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Choosing garden furniture

Increasingly the garden is becoming known as the outside room, an area to relax and entertain friends. When it comes to buying furniture for the garden, think about the colours and styles that appeal to you and consider the overall look you would like to achieve – just as you would for any other room in the home. Before you buy, consider your budget, how many people will be using the furniture and what purpose the furniture will be used for. With so many different styles of furniture now available at affordable prices you’re sure to find a style you love.


Budget

Decide on a price range and budget. When considering this, you will also need to take into account the durability of the furniture you intend to buy and whether you have anywhere to store it. Solid wood will provide years of use, whereas plastic chairs may only last one season. Consider the practicalities of storing expensive garden furniture, and also the time and money you will need to spend to keep it looking good, it is often worth considering buying inexpensive garden furniture for special events such as parties. These items will often be available in the trendiest colours and styles of the moment, and as they are designed to last for just one season you won’t have to worry about whether you will still love bright yellow next year!


A sense of purpose

How many people will be using the furniture? Would it be better to buy one large table, or would two smaller tables offer more flexibility? Many of our tables fold neatly in half, some come with removable lazy susan’s, while others have the option of adding additional extensions to make the table larger. Consider seating for children, would they like an area just for them? Apart from seating and tables, will you need any other items such as parasols or gazebos for creating shade? In terms of style and colour, will the furniture look harmonious in its setting? Consider the colour of the outside of your house, the style of existing furniture within the home and also the dimensions of the furniture you wish to buy. A small garden may lose its sense of intimacy and start to look overcrowded with too much furniture, whereas a spacious garden will look at its best with a number of large items.


Storage

How will you store your furniture when it’s not in use? If you do not want to leave your furniture outside all year round, consider buying items that fold or can be taken apart into separate pieces. A flat folding table and stackable chairs are ideal if space is in short supply. If you have to leave items in the garden all year, protect them from the elements with specially designed covers available for a range of items, including chairs, benches, tables, barbecues, patio heaters and gazebos.

Materials
Pine

Untreated pine is a popular, inexpensive material and looks attractive. Pine furniture will often arrive flat-packed and ready to be assembled. Pine is lightweight and easy to lift and move around the garden as required. One of the main advantages of pine is that it can be stained to the exact colour desired. You will need to treat with wood preserver before use and finish with varnish. Pine furniture will need to be stored during the winter as it is not durable enough to be left outside all year. Look for FSC certified wood, which means the wood used comes from well-managed forests, independently certified in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council.


Hardwood

Hardwood furniture is durable and available in a range of classic styles. Many hardwood items of furniture can be left in the garden all year round and with care, hardwood furniture will last for years. Before using, wipe with a clean dry cloth, and apply teak oil and rub the finish lightly with a soft cloth to obtain a shinier look. At the end of the season re-apply teak oil and keep the furniture shaded, covered or re-pack for storage during the winter months. Hardwood furniture is a good option if children are around as it will not scratch easily or fall over in a sudden gust of wind. As with pine furniture, look for environmentally friendly FSC certified wood.


Aluminium

Aluminium has the advantage of being lightweight, and rustproof. Many modern furniture designs are cast in aluminium, giving your garden an up-to-the-minute look. Cast aluminium is extremely durable, making it able to withstand adverse weather conditions.


Iron

A durable material, the heavy weight of iron means that you don’t have to worry about it blowing away! For comfort, iron furniture will require cushioned seating. To keep iron looking good, apply an anti-rust treatment and repaint any weathered areas as and when required.


Steel

An affordable option, steel is lighter than iron, but not as lightweight as aluminium. Available in a range of styles, the pliability of steel makes it an ideal material for many modern designs. Many designs are available with different finishes such as brushed or ridged patterns.


Plastic/Resin

A great inexpensive option, plastic is especially good for use in the garden as it is lightweight, easy to wipe clean and durable. Plastic furniture is available in a multitude of colours and is easy to store, as most styles can be stacked when not in use. Plastic is the ideal choice for children as the bright colours are fun, and it is also easy to keep clean.

Styles


With so many styles of garden furniture available from ultra-modern to rustic, the choice of style is one of personal preference. Take your time looking at the range of styles available before making a final decision.


Tables

Tables are essential for dining alfresco, or simply enjoying a refreshing drink. Options for entertaining large groups include dining tables able to seat up to eight people and picnic tables, which incorporate seating as part of the design. Smaller tables save space and provide intimate dining for two, while handy occasional or side tables make it easy to cater for unexpected guests! Weight will be a prime consideration if you plan to move the table around, many larger tables fold for easy storage. When choosing a table, look for a hole for a parasol. Is there an option to change the height of the table? Are there any additional extensions, making the table larger if desired? A table with adjustable feet will offer maximum stability.


Chairs, sunloungers and benches

There are numerous seating options for the garden including chairs, garden benches and sunloungers. When selecting chairs, you will need to choose between cushion or ‘sling/strap’ styles. Cushion style seats have a foundation that can accommodate upholstered pads, providing extra comfort as well as an easy and inexpensive way to change the look of your furniture. Many sunloungers feature cushioned pads, which give a real sense of luxury. Look for a multi-position backrest – many models will offer up to seven different settings. Check that the material used for cushions is flame retardant.
Sling seats, usually incorporating strong canvas, can be used without cushions, and have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain. Favourites include the classic deckchair and the director’s chair, which can double up as an indoor dining chair.
The garden bench is a timeless classic, providing a permanent resting place to sit and ponder. Hardwood or iron benches will give a touch of style to your garden and last for many years. When choosing any form of seating, test the comfort of the chair before you buy – are you happy with the height of the chair back? Look for a sturdy design, and metal fittings which will give extra strength.


Gazebos

Popular as a shelter for parties or seating outdoors, a gazebo will provide shelter from sun or rain. Available in a range of sizes, many gazebos are portable, making it easy to move around the garden as the sun changes direction. If you plan to use your gazebo throughout the year, look for a plastic woven canopy coated with Polyamide as this will help repel light showers and is easy to keep clean. A sun canopy made from canvas and coated with polyamide will help repel light showers, and is resistant to stains. Side panels are available to attach to many frames, giving greater privacy and protection from the elements. To increase light, look out for side panels featuring a window and choose a light coloured canopy rather than a darker shade. For a truly magical evening, why not create the illusion a starry night with the addition of gazebo lights


Accessories

Finally, don’t forget to have fun accessorizing your garden furniture – Homebase have a great selection of co-ordinating cushions for wooden, plastic and metal furniture, complete with matching parasols. Always check that cushions are easy to wash and filled with combustion modified, high resilience foam. When choosing a parasol, look for ball and socket tilt action, adjustable height, durable fabric, an easy to open umbrella and a solid base. For durability, choose a model with a hardwood pole. Choose a heavy base for maximum stability; a cast iron base will not be easily blown away and many plastic bases can be filled with water or sand for added stability. Complete the outdoor experience with new tablecloths, place mats, and dining crockery – there’s a great range of pretty plastic dining sets to choose from at Homebase, perfect for barbecues and entertaining the kids!

Feature: Karen O'Grady