Patio furniture ideas - how to create sumptuous schemes for amazing alfresco spaces
Design experts reveal the patio furniture ideas behind a cool and cohesive setting for dining and reclining in your outdoor space
Choosing the best patio furniture ideas will be key to enjoying your outside space during the warmer months. Get it right and you can look forward to a summer of entertaining and enjoyment, as well as relaxing and recharging outside.
Get it wrong, and it could be a season of frustration and furniture shifting around the patio. So how do you choose well? 'Before measuring, look at circulation in the outdoor space and think of it as a room,' says James Mair, founder of design showroom Viaduct. 'There’s nothing worse than having to move furniture to squeeze past.'
'I would always recommend making a scale plan on paper including the seating and gathering samples of materials to look at in-situ,' says garden designer Sheila Jack. 'You can always use string lines or spray paint on the ground to roughly map out how the space or spaces will feel.'
10 PATIO FURNITURE IDEAS
1. OFFSET MONOCHROME WITH ZINGY SHADES
If you've opted for a chic monochrome backdrop on your patio, offset it with outdoor furniture in citrus shades. Against this matt black wall and patterned tile flooring, the orange sofa set and the leafy foliage instantly adds pizazz to this patio.
'Dark walls add drama and depth to a space, and work as a great backdrop for bold contrasting furniture and accessories; instantly drawing in the eye,' says Claire Hornby, Head of Creative at Barker & Stonehouse.
'It's tempting to choose green furniture but it will fight with the yard's natural tones, so go for colours you like that will work with your planting,' says landscape designer Charlotte Rowe. 'Brightly hued furniture will stand out and feel zingy. Make sure any soft furnishings and fabrics that you include have been designed for outdoor use.'
One common outdoor furniture mistake is going too full on in color, however, so be wary about using too many bright, popping shades that might clash against your backyard during the seasons.
2. MAXIMISE SPACE WITH RUSTIC HANGING CHAIRS
A pair of hanging chairs in a rustic, natural material is a stylish way to introduce extra seating, without taking up too much space. They can also be brought out at the start of the good weather and put away when it gets chilly again.
'I like to typically give equal importance to both dining and seating and create areas for both uses,' says Kirsten Blazek of AX1000better. 'Every household is different, so think about what is most important to you, especially if space is limited.
'Think about your interior furnishings when choosing patio furniture so there is cohesion between the indoors and outdoors too. I like to take inspiration from the surrounding landscape or nature. It's also important to consider the quality and location of the pieces. For example, if the furniture is sitting out in the elements and not under cover then it will wear quickly if the quality isn’t great.'
3. SEPARATE EATING AND SEATING ZONES
To get the best out of a small patio or terrace that you use a lot an L-shaped banquette and a separate dining table and chairs will give you flexibility to lounge, socialise and dine. An outdoor living room, if you will.
'It's better to differentiate between the seating area and dining area if you can,' says landscape designer Charlotte Rowe. 'A modular L shaped sofa arrangement is great if space is at a premium. The areas can be divided using planters or trees or indeed a BBQ area. We tend to do this even in small spaces such as roof terraces.'
Covering the zones with a pergola that echoes the same materials as the patio furniture would work well, if you're considering outdoor shade ideas too.
4. LIMIT YOUR PALETTE
Place sofas so that those seated can capture and enjoy any surrounding views. Choosing furniture in unobtrusive styles and similar tones that suit the space will keep the focus firmly on the vista.
'Limiting your palette so the furniture fits within a tonal range, will create a much more calming effect. By only selecting items that go together or talk to your scheme you will achieve a much better whole,' says garden designer Kate Gould.
'Coordination of materials is absolutely vital to achieve an overall cohesive effect. Artificial rattan is a good choice for outdoor furniture as doesn't require the same ongoing maintenance as timber.'
5. CHOOSE LOW SEATING TO LOUNGE ON
Multi-purpose, low, modular seating such as an L-shaped sofa with a chaise is a great option for a patio. It will not only provide a spot to sit and socialise with friends and family, it will offer somewhere to lie back and lounge with a favorite read and chilled spritz too. Measure the space properly so that you get the size of the seating and proportions right.
'If it's a small space it doesn't matter so much if the furniture is large in scale but it does matter if you have too much furniture,' says landscape designer, Charlotte Rowe.
'Equally, in a large area if there is not enough furniture to fill it, it can look uncomfortable and unwelcoming. We often combine outdoor furniture with planting beds and multi-stem trees to soften the whole effect and fill the seating area.'
