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Ageing gracefully: Michael Bates on timeless design

Ageing gracefully: Michael Bates on timeless design

A sense of timelessness is at the heart of celebrated landscape designer Michael Bates’ design philosophy. Here, the Australian creative shares his insights for crafting a garden that will be enjoyed for many years to come

Michael Bates is one of Australia’s most celebrated landscape designers, and in his three decades of practice he has brought more than 1200 gardens to life. While each project draws inspiration from current garden design trends, it is his guiding philosophy of creating timeless design that elevates his vision. “If you’re creating a beautiful garden, it will transform over time,” he explains. “Yes, it needs maintenance, but it’s going to get better and better every year.”

One recent project in Vaucluse, Sydney, exemplifies this simple approach, creating an outdoor space that will be enjoyed by generations. The children of the couple who own the home are now grown with children of their own, and so the brief was to transform the garden so it could be enjoyed by three generations of adults and children as they grow and their needs change.

Key to this transformation was a clever use of furniture from the King Outdoor Collection, which aligns with Bates’ holistic view of the garden as an integral part of the home. In keeping with this idea, he often begins the design process with the “flow” spaces directly adjacent to the house—so named for the way the interior flows into the garden.

“I like to craft the composition of the garden so that it looks good from where you conduct most of your daily activity, like food preparation and eating,” he says. “Ninety percent of the time that you spend enjoying the garden, you’re just looking at it. The other ten percent is being in it.”

In the Vaucluse garden, he began with the al fresco dining area. Elevated on a concrete floor and protected from the elements by an architectural timber and steel structure, the space is treated as an outdoor room. This sense of bringing the comforts of home to the garden is enhanced through the use of the King Quay Outdoor Dining Collection.

This intentional zoning is found throughout the garden, with a variety of spaces for the residents and guests to relax, entertain, and play – and the use of flexible furniture offers valuable added functionality. Take, for example, the Lode Ottomans by the pool, which are versatile and lightweight enough to easily move to different corners of the garden; or the Quay Outdoor Sofa and Luna Outdoor Chairs that have been grouped together on the eastern terrace to create a cosy snug area that can be used for morning coffee or evening cocktails.

This inbuilt flexibility in both the zoning of the garden and its furnishings is the perfect solution to the challenging brief for the project, allowing the garden to be adapted for different life stages or occasions.

“You need to create as many places as possible for different family activities – where you can encourage your teenage and early adult children to come to your place,” he says. “That’s a key ingredient in the success of the King Outdoor Collection. You can buy your furniture knowing that you can set it up one way with the flexibility to move it around for a different event.”

This expression of a considered, versatile garden combined with durable, modular furniture that can evolve with family life epitomises that elusive quality that Bates strives for in every project: true timelessness.



Michael Bates


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