tucked within the pot plants so that, even though the source cannot be seen, you can “feel the music coming up from your feet”.

Big rain-or-shine outdoor TV

Perhaps you do not want to miss watching the big weekend sports game: well, there is no need to miss it, with an outdoor television.

The American company SunBriteTV has recently added a set with a 75- inch screen to its weatherproof Veranda Series, which has a premium direct-lit 4K ultra-high-definition screen.

The makers say the screen is up to 30 per cent brighter than typical indoor televisions “to deliver a breathtaking, vivid picture in outdoor spaces”.

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Cool idea of veranda ceiling fans

Staying cool during Hong Kong’s hot summers also requires smart thinking.

Outdoor fans ensure the air keeps moving and the Haiku Outdoor range of ceiling-mounted fans by Big Ass Fans features an intuitive remote control, which allows easy selection of the fan’s seven speeds, as well as three unique modes – Sleep, Timer and Whoosh – which simulates natural breezes.

How about installing a misting system, too, or even an outdoor shower? These are both new ideas for high-end residential projects on the local scene and a great solution to Hong Kong’s humidity, McConnochie says.

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Quality all-weather furniture

Furniture is just as big a decision for the outdoors as it is inside the home, but the stylist says that because of the weather, it is even more important to “choose top spec” such as quality fabrics, such as marine-grade stainless steel and beautiful teak, which will both look stylish and prove long-lasting.

DEDON’s latest MBRACE collection by Sebastian Herkner rocks this look – bringing the brand’s renowned fibre-seating and a solid-teak base together for the first time.

Outdoor cooking – whatever the space

The opportunity to cook outdoors is a given for today’s Hong Kong lifestyles.

Those who have the room can splurge on inbuilt outdoor kitchens, complete with ice crushers and fridges, but for those people with just a balcony, a compact grill, paired with premium transparent acrylic furniture ensuring the space does not feel crowded – can turn an unused overhang into a convivial social space.

Craig Pallister, managing director of Everything Under the Sun, the high-end outdoor furniture supplier, says that more Hongkongers are taking advantage of any available space to “bring their culinary skills to outdoor cooking”.

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He says: “New barbecue design trends are leaning towards this to accommodate more versatile cooking options.”

Pallister recommends the circular Cadac Citi Chef as a stylish and compact gas barbecue for a balcony, patio, garden or terrace.

“The modular cooking surface of the Citi Chef can be simply swapped with other surfaces, giving four different cooking options,” he says.

The Morsø Forno Terra grill and pizza oven – a movable cooking station with real-flame ambience – is also suitable for a smaller space.

“Householders who want to bake their unique-flavour pizzas are purchasing grill and pizza ovens for more types of cooking,” Pallister says. “Wood-fired pizzas are no longer just a restaurant order.”

… and some finishing touches

In styling your outdoor space, do not forget about the finishing touches, by accessorising just as you would inside, McConnochie says.

Outdoor art is bang on trend, she says.

“Beautiful Balinese stone or wood carvings, or corten steel sheets lasered to any design you like, can look absolutely stunning – especially when uplit at night,” she says.

For some welcoming touches, opt for teak flooring instead of tiles, add an outdoor rug and select some carefully chosen objets d’art – and your outdoor transformation is complete.