With summer just around the corner, lazy days, warm nights and barbeques with friends and family are so close we can practically smell the sausages sizzling on the grill. If you have an outdoor space without any garden furniture in it, though, being the host with the most this summer could prove a tad tricky!
Proper summer relaxation calls for plenty of comfy seating, shade from the sun (and rain!) and, of course, a spot to set your summer snacks and beverages down. Patio furniture isn’t just for those of us with sprawling gardens, either. If you’ve got an apartment balcony or a postage-stamp-sized patio, there are tons of outdoor furnishing options specifically designed for compact outdoor spaces like yours.
Before you rush out and snap up what looks like a decent bargain at the nearest store, though, be sure to check out our top patio furniture buying tips below.
The best place to start your search for the summer furniture of your dreams is by narrowing down the type that will work best for your space and lifestyle. Are you looking to create an outdoor dining area or a place to lounge and relax, for instance?
1. Choose pieces that work with the shape of your outdoor area.
The shape of your garden table and chairs should be determined by the dimensions and shape of your outdoor space. A round table, for example, can help maximize space in a smaller garden or balcony. Rectangular picnic benches and square tables are also a good choice if you’re in tight quarters and only need seating for, say two to four people max. If you’re hoping to make starlit intimate dinners for two a regular summertime occurrence, then something like a rectangular duo set or round bistro set should do the trick nicely.
How about somewhere the whole family, as well as guests, can hang out and also eat at? You’ll need a spacious table and comfortable chairs for everyone. A corner dining set could be ideal, as well. Have a think about the height you’d like your table to be, while you’re at it. If you have young children, for instance, you might want a lower table so they can easily hop on and off their chairs. Having something extra like a garden bench or a swing is also handy, if space permits, as they can easily double up as extra seating when dining al fresco.
Or maybe a cosy little reading nook is all you’ve been dreaming about? We’ve got two words for you: egg chair! In a similar vein, if you’re more into soaking up the sun and don’t plan on eating outside, then a couple of sun loungers might do the job. (Bonus: They’re usually foldable, compact and easy to carry around.)
2. Don’t try to cram the biggest patio set possible in.
This works the other way too – you don’t want to buy a streamlined two-seater set if it’s going to sit on its own in the middle of a huge patio. At the end of the day, the size of your outdoor furniture also depends largely on the amount of space you have to play with, as well as how many people you’re going to need to accommodate. Options can range anywhere from compact two to eight-seater dining sets. Some even come with nice added extras like foot stools and side tables.
It’s a good idea to map out the size of your patio table and chairs with some painter’s tape before you take the plunge and buy. A good rule of thumb? Leave at least 36 inches’ breathing room from the back of your chairs so people can move around easily and push their chairs back without smashing your patio door to smithereens. Pay special attention to where doors are likely to swing and hit unsuspecting guests, too.
Also, be sure to avoid buying a patio set with chairs that are too narrow and skimpy. You want to be sure you and your guests will be comfortable sitting for extended lengths of time.
Another thing to bear in mind: What are you going to do with your garden furniture when the summer months are little more than a distant memory? (Sob.) Do you have somewhere to store these tables and chairs, like a garden shed or garage? Does your patio furniture fold nice and flat so you can store it more easily? If so, then the cubby under the stairs might do in a pinch. If you don’t have a separate building to stow your outdoor furniture into, then we highly recommend investing in some garden furniture covers to keep things in good nick.
3. Choose a material that can stand up to any weather.
You can find garden furniture in a whole slew of materials, but because you’ll likely use it heavily over the summer months for quite a few years, the most important factor for any material is durability. You’ll also want to factor in how much maintenance is involved and whether the surfaces can withstand spills and all sorts of bad weather.
Here’s an overview of some of the most common materials patio furniture is made out of and how you can expect them to wear and tear over time
Different Types of Wood Used for Garden Furnishings
Wood has long been a go-to option for outdoor furniture for a whole host of reasons.
For starters, it’s long-lasting and can easily be refreshed or given a whole new look with a lick of stain or paint (just be sure to use ones with UV filter to minimize fading). Plus, a little bit of weathering just adds to the character of wooden furniture pieces. If you’re on the hunt for outdoor furnishings that will stand the test of time, then wood is a great option.
However, not all wooden garden furniture is created equal.
Softwoods like pine, while fairly inexpensive, are easily scratched by plates and warped by rain and will need to be revarnished on a regular basis. Hardwoods are by far the better option if you’re looking for something that will hold up after several seasons. Do bear in mind that teak and eucalyptus garden furniture can be prohibitively costly – we’re talking well into the thousands here. Ouch.
Luckily, we’ve got some more wallet-friendly hardwood furniture options for you to take a nose at.
Wicker or Rattan Garden Furniture
Natural wicker or rattan, as beautiful as it is, isn’t one to hold up to prolonged exposure to either the rain or sun. We recommend opting for all-weather wicker made from resin, which looks just like the real thing but isn’t prone to splitting or drying out. There are a ton of great maintenance-free rattan garden furniture options out there. These pieces can withstand some serious punishment from the elements – just be sure to hose off any debris from time to time and you’re all set. Be sure to choose a set that has a nice thick weave, so you don’t run the risk of fraying (and preferably one with cushions for extra comfort).
