Outdoor design trends for the rich


An outdoor space designed by Elzie Jabali, the founder of Cool Classy Outdoors, a design company in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | POOL

There are few homes whose front and backyards are a feast for the eyes. Homes that have created a balance with just the right amount of contrast for flowers, trees, stones, and geometric patterns.

The trend currently is finding ways to design an outdoor space that brings the indoors out. A green space, whether with artificial grass or real grass, with cozy seats, fireplaces, projector screens, and piped music.

Armstrong Mboya, one of the designers who is changing Kenyan homes, says for your back and front yard, “You can have a shaded area where you can relax with your friends, especially during the holiday season or weekend. You can either erect a tent or a gazebo. You can use artificial grass for the floor to give your backyard a greener appearance.”

Add seats made of cypress, bluegum, or steel as they are longer-lasting and some are water-proof. Cypress seats are more resistant to heat, and water conditions and have a smoother texture. The founder of Quad Shades advocates for the use of artificial grass because it can withstand all weather conditions “so your backyard can maintain that green colour throughout all the seasons.”

People tend to focus more on the front yard because that is the place that visitors see immediately after they come into their compound.

“You can spice up your backyard too with modern filament bulbs to give it life. Some flowers could also liven up your backyard. Mix up the colours. People prefer natural colours like jungle green because it blends well with the environment. The front and backyards do not need a large sitting area. A few seats can be enough,” he says.

Apartment living

If you live in an apartment, you can also breathe new life into your balcony.

“You can have artificial grass fitted for your floor. You can also have some natural plants with different shapes hanging from the rooftop. Flower climbers [such as money plants, Jasmine, climbing roses, and Chinese wisteria] give your balcony a jungle feel as they cover the walls. For lighting, you can use filament bulbs, especially if it’s an older person’s home. The younger people prefer the colourful bulbs that will give the balcony a clubbish look,” says Mr Mboya.

For your townhouse, you can choose to cover your rooftop outdoor space with a gypsum ceiling. The gypsum ceiling can have LED lights running around. Many people are also having swimming pools installed on their rooftops. You can also have a chilling area with shades where you can rest and feel the sunshine.

If you are a plant lover, Mr Mboya recommends hanging plants.

“You can have the hanging vases that will hang on the walls of your balcony. You can also have standing flower vases that are fixed on the floor,” he says.

Some of the plants you can use for your exterior design include climbing vines and palm decorative flowers.

New trends

A new trend that Mr Mboya has noticed in exterior design is that people are now using their backyards as new income streams.

People are establishing restaurants in their backyards where they host guests. People are also renting out their backyards for weddings or graduation party venues.

Desire by more Kenyans to have beautiful outdoor spaces which, for instance, have embroidered personalised cushions paired with woven rugs, and lots of plants has opened opportunities for designers looking to push the outdoor design envelope.


An outdoor space designed by Armstrong Mboya, the founder of Quad Shades company in Kenya. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Mr Mboya says he started with only two clients in 2020 but now gets at least four clients every week.

The price range depends on the taste and the client’s preference.

“A backyard space revamping can cost you anything from Sh150,000 to Sh800,000. Installing a swimming pool can cost you between Sh800,000 and Sh4.5 million,” he says.

Most memorable job

His most memorable and best job, he says, was flipping a playground of an international school where they planted natural grass and installed a shaded area for the children.

“The best thing was that the work was impactful as it will benefit even the coming generations,” he says. The project earned him Sh1.2 million.

Elzie Jabali, the founder of Cool Classy Outdoors, has designed outdoor spaces for the who’s who in Kenya.

She started the company in 2020, right at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many people realised that their outdoor spaces were bland.

“During the pandemic, people’s focus shifted to the exterior space to be able to find a good place to ‘chill’ as it was not possible to go out to restaurants as often as it was before,” she says.

She bootstrapped her start-up capital by chipping into her savings and seeking the support of her family.

“We started small, one project after another, and hiring staff on a contract basis. Then business picked up so we can now afford to have full-time employees. Currently, we have 10 full-time employees and get some part-time workers when we have projects,” she says.

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An outdoor space designed by Elzie Jabali, the founder of Cool Classy Outdoors, a design company in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | POOL

For exterior styling, she does landscaping, pergola outdoors, outdoor chill spots, outdoor fireplaces, and children’s play areas.

“We focus on how your home looks like from the outside,” says Ms Jabali.

Options for an outdoor space

For homeowners with townhouses that have large outdoors, there is room to play around with every exterior design element.

“For persons with a balcony, you may be restricted by space so put a roof and lounge seats. If you have a bigger space, you can consider putting a grill for some nyama choma while entertaining guests,” she says.

