Zoning has been a buzz word in interior design for a while now because of its ability to create privacy and intimacy in open-plan living, but it works equally as well in outdoor design. Just as a house can have defined zones for an open kitchen, dining and living area all within one room, the same principle can be applied to your outdoor space. Consider these factors to transform your outdoor space into a beautiful al fresco area...


Think about how your family will use the space and what you want the garden to achieve. Outdoor areas often need to be multi-functional with sections for cooking and/or a barbecue, seating, dining, a play-area for children, a relaxation space, a haven to meditate, a grassy area to exercise, or any combination of the above. Zoning can break down a large featureless garden space into different areas for these specific functions and offer a variety of visual interest.

To accessorise, Rhian had outdoor cushions custom-made for the Crate & Barrel sun loungers in a geometric black and white pattern to complement the step tiles.


Where is the sun? Living in the UAE means that it’s important to consider sunlight and shade when landscaping. Gardens here are normally planned in such a way to maximise the shade; after all, nobody wants an outdoor dining area situated in the strong midday sun – it’s simply not practical and won’t be very appealing. If the dining area has to be located in an exposed spot, then use attractive structures and clever planting to create the required shade overhead.

Look into the living room through the arched window and you’ll get a glimpse of how Rhian’s exterior styling has been influenced by her interiors; one of her key points is to create flow between indoors and out


Set up your zones in a way that aids natural flow, both within your home and garden. A garden is really an extension of the home, and you’ll want to take advantage of the eight months of the year when we can live comfortably outside. For example, look at which side of the garden your kitchen is located and keep the outdoor kitchen and dining on the same side, either near a serving hatch or doorway, to make it easier to carry trays and food outside for al fresco dining and parties.


Consider the aesthetic impact of how different zones at various levels will make the space appear larger and more appealing. If your garden is all on one level and your preference is to keep it that way then you can create zones through outdoor structures such as pergolas, partitions, large planters and flowerbeds.

The shape of the pool creates a distinct zone for the double Parasol lounger, while an indigenous cactus plant grows easily in the white geometric planter.



When it comes to adding the finishing touches, you should view your outdoor area in the same way you would assess your indoor rooms. Use outdoor rugs, lamps, cushions, throws and accessories such as table decorations, candles and mirrors to bring the zones to life.

This chaise from Dubai Garden Centre is 10 years old and still going strong, proving that it is worth investing in durable outdoor furniture; the table is from 2XL Furniture & Home Decor, while the lamp is customised using a Home Centre base with a shade from Maisons du Monde.


Be sure to consider the harsh UAE climate when making outdoor purchases and invest wisely on items that will withstand the sun and won’t fall apart by the end of the summer. For example, real wood decking isn’t the most appropriate material for a terrace, as wood will fade, crack and bend. Composite alternatives will be longer lasting, but stone is still king for durability. For outdoor furniture, metal gets too hot to sit on and spending more on UV fabric for outdoor cushions will pay dividends.

A custom pergola provides practical shade over the dining table, and frames the scenic vista of the golf course; the 4-year-old table has been EPC sand blasted, painted and resealed for added durability.


When it comes to choosing plants for your zones, keep in mind the high environmental impact of planting large areas of real grass, foliage and flowers, as well as ongoing watering costs. Opt for hardy succulents and indigenous plants that can survive the climate with less water. The quality of artificial grass continually improves and costs nothing to maintain.

Interior and landscape designer Rhian Clarke

PROFILE: Rhian Clarke is a tutor at the National Design Academy, a British interior and garden design school with a branch studio in Dubai. Rhian is trained in interior design as well as garden and landscape design, and has a varied portfolio of large-scale villa renovations and beautiful outdoor living spaces. Visit Nda.ac.uk for information on the Academy’s courses.

Read more about outdoor living here:

Get a relaxed botanical boho look in your garden with these expert design tips

5 Ways to solar power your garden using the Gulf's sunshine

How to create a zen outdoor oasis, perfect for UAE gardens