How to make the most of your outdoor space, whatever the weather, with stylish and ethical garden furniture...
The English summer officially runs from the beginning of June to the end of August but, English weather being what it is, you might find yourself enjoying soaring temperatures in March and huddling indoors in midsummer. Nevertheless, we Brits cherish our own outdoor space, whether it’s a tiny city centre terrace or rolling rural acres, and it takes more than a summer downpour to stop us enjoying it. Dr Johnson once remarked that a hasty remarriage signified ‘the triumph of hope over experience’, a description that might more aptly apply to our annual expectation of a wonderful summer…
These days we tend to put as much thought into choosing garden furniture, as we do to what we plant in the garden. What will work best for you depends on what sort of outdoor space you have, in terms of size, terrain and planting, and how you tend to use your garden. If we have the space, most of us want an area for eating and entertaining, an area for relaxing and, if we have children, a dedicated play area too. We’re taking a look at what furniture to choose for different types of outdoor spaces, gardens, and garden rooms.
Garden furniture ideas for small spaces
If your outside space is restricted to a balcony, courtyard, small patio or terrace, with plants in containers or small raised beds, you can still squeeze in a table for two. For a simple rustic look, go for a folding table and chairs in slatted wood (easy to store or move indoors); give it a lift with some eco-friendly paint and enjoy summer eating al fresco.
For a more contemporary urban vibe, metal-framed seating, or modular units, with deep cushions and a low table provide a perfect space to relax with a book and a glass of wine on summer evenings.
If your home is a Victorian terraced or semi-detached house, or the ground floor of one, it may still have a narrow side return, which could be turned into a small but stylish area for eating and relaxing. Even though side return space is limited, it’s often enough for, say, a bistro table and chairs, or Raft’s Eden reclaimed slatted teak bench and table.
Add a string of simple overhead lights for a touch of night-time magic.
You can open up limited space with a garden mirror, preferably one that, like Raft furniture, wears it history proudly - even one with a touch of rust.
An increasing number of city dwellers are now exploring the possibility of roof terraces. These may offer more space overall but you will probably need planning permission and there will be necessary restrictions on weight. If you’re up for a challenge, a roof terrace makes a wonderful – and possibly secret – urban garden. Think manageable containers, scented herbs and flowers, some decking, a lightweight table and chairs, and a hammock, rugs, and large cushions – for ultimate relaxation!
Garden furniture ideas for outdoor entertaining and eating
A large patio or terrace is perfect for summer dinner parties under a weatherproof pergola, canopy, sail or gazebo – English weather being what it is.
Keep the table styling simple and use deep wooden trays or galvanised steel trays and bottle carriers for ferrying food and drinks to the table.
Covered areas are also perfect for more informal entertaining and relaxing – making the most of long summer evenings. Modular seating, like Raft’s Terrace upholstered corner and inset units and footstools, offers comfort with flexibility, and works just as well in conservatories and garden rooms as it does outdoors. Team modular units with low tables like Raft’s Eden, add candles or tealights in windproof glass containers, some platters of tapas or mezze, bowls of olives and dips, and something bubbly chilling in a bucket and you’re all set.
Furniture for summerhouses, garden rooms and conservatories
Who doesn’t love the idea of a room or space that brings the outdoors indoors? If you’re fortunate enough to have one or you’re planning something similar, you’ll want to make as much use of it as possible, with the right choice of furniture:
If it’s primarily a space to relax in, think about Raft’s Terrace units or for something elegant and luxurious, take a look at our Primrose garden sofa. It combines a reclaimed natural or dark teak frame, with Sunbrella fabric-covered seat and back cushions, for extra comfort. Sunbrella is soft but highly durable, and has a water-repellent special finish, so you can safely move it to the deck or patio, without worrying about the rain!
Summerhouses, garden rooms and conservatories make great summer dining rooms too.
Stick to simple, rustic styles and add cushions and throws for extra comfort and warmth when the sun goes down.
The added bonus of rooms and spaces like these is that you can enjoy them all year round. One couple we know bought a hillside house in Wales, having fallen in love with the breathtaking views of the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains from the garden room, which has French windows opening out onto a large terrace. Forty years on, they still enjoy every meal, from breakfast to dinner, in that same room – unless there’s more than six at the table – in which case they have to settle for the dining room (same views but no French windows)!
Something a bit different?...
We think there’s something very inviting and rather romantic about tree seats, so if your garden has a mature tree with a large trunk, why not add one? Or maybe a half seat if your trees are close to a fence or wall. You really can’t get closer to nature than sitting under a tree’s canopy on a summer evening, watching the sun go down and waiting for the stars to appear…
More ideas and inspiration
If you love the pared-down, simple, rustic look, we recommend Pure Style Outside by Jane Cumberbatch. It’s full of ideas for every kind of outdoor space from city balcony to country garden, with tips on colour, textures and surfaces, planting, furniture and containers, for example, and how to pull it all together. You can see more at www.purestyleonline.com and on Instagram here.
Garden Style: Inspirational Styling for Your Outside Space by Selina Lake is beautifully illustrated and offers a contemporary and comprehensive approach to garden design, planting, furniture, lighting, as well as creating garden rooms and spaces for relaxing and eating. See more at www.selinalake.co.uk and on Instagram here.
If you are restricted to something the size of a city balcony, we think you’ll enjoy Marie Viljoen’s 66 Square Feet, the recipe book that sprang from her eponymous blog about gardening, cooking and eating in the smallest of spaces – a tiny rooftop terrace in Cobble Hill, New York. Find out more on her blog and on Instagram.
And, finally, some top tips and advice on al fresco eating – taking account of the weather - from food writer Felicity Cloake.
Take a look at the full range of Raft garden furniture here. We also have a full range of stylish accessories that you can browse here.
At Raft, we are one of the world's largest retailers of 100% recycled teak, which we turn into stunning and enduring furniture for the home and workplace.