6. ROCK RIAD STYLE WITH ACCESSORIES
Selecting sturdy pieces in neutral tones means that you can easily style them with accessories in a theme of your choice. The timber patio bench above has been transformed by the addition of the colorful Berber-style cushions, throws, lanterns, rug and foot stool, as well as the painted earthy red walls behind it.
'Even the smallest exterior space can be transformed with appealing patio seating, moments of colour and gorgeous planting to create a mini oasis,' says Caroline Milns, Head of Design at Zulufish.
7. SELECT SERENE SHADES
Many of us love to decorate with white in the home, as it creates a cool and calming scheme. White can work just as well on your patio too, particularly if you live somewhere where blue skies are guaranteed.
Choosing chic white furniture against simple chalky walls and natural materials, oozes understated style and serenity. It also allows pretty flowers and foliage to stand out, which adds to the ambience.
'Your outdoor area should be an oasis from the frenzied pace of life,' says Alinta Lim, Senior Designer at KING Design Studio. 'One way to achieve this is to create harmony by defining a colour palette and theme for your outdoor dining space. Using calming whites and a variety of matching tones helps create visual coherence.'
8. MAKE IT MULTI-FUNCTIONAL
Consider how often you use your patio, what you want to use it for and how you'd like it to look all year. This will have an impact on the right patio furniture ideas for you.
By introducing a fixed bench painted in a natural tone you'll have color on your patio throughout the winter, while in the summer you can position extra seating or dining furniture around it for socialising.
'A built-in bench is a great all-year-round multifunctional option,' says Jenna Choate-James, co-founder of Interior Fox. 'It can be positioned right against the wall taking up very little space, painted in your favourite color and finished with bespoke cushions in your fabrics of choice for the summer.
'For a modern, eclectic style add in different tones, textures and patterns. For a classic look stick to neutrals, as they feel timeless.'
9. PLAN FLEXIBLE FURNITURE CHOICES
'If you entertain a lot with different numbers of people, then flexibility is key,' says James Mair, founder of Viaduct. 'Having a main rectangular table that can seat six or eight, as well as folding tables that are the same width is useful. These can be placed next to the main table to make a long table for those long alfresco Italian-style lunches.
'Folding tables can also be used separately for more informal occasions. Likewise have a core set of chairs to go with the main table and supplement them with relatively compact folding or stacking chairs.
'Alternatively, if storage is limited and the outdoor area is adjacent to a kitchen dining area, consider dining chairs that are equally at home indoors or outdoors, so they can be used outside in summer.'
10. SELECT ITEMS THAT CAN WITHSTAND THE ELEMENTS
Unless you live somewhere hot and sunny, it's unlikely you will use your patio furniture all year round. This means it will need to be stored or protected throughout the colder months.
'You can buy winter covers for all good quality outdoor furniture,' says landscape designer Charlotte Rowe. 'However, a word of warning; winter covers do not look great so if your furniture is on view all the time from inside your house, it's better to choose furniture which can be left out all year without winter covers or at least just take off the scatter cushions.'
A stone or concrete table with stackable chairs is a great idea, as the table can be left out and the chairs won't take up too much storage space.
HOW CAN I MAKE MY PATIO LOOK NICE?
'The style of your patio furniture should be seen as an extension of your interior,' says Caroline Milns, Head of Interior Design, Zulufish. 'If the adjoining room features dark stained wood and sleek concrete finishes, take these elements onto your patio furniture to ensure the space feels like an extension of your home.
'I love the practicality of a dining set adjacent to a kitchen or dining space, allowing for easy outdoor dining on a warm summer evening, but if you have space, it’s lovely to create a second seating area further into the garden.
'These days performance fabrics look and feel like interior fabrics, allowing you to add beautiful colours, patterns and textures on furniture, cushions and even exterior rugs to create a fabulous living space in your garden.'
WHAT KIND OF FURNITURE IS GOOD FOR A PATIO?
'If you have enough outdoor space, then a permanent bench or L-shaped seating area in brick, stone or timber sleepers is great. This can be paired with a hardwood or stone table,' says James Mair, Viaduct.
'Minimise the required storage by using stacking, folding or demountable pieces that can be protected with a breathable cover or put in a small shed.'
WHAT KIND OF PATIO FURNITURE IS MOST DURABLE?
'Anodized aluminium, timber and powder coated or galvanised steel will work well and last,' says James Mair of Viaduct. 'Natural materials will tend to age better. Personally, I don’t recommend plastic unless it’s sustainable or re-cycled, and if left outside over winter it can be a pain to clean. However it can be very comfortable.'
Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites
A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.
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