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8 Ideas to Borrow From Buchanan Studio’s Whimsical Urban Garden

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8 Ideas to Borrow From Buchanan Studio’s Whimsical Urban Garden

May 15, 2024

Angus and Charlotte Buchanan—the co-founders of London-based creative design studio, Buchanan Studio—both grew up in the English countryside. Angus has vivid memories of entire seasons spent outdoors: “My parents are quite relaxed and bohemian,” he says. “They created this entire outside world.” Charlotte is more direct: “Your mother is a die-hard romantic who is incredibly nostalgic,” she asserts. A tour of the Buchanan’s own garden reveals that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree …

The Buchanans bought their home in Harlesden, north west London, in 2020. They had been hoping to leave the city, but the logistics of running their own studio and raising a young family stalled the plan. Instead, they purchased a handsome—if completely neglected—property that enabled them to tick off some of the lifestyle changes they craved. They added a dog to their family, designed their kitchen around a gleaming Aga, and set about transforming their urban garden into a whimsical outdoor world.

Now in its third spring, their family home has settled into a highly-anticipated rhythm that effectively sees their living space expand to the far reaches of their garden. As they raised the canvas awnings on their outdoor room, we visited the Buchanan’s garden and found a heady combination of nostalgia, romance, and re-use in this unlikely urban pocket of the capital.

Here, eight design ideas to borrow from their backyard oasis.

Photography by Alicia Waite, courtesy of Buchanan Studio.

1. Let mature trees guide your design.

A pear tree separates the outdoor kitchen area from the slightly raised seating and dining area in the outdoor room. Angus has trained roses to grow up the trunk and planted pony tail grasses at the base.
Above: A pear tree separates the outdoor kitchen area from the slightly raised seating and dining area in the outdoor room. Angus has trained roses to grow up the trunk and planted pony tail grasses at the base.
The view from the lavender-edged lawn to the house.
Above: The view from the lavender-edged lawn to the house.

When the Buchanans purchased the property the garden had not been used for decades. An infestation of Japanese knotweed meant that 60 tonnes of earth had to be removed, leaving nothing but three mature fruit trees standing. The trees defined the design of their garden room—which is notched in at an angle where one pear stands—and the kitchen extension, which was built as close to the other pear tree as building control would permit. “The fruit trees blossom one after the other,” says Angus. He’s added a cherry tree and two Amelanchiers to the mix: “The blossoms are quite amazing in Spring—all very pink, which is very on brand for us!”

2. Make room for multiple conversations.

The Old Rocker designed by Angus&#8\2\17;s mother for her company, Odd Furniture, and upholstered in Ticking Rose Reverse, a fabric designed by Angus and his sister, Violent Dent, and inspired by their mother&#8\2\17;s love of floral fabrics.
Above: The Old Rocker designed by Angus’s mother for her company, Odd Furniture, and upholstered in Ticking Rose Reverse, a fabric designed by Angus and his sister, Violent Dent, and inspired by their mother’s love of floral fabrics.
A separate seating area just outside the kitchen in the shade of the pear tree. Buchanan Studio fabrics abound.
Above: A separate seating area just outside the kitchen in the shade of the pear tree. Buchanan Studio fabrics abound.

Angus has designed two seating areas: one immediately outside the kitchen windows in the shade of the pear, and the other between the raised beds. The kitchen window sills have been made deep enough to stand a row of potted geraniums on, which blurs the distinction between indoor and outdoor. The raised beds were made to measure around a voluptuous swing seat designed by Angus’s mother for her company, Odd Furniture (which she has since sold).

3. Create a pavered track for the kids.

The swans are a recurrent motif throughout the house and garden, and serve as a romantic reminder of their wedding day, which saw the bride and groom arriving to their nuptials on a swan pedalo.
Above: The swans are a recurrent motif throughout the house and garden, and serve as a romantic reminder of their wedding day, which saw the bride and groom arriving to their nuptials on a swan pedalo.

The paving has been deliberately designed to form a continuous loop around the lawn, which is planted with topiary box balls. This is so the couples’ young children can cycle, scoot, or skate around the garden uninterrupted. Border hoops protect the white lavender and pony tail grasses from being flattened by tyres. The clay pavers are made in the UK and are seconds due to their color variation, which Angus welcomed into the scheme.

