The perfect roof terrace garden:how to create a low maintenance outdoor space

Visual trickery and clever lighting takes a weatherproof Chelsea terrace from daytime chic to night-time glamour...

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Up on her London roof, lighting expert Sally Storey has created an outside space that needs no maintenance, yet provides a great extra room in fine weather for relaxing and dining, and a good escape — important when you are a family of five living in a small Chelsea cottage.

Practised at giving rooms atmosphere, whether inside or out — she works with major garden designers such as Luciano Giubbilei, Arne Maynard and Marcus Barnett, whose Chelsea Flower Show garden she will be lighting this year — Storey can dramatically alter the mood on her roof terrace from daytime urban cool to night-time Moroccan glamour, simply by changing the decor and lighting up the space at the flick of a switch.

The cool part starts at the entrance, where Storey designed an overhead glass panel that slides open as you ascend the carpeted stairs at the top of the house, creating an easy segue from indoors to outdoors.

“When you walk out, you don’t have to duck,” she says. “I take the remote with me, so if it starts to rain, I can close the window from wherever I am on the terrace.”

Storey loves the juxtaposition of old with new, so had no qualms about fixing, alongside the old Victorian balustrading, a contemporary screen of grey slatted timber.
No-maintenance: shades of grey, fake flowers and a fireplace make Sally Storey’s rooftop terrace a cool urban retreat. Image: Clive Nicholls


The chimney on the opposite side is redundant, but to live the lie, and provide a fire on chilly evenings, Storey had a bioethanol fireplace installed at the base. “I love the fact that it’s instant, though I did want real logs. But there could be problems if a hot log falls on the deck.”

It’s debatable what would happen, because the decking is a clever fake, comprising boards that resemble weathered hardwood but are, in fact, synthetic: a polyurethane resin blend that needs zero maintenance.

“It’s awesomely good,” enthuses Storey. “I’ve never had to clean it or hose it down and it never goes green. I wanted a wood that weathers and it was a lovely silvery-grey from the start. I’ve been telling everyone about it.”

More clever fakery is supplied by several cylindrical fibreclay pots that look like slate and are planted with faux hydrangeas that appear realistic even close to, while a fake mini box hedge makes a neat green shape inset into a timber surround that is built around the house boiler.

Forever flowers: fake hydrangeas in fibreclay tall pots (Clive Nicholls)

The grey seating area is weatherproof, and the low Indian table was a coffee table in Storey’s old home that now has a useful new life on the terrace, where it is being fashionably bleached by the elements.

For parties, Storey brings out a stash of vibrant cushions and a pair of vintage Habitat porcelain tub chairs from the living room. Lanterns make a decorative element with romantic, flickering candlelight, but there is subtle lighting behind the scenes, too.

“The principles of indoor and outdoor lighting are similar,” says Storey. “If you have a tailored town garden, you need to install the lighting in the early stages, as in a house, but there are ways round that, such as feeding wires behind trellis.”

Perfect: fake clipped box (Clive Nicholls)

On the trellis, Storey has fixed, at intervals, mini metal spots that highlight the hydrangeas. An external LED strip uplights the balustrade to dramatic effect, while a similar LED strip secured beneath the table sends out a pool of light on to the floor.

“At night, in the country, you want to respect the darkness and see the stars,” she says. “In London, where the higher temperature means you can use your outdoor space much more, you just want to make the garden feel like another room.”


Slatted/painted wood panels: The Garden Trellis Co

All-weather seating: Skyline Design

Synthetic resin decking: Millboard at Nu-Line

Fake hydrangeas in fibreclay tall pots and clipped box (pictured above): all from C Best at New Covent Garden Flower Market

Lighting, including mini Kew spots: from John Cullen Lighting

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