Those with rooftops can do a minigolf playing area. Those with a bigger garden space, have the option to do an outdoor gazebo or a pergola. In your gazebo, you can have a dining area, a lounge, a bar area, an outdoor gym area, or a fireplace.

“Outdoor space design is entirely dependent on your outdoor area space. We even have clients requesting tennis courts, basketball pitches, swimming pools, and outdoor spas because they have the space,” she says.

An outdoor space design also depends on the landscape that you have. “There are people who are more of minimalists and hence focus more on green-on-green landscaping and there are some who love having colourful gardens,” Ms Jabali says.


Just like any work of art and design, exterior design requires the utilisation of experts in the field. The entrepreneur cum exterior stylist says that exterior styling requires her to engage experts to make the perfect outdoor spaces for her clients.


Elzie Jabali, is the founder of Cool Classy Outdoors, a design company in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | POOL

“We work with landscapers, interior designers, professional woodworkers, and architects to get our exterior designing work going. The experts do the drawings, site visit and supervision,” she says.


Having realised that the outdoor furniture market is restrictive, and mostly flooded with mass-produced pieces that offer little uniqueness, Ms Jabali opened a workshop where they custom make their outdoor furniture.

“We do a site visit then come and design something that will fit the design of a home and needs. When you go to a store you may not always find something that will fit your particular needs,” she says.

Common mistakes

What are the common mistakes she has noticed many Kenyans make?

“Not many people see the importance to work with exterior designers in designing their outdoor space. People have not given much attention to how the exterior part of their home looks,” she says, adding that most of the time they are forced to do a lot of renovations during their projects.


An outdoor space designed by Elzie Jabali, the founder of Cool Classy Outdoors, a design company in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | POOL

“Most of the renovations we do involve  repairing the paving as many have been badly done and there may be manholes everywhere in the compound.”

Another mistake she has noted is that people make a parking area right outside their house so when you are in the living room you are only seeing a car park instead of seeing a very nice garden.

People also err in the type of materials that they use for their exterior space.

“I will give you an example with concrete slabs because we are often always replacing them. People use concrete slabs for paving which wear out within two years. However, going for a natural stone would have been more durable. The materials that last longer are pricey but as the adage goes cheap is expensive,” Ms Jabali says.

“Would you rather buy something and replace it within a year or would you rather have something for a longer time?” For the flooring, she recommends having a composite deck as it is more durable. “While the wooden deck is cheaper, a composite deck will give you service for a longer time,” she says.

The material used to make gazebos depends on your budget. For a pergola, you can choose to have a clear roof. You can either use a glass roof or a polycarbonate roof.

“People go for the polycarbonate roof because it is cheaper. However, over time it does not look as appealing as the glass roof. A gazebo can have a steel, aluminium or wooden structure. Steel is more aesthetically appealing compared to wood.” For your floor area, you can have outdoor tiles, natural stone (mazella), or composite decking for the floor.”

In terms of landscaping, she says that people tend to also put seasonal flowers which leave their gardens looking gloomy during the off-season.

“Having a combination of plants for your garden will help you maintain a beautiful garden throughout the year. The green on green landscaping gives you different shades of green and will give you consistent green throughout the year.”

Green on green landscaping

This is landscaping with different shades of green. The beauty of the landscape comes from the leaves of the plants.

“The beauty of the garden is not waiting for the flowering part of it. When choosing to have a green landscape, you need to know where your outdoor space is located and which plants would do well in such an area,” Ms Jabali advises.

Flowery plants would appreciate a sunny patch, therefore planting them under a shaded area may thwart their thriving.

It is important to ensure that the plants are planted in fertile soil with adequate water for watering. To maintain a green landscape, it is prudent to have a gardener take care of your garden.

“In a shaded space, Zimbabwe grass will give you a beautiful lawn. Lilies and goliath flowers would also work well in a shaded place. Flowers like daisies and roses need some sunshine.”

For the outdoors, she does not advocate for artificial plants. “You want your outdoor space to be as natural as possible to work well with the environment.”

Artificial grass

If you are in a rocky place it is difficult to plant grass so you can opt for artificial grass. However, Ms Jabali cautions that artificial grass tends to look bad when it’s too sunny.

“Artificial grass is not very long-lasting and needs a lot of maintenance to maintain its aesthetic nature. It is a good idea for people who do not want to deal with the strenuous and demanding nature of a green garden,” she tells BDLife.

The pricing of an exterior landscape design depends on the space that you have, the type of materials to be used, and what you want in your outdoor space.

“For a person with a larger space, an exterior design can cost Sh500,000,” she says, adding that homeowners should consider exterior design even in the first stages of building their homes.

“For you to be able to enjoy your exterior home, the design should be well thought of, well planned and well landscaped to make it flawless and functional.”

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