4. Use reclaimed corrugated metal for fencing.

The corrugated metal sheeting is disguised behind pillowy white hydrangeas in summer.
Above: The corrugated metal sheeting is disguised behind pillowy white hydrangeas in summer.

As with their commercial and residential interior schemes, both Charlotte and Angus were keen to utilize reclaimed materials throughout their redesign. They settled on reclaimed corrugated metal sheeting for their fencing. “We’d been looking at distressed walls, but actually, it was a budget thing as much anything else,” says Angus. “I got these panels for next to nothing off a farmer who was demolishing a barn. They were affordable and it meant I could put them up myself.”

5. Make use of the back of the garden.

Each spring, a swing is hung in place of the canvas awnings.
Above: Each spring, a swing is hung in place of the canvas awnings.

The garden room was very much conceived as a homage to the veranda that wrapped around the rear of Angus’s childhood home, only his design is detached and positioned at the end of the garden, facing towards the house. As Charlotte rightly points out: “If you create an area for people to reside at the bottom of the garden, then they will actually make the effort to get there, which means you make use of the entire space.” This end-of-garden position also creates a reciprocal view both from and back towards the house.

6. Embrace indoor comforts.

The Buchanan Studio Chair with Rose stripe, designed by the duo in \20\20.
Above: The Buchanan Studio Chair with Rose stripe, designed by the duo in 2020.

“People have this obsession with what’s an indoor material and what’s an outdoor material,” says Charlotte. “We believe you can use any indoor material outside as long as you take good care of it and cover it when it rains.” There are two Buchanan Studio Chairs in the garden room, which stay there all year round. Cushions in their own floral fabrics, table cloths, table lamps and vintage artworks adorn the space, giving it a unique sense of comfort and whimsy. The open-sided structure is protected from the elements by a series of cotton canvas awnings that roll up and down to protect against inclement weather. These were made to Angus’s specification by a company that makes lorry hoardings.

A second Studio Chair beside the dining table, which is layered in Buchanan Studio fabrics. The space is demarcated by a jute rug.
Above: A second Studio Chair beside the dining table, which is layered in Buchanan Studio fabrics. The space is demarcated by a jute rug.
Vintage artworks and glass vases collected for and used on their wedding day line the kitchen walls.
Above: Vintage artworks and glass vases collected for and used on their wedding day line the kitchen walls.

7. Save your off-cuts.

Angus&#8\2\17;s &#8\2\20;pride and joy&#8\2\2\1; is crowned by the bust of a swan salvaged from a dumpster outside their studio.
Above: Angus’s “pride and joy” is crowned by the bust of a swan salvaged from a dumpster outside their studio.

The garden room is divided into two distinct zones with seating and dining at one end and food prep at the other. The focal point of the kitchen is the bespoke fire kitchen by Fire Made in Somerset. The chimney is clad in off-cuts of corrugated metal from the fencing. A patchwork of encaustic tiles leftover from their hallway protects the sink area; the rest of the worktop has been built from off-cuts of iroko used in their laundry room.

Fresh flowers are picked and dried in situ each season. The marble backsplash is a mantelpiece from the house.
Above: Fresh flowers are picked and dried in situ each season. The marble backsplash is a mantelpiece from the house.

8. Plant what matters.

Brick cold frames line the side of the kitchen and are kept for fruit and veg, including tomatoes, chard, courgettes, basil, and strawberries, which the children help to harvest. A combination of roses, honeysuckle, hydrangeas and wisteria have been trained to grow up the black corrugated fencing, their delicate blooms softening the industrial material. Giant pots are positioned around the garden, including two fiddle-leaf figs planted with frothy Erigerons underneath. There are, of course, nods to his childhood garden: foxglove cuttings have been dug up from his childhood home where a “natural army” of them grow. Even the blousy ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ roses are the same variety he grew up with. “I’m absolutely not claiming to be very good at gardening,” confesses Angus, “I just enjoy the process.”

The kitchen garden alley leads to a shed space that connects the front and back of the house. Wisterias are trained to create a green tunnel over the passageway.
Above: The kitchen garden alley leads to a shed space that connects the front and back of the house. Wisterias are trained to create a green tunnel over the passageway.

As we settle into spring, the kitchen table is slowly decommissioned, piled up high with pots of geraniums, magazines, and homework as dinner plates are taken outside. “The garden room has definitely changed the way we live,” says Angus. “And we didn’t have to leave London for it, which was the whole point.”

For more urban gardens, see:

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