“Choosing outdoor furniture can surprisingly involve greater consideration than buying indoor furniture; it may have to offer greater versatility than, for example, a kitchen table or sofa for your sitting room,” says Tim Pennell, head of sales at outdoor furniture specialist Bramblecrest (bramblecrest.com).“You need to look at your outdoor space and identify an area where you are most likely to want to spend time and ask yourself questions such as: How will the furniture be used – social gatherings, lounging or dining? Does proximity to the house matter? Do you want full sun?”
Measure your space
Measure your available space and consider how much of it you want to furnish – you will need enough room for you and your guests to relax in comfort and allow an easy flow of people around the set, Pennell advises.
“Be careful not to over or underwhelm a patio area – you may want to keep a clear area for other accessories such as planters and lanterns. Corner sofas make effective use of space and can be paired with versatile dual height tables (which can be positioned at dining and coffee table heights) or a firepit table which can be used as a dining table.
“If you want to find a ‘get away’ place in your garden where you can enjoy a few moments of peace, smaller items of furniture – a cocoon, bench or bistro set – are perfect for this.”
Cater for small areas
“If you’re working with a small outdoor space, there is still plenty you can do to make the most of it. Some clever, compact furniture will help to maximise your garden’s full potential, creating your very own urban retreat,” says Nadia McCowan Hill, resident style adviser at home retailer Wayfair.
“For balconies, foldaway metal bistro sets offer flexibility – they can be easily stowed away and are a lightweight, contemporary choice. There are plenty of styles and colours to choose from. A bold, bright shade will instantly lift a dull space and inject some personality.”
Ella Broughton, head of product at Moda Furnishings, adds: “For tight spaces, multifunctional rising tables are a great space-saving solution so you can transition from morning coffee to dinner easily.”
Don’t be afraid to make large statements, McCowan Hill continues.
“In a courtyard garden, rather than trying to fill the space with a few pieces of furniture, one larger statement piece that fills the area can actually make it appear bigger.
“A comfy, corner sofa will transform a narrow space into another room of your home for entertaining and relaxation. Choose a weatherproof frame with removable cushions that can be easily stored away inside if you don’t have the space to move furniture inside a garage or shed in colder months.
“An outdoor corner sofa is the ideal foundation to layer from to create a cosy oasis – adding solar festoon lighting, cushions, throws and a chiminea to maximise time in your garden after the sun goes down.”
Sun or shade?
Pennell says: “Be aware of the outlook, and how the orientation of your furniture can maximise a lovely view or face away from an unsightly area.
“Consider the direction of the sun – allow space for a cantilever parasol if you need to add shade in a sunny spot. If you are proud of your lawn, you may prefer to place your furniture on a deck or patio area to avoid furniture legs piercing the grass.”
Take note of where the sun rises and sets. If you want sun in the morning and the evening, you may have to invest in a couple of sets or be prepared to move a bit of furniture around depending on the time of day.
Broughton adds: “Accessorising the space with clever lighting and heating means if you are in a shady patch or enjoying the evening, your furniture can still be utilised.”
Also consider planting up some evening-fragrant plants such as stocks and nicotiana in nearby pots to enjoy during the summer months, or grow roses and lavender around a garden bench in a hidden corner of your plot.
Dining or lounging?
Ask yourself if your garden is somewhere you want to sit to grab a quick coffee before work or a glass of wine at sundown, or are you planning on doing lots of entertaining? Do you just want a comfortable area to lounge in with the family or are you planning dinner parties, barbecues and more elaborate dining?
Outdoor furniture retailers can do both, but make sure you have a good idea of what you want before spending thousands on what you don’t.
Environmental concerns shape the way a lot of outdoor furniture companies work – with many becoming Planet Mark certified (an internationally recognised sustainability certification) through measuring and reducing their carbon footprint.
“Many sofas, chairs and benches have cushion covers spun with yarn made from recycled bottles – these soft-touch cushions retain the season-proof, stain-resistant qualities required for the great outdoors,” Pennell observes.
“Synthetic rattan furniture is made from a high quality, recyclable polyethylene – this is extremely durable and will withstand the test of time. Likewise, aluminium furniture is 100% recyclable and loses no quality during the process – a high percentage of all aluminium ever produced is still in use.”
The timeless and robust qualities of teak are reasons why it remains a popular choice for garden furniture, he continues. It contains high levels of oil, making it weather-resistant and able to withstand exposure to the variable climate.
Don’t forget storage
Make sure you have storage space to house your cushions, whether in a shed, garage or indoors. Have you space for a storage box outside? All this needs to be taken into consideration before you buy.