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Outdoor cinema ideas: enjoy movie night from the comfort of your own garden

·7-min read
Photo credit: Oliver Perrott/Lights4Fun
Photo credit: Oliver Perrott/Lights4Fun

With summer fast approaching, it's the perfect time to prepare for outdoor entertaining and garden gatherings. An outdoor cinema is a great way to transform your garden to enjoy spectacular evenings – from hosting a fun movie night with friends and family, to setting a romantic date night, outdoor cinemas are versatile and make a stunning backdrop for summer festivities. After all, who wouldn't want to enjoy their favourite films underneath the stars?

'The outdoor cinema concept is so popular because it appeals to all generations,' agrees Geraldine Florin, Style Director at Maisons du Monde. 'Whether you watch with little ones or grandparents, everyone can enjoy the experience and the best part is, you can choose the films!'

The best thing is, you don't even need a large garden to set up a fabulous outdoor cinema. 'The perfect alfresco movie night is easier to achieve than you may think and can be set up in virtually any garden or patio area,' says Becky Tasker, PR Manager at Lights4fun.

But before you set up your outdoor cinema, there are some essential things to consider. Follow our useful tips and expert advice on what you'll need to create your Insta-worthy, outdoor cinema at home!

Find the perfect location

Whether you have a grand garden or bijou balcony, you need to find the suitable piece of ground that is dry and sheltered. 'Finding the right location for an outdoor cinema is paramount,' says Sylvia James, Designer at Homehow.co.uk. 'You will need to pick a spot that's sheltered from wind and rainfall. And avoid an area with bright lights, so it doesn’t affect the screen.'

In addition, setting up your outdoor cinema in the best possible area is vital for how you and your guests will view your movies. 'Correct positioning for your screen and kit can let you optimise your seating, improve setup, and create a fun shared space,' adds Matilda Simpson at Garden Trading.

Of course if you want to weatherproof your cinema, you could also invest in a pop-up gazebo to shelter under if there are any showers.

Invest in a quality projector

This is the main bit of equipment needed for your movie nights, so you need to invest in a good projector. Nowadays, projectors come with fancy cinematic effects and specifications, so find one to suit your needs and budget. It's important to consider the size of your space and screen, as well as the number of lumens (measures projector brightness).

Typically, in a garden after dark, it is recommended that at least 3000 lumens would be perfect for an authentic 'cinema' experience. 'Ideally you need a bit of space so you can install a seating area that's far away enough from a screen or projector so you can comfortably watch your makeshift screen,' says Geraldine at Maisons Du Monde. 'Around five to 10 feet between the screen and your seating area will suffice.'

Connect to a video source

Whether you choose a laptop or a streaming device, you need to make sure it can be easily connected to your projector through a HDMI port. The last thing you want is a fancy projector with nothing to watch! Secondly, you need to achieve that cinematic sound (without disturbing the neighbours!) to bring the big screen to life! You can connect a good speaker to your projector's 3.5mm jack socket or if you want completely wireless, invest in a Bluetooth-enabled model. This will allow you to use a wireless speaker or soundbar for those dramatic sound effects.

'As well as visuals, audio is equally as important to consider when setting up an outdoor cinema,' agrees Sylvia at Homehow.co.uk. 'Sub-standard speakers aren't going to cut it, and you don't want your guests straining to hear what is being said.'

Choose your ideal screen

When it comes to an outdoor cinema, the more basic fuss-free option is to string up a white bedsheet onto a wall or flat surface. Although, remember to tie it down at the bottom to avoid flapping around in the summer breeze. Or if you do want to splash out, you can always invest in a good projector screen. Once your screen is ready, all you need to do is to connect your laptop or streaming device to a projector and start rolling your favourite movies!

Photo credit: Kel Harmer/Oh So Kel
Photo credit: Kel Harmer/Oh So Kel

Create a cosy seating area

Now that you have the practical elements sorted, you can style your seating area to create a snug space and warm ambience. The most important element to an outdoor cinema is a comfy, seating area for your guests. 'Start with practicalities and layer up. Use a waterproof ground sheet to keep you all dry and stop your cosy throws getting damp or stained,' suggests Dani Taylor, Product and Creative Director at Cox & Cox. 'Then, define your cinema area using a large blanket or bedspread, and pile up cushions and throws for your guests. Beanbags are a great compromise – warm, soft yet light and portable.'

Outdoor rugs are another great way of creating a snug space and adds a burst of colour to your space.

Photo credit: Cox & Cox
Photo credit: Cox & Cox

Invest in a fire pit or patio heater

When the evenings get a little chilly, you'll want to keep your guest warm and cosy. Investing in a good patio heater or a fire pit will offer instant heat and keep you warm. 'A dedicated fire pit can provide heat and a cosy atmosphere once the sun goes down,' says Matilda Simpson at Garden Trading. Plus, you can always roast marshmallows over your firepit, which would go down well with a warm mug of hot chocolate.

Set up the right lighting

Set the ambience with the right, soft lighting when watching your favourite movies. When it comes to garden lighting, solar lights or lanterns are a great way of providing the perfect warm glow for your outdoor cinema setting. Plus, you can place them anywhere in your garden, and save on energy.

'When illuminating your outdoor cinema setting, it is important to consider the golden rule of lighting at every level,' explains Becky at Lights4Fun. 'Add a touch of sparkle at floor level, in the form of lanterns placed near doorways and steps. To illuminate at mid-level, dot TruGlow LED candles and micro fairy lights on table tops.'

It's also advisable to choose warm white LEDS to instantly add warmth. And if you really wanted to add more glamour, you can hang an overhead fairy light canopy above your seating area for that extra glimmer.

Photo credit: Oliver Perrott/Lights4Fun
Photo credit: Oliver Perrott/Lights4Fun

Prepare a summer spread

Complete your outdoor movie night with delicious alfresco dining! From firing up the barbecue to homemade pizzas in outdoor pizza ovens, there are plenty of options. 'The ground can be bumpy and isn’t practical to store cups and plates on,' adds Sylvia from Homehow.co.uk, 'so purchase a coffee table for storing snacks and drinks on.'

Alternatively, you could serve refreshing summer drinks or cocktails at a mini bar, and handy ice buckets will ensure your beverages always stay cool.

Last but not least, you can't have a movie night without popcorn, so why not invest in a popcorn maker for authentic, homemade snacks! 'Anticipate your cinema goers' needs: blankets to ward off the evening nip, drinks and snacks, place a few trays or side table around the space and keep them well stocked,' adds Dani at Cox & Cox. 'For a party vibe fill a zinc planter with ice and a mix of drinks, and don't forget the bottle opener!'

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