Ryan’s Eye: Summer 2014
Create Your Own Outdoor Living Space
by Will Ryan
Illustration by Gray Abraham
As summer wanes the garden furniture starts to go on sale, but before you get caught up in the fervour of buying these, still relatively pricey, items here are a few things to consider. Is it going to be left out or stored for the winter? What is its primary function: eating, lounging or both? Is the area large enough to accommodate everything you want? Do you wish to have cushions? If so, do you have storage space? What materials are your preference? What are the optimum styles to suit the outdoor environment you have created?
If your furniture is to be left out for the winter, it is imperative that it be made of durable materials. Although there are weatherproof items in the marketplace now, you must be prepared for sun bleaching and, in some cases, rusting. Unless metal furniture is galvanized or powder coated, it does need to be painted or treated in some way. I will discuss colours later.
If you are fortunate to have the space and facility to store your furniture for the winter, it will greatly increase the life span of your investment. Don’t underestimate the space necessary to store garden furniture, though, as it tends to be very bulky. Some styles are stackable or fold up, which is something that should be taken into consideration when selecting your items.
Obviously, shapes and sizes of garden furniture vary. If you have the space for both lounging furniture and dining chairs and tables, then you are, indeed, fortunate. Many of us do not have that option and must compromise. It really boils down to lifestyle and space. If you have limited space and budget and you like to have people over for dinner, it would seem that the dining table and chairs would be the best option. If you have the space, you could opt for armed diners rather than the armless. This affords you slightly more comfortable seating if you just wish to sit, rather than eat, at the table. Add a footstool or two and you’ve almost achieved lounge seating. Another thing to consider if your space is limited is that a circular table is easier to get around than a square or rectangular one and suits odd or even numbers of guests easily.
If your priority is lounging, it is important to remember side tables or coffee tables for drinks, snacks, suntan lotion etc. If you like the concept of a chaise lounge, you can achieve a pretty close facsimile with a cushioned footstool pulled close to a reclining chair. The disadvantage is that it does not go flat.
Whatever your needs or preferences try to mix up the types of furniture and materials, which often looks better than too much all matching. Just because patio furniture is all on sale at one location, doesn’t mean you should let yourself get carried away!
With regard to cushions, we’re back to the storage issue. Ideally, they should be stored off the ground and in an area where they are not exposed to dampness. The cushion covers and stuffing are made of water- and mildew-resistant material, but if water is trapped within the fibres, or the cushions are left in a damp area, they will become musty and sometimes mouldy. I’ve noticed that although many of the cushions that come with patio furniture are smart and colourful, they are really all the same. Should you wish to personalize your upholstered furniture, most fabric shops now stock a large selection of attractive weather-proof fabric. Any upholsterer can make cushion covers for you. If cushions are not your style, or not something you wish to get involved with, there are some comfortable and good looking, mesh-seating alternatives.
We are spoiled for options as there are so many different types of garden furniture construction. There is metal that can be cast iron, aluminium, steel and stainless steel. Then we have wicker, willow and cane, which can be the genuine article or the man-made material, which is so good looking these days that it is hard to distinguish it from the authentic material. A disadvantage of real wicker, willow and cane is that it must be kept out of the rain. An advantage is that it can be painted.
Another natural material is wood, which, again, can be painted or stained. That is, except for teak, which should be left to weather, as it is a naturally oily wood, so paint or stains are often not successful.
For areas that will have the furniture in the landscape permanently, there is concrete. It seems to suit more formal gardens and is far too heavy to be moved frequently and it is not usually what springs to mind when I envision comfortable lounging.
I want to conclude with a few observations, the first being that unless glass garden table tops have a pebbled surface, the glass reflection is too extreme and rather unpleasant, resulting in the need for a tablecloth on sunny days.
Another observation is that if you are furnishing a roof garden, balcony or dock, strive for heavier furniture, which is less likely to be blown away in extreme weather.
Finally, I would like to touch on the colours of garden furniture. The rule of thumb is that darker colours tend to blend more comfortably into the landscape and don’t compete with the view or the exterior planting. However, having said that, if you find you are often sitting in your garden in the evening, then you can avoid the area appearing gloomy by having lighter coloured furniture. This is also true if you have a dark or shady location. Pale coloured flowers in light coloured pots will also help.
When planning your outdoor space bear in mind that lighting is important. Lights that are too bright or too dim or incorrectly placed can spoil the mood. Those of us lucky enough to have some outdoor space know that it is an extension of our home and, during the summer months, enlarges our living space. Therefore, whatever your needs, wants or budget, it should be a comfortable reflection of you.