Another nice side benefit of opting for rattan: If you’re on the lookout for more versatile garden furniture that can also be used inside when the weather turns, poly-rattan will work perfectly in a conservatory.
The Benefits of Metal Garden Furniture
If you’re looking for a sofa or sectional that can take a bit of weight, then metal is a great option.
Wrought iron (also known as cast iron) patio furniture, while great for that vintage, ornate, Victorian feel, does come with a few downsides. Let’s list the obvious ones first – they’re much heavier than their wooden or rattan counterparts and rust easily. Oh, and if you live near the coast, then lucky you! But be aware that the salty air could bring death to your lovely wrought iron garden furniture set.
If you opt for metal (we rate aluminium or steel types), look for one with a powder coating. And keep in mind that that protective coating will eventually wear away, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for bubbling varnish or any pesky rust on a yearly basis. Also, remember that while aluminium is a lighter metal that makes your outdoor furniture a lot easier to move around, it may have a tendency to rogue when a strong wind hits (it’s not exactly a rare occurrence here in Ireland!).
One more tip: As with rattan outdoor chairs, we recommend adding some cushions if you’re opting for a metal patio set. These babies can heat up fairly quickly in direct sunlight!
Plastic Patio Furniture Options
When it comes to choosing garden furniture that you can leave outside, then plastic is a fairly safe bet. And for ease of maintenance and portability, it’s also hard to beat plastic. For one, it doesn’t require repainting or resealing and doesn’t tend to crack or fade. All you need is to give it a going over with some mildew cleaner if you’ve left it out in the winter.
While plastic furniture in general gets a bit of a bad rap as being flimsy or throwaway, that doesn’t have to be the case. Just don’t go for the €20 option at the supermarket – the lower-end options are often poorly-made and colours can fade quicker than that summer tan. If you want a garden set that has a luxe look and feel at a much lower cost, you can find plenty of plastic options that mimic the look of real rattan and wood, too.
5. Decide on your budget.
When it comes to how much you can expect to pay for outdoor furniture, the price points vary wildly. For the best deals on garden furniture, online is a great option – a lot of brick-and-mortar stores tend to inflate prices to cover overheads. Just make sure to check that any outdoor furnishings that you purchase online are the right scale for your space first.
You really don’t have to spend thousands of euros on patio furniture – while there are plenty of mid-range options available on the Littlewoods site, we’ve also got a generous amount of affordable options for those of you on a tighter budget. For something like a two-seater patio set, it’s not unreasonable to pay upwards of €100 – any less than that, though, will likely mean sacrificing quality.
If you’re really looking for a mega bargain and want to wait for the optimal time to buy garden furniture, you could always wait for sales towards the end of summer. With a bit of patience, your frugality can pay off in spades. You’ll just have to hold tight for next summer to really reap the rewards on that heavily-discounted patio dining set!
6. Choose garden furniture that works with your home’s style.
Here’s the fun part! While it’s important to keep the more practical considerations in mind when garden-furniture shopping, your personal interior style should also be reflected in the patio set that you choose.
Our gardens or balconies should feel like an extension of our living space and, for some of us, we know exactly the style we’re going for. But for others, nailing down a look for our interior can feel a little overwhelming. (I know we’ve all been down the Pinterest decor rabbit hole a time or a thousand.)
If you really think about it, though, how you’ve designed your home interior will probably fall into a particular vibe. Maybe more casual, rustic or cottage-style pieces are what you gravitate towards. Or maybe you’re a dyed-in-the-wool mid-century modern fan. Sleek and contemporary could also be how you prefer your indoor space. By identifying the look you’re into, you’ll be able to narrow down the style of garden furniture that will complement the rest of your home without too much of a headache.
Here’s one small caveat: Always think function over form. If you have a paved patio or grass, consider wider legs that won’t sink or catch in between patio stone grooves or sink into the grass.
And, hey, if you’re really stumped, then opting for a neutral set is always a good call. You can always add some colour with cushions and plants (more on that below!)
7. Adding the finishing touches to your garden set up.
As with your home interior, it’s usually the finer details that make the look of your garden, patio or balcony. Something like a fire pit can really transform your outdoor garden into the perfect cosy place to spend summer nights. And if the moon isn’t enough, some outdoor mood lighting and candles can make a big impact at dinnertime. If you’re feeling particularly fancy and you’re lucky enough to have a spacious garden, an outdoor pool or spa is the perfect way to unwind at the end of a long day.
If you’re more of a shade bather, you might want to consider investing in a parasol. Just double-check it’s made of a weather and fade-resistant material before you click the buy button. You’ll need one that’s a bit bigger than the surface area you’ll be relaxing in, otherwise you won’t get much respite from the sun.
And of course, no outdoor relaxation space would be complete without an outdoor rug – far and away the easiest way to add texture and tie the whole space together. Don’t forget to finish off the look with some outdoor planters. If you’re after more of an eclectic, layered look, then we recommend buying these in an array of styles, shapes and sizes and mixing herbs, flowers and plants.
Are you ready to whip your patio into shape?
The above tips should steer you in the right direction when it comes to finding a keeper that’s incredibly well-made, comfortable and so stylish that it’ll make your garden a place you’ll never want to leave for years to come.
Find everything you need to create the perfect outdoor space in the Littlewoods Ireland garden furniture section.