The first thing you have to decide, when choosing furniture for your, is whether it is to stay out all year round or be stored away in winter. Furniture that can be left out of doors is made from wood – usually hardwood – plastic or metal. Furniture that must be taken indoors is made from cane or bamboo, unpainted and untreated softwood and, of course, anything that is upholstered. Storing indoors or in a garage can sometimes present problems, unless you buy something that can actually be used as indoor furniture too. But there is a third category – items like loungers, chairs and tables that are collapsible or can be easily dismantled, and take up very little space when stored.
Choose your furniture to go with the style of your house and patio. Rustic, rough-hewn benches and tables usually look out of place in a town setting, unless you have deliberately created a country garden look to go with them. Bamboo and cane look good with ‘tropical’ plants like the yucca, but they are less happy in stark modern surroundings. Wooden furniture should be strongly made, especially if it is to stay outside all year round. Check that any metal screws, hinges or fittings on them are made from stainless steel or brass rather than steel, which will rust. Plastic furniture, including that made from glass-fibre, is usually trouble free, but it should be heavy enough to be stable so that it will not topple over easily.
Metal furniture ranges from antique reproductions in cast aluminium to stackable folding chairs in bright colours and modern designs. Cast aluminium chairs and tables are expensive to buy but last indefinitely and will not rust. Most other metals need to be painted regularly unless they have been enamelled or coated with plastic. Most of the better-qualityhas the disadvantage of being heavy to move around, so it is better chosen for a large patio, where it can stay permanently in place.
Upholstered chairs and loungers – and there are some very sumptuous ones around – and swing seats should all have detachable cushions. Even so, it’s a good idea to have a rainproof cover of some sort for the larger items so that, should there be a sudden shower, you can quickly shield them from it, rather than have to pull off canopies and cushions and bring them inside.
If you have the space for it, it’s a good idea to build in some of your patio furniture. A very attractive bench-seat can be constructed, for instance, around a large tree, or an arbour with a seat built into it can be established in a corner of the patio. But it is for dining that built-in furniture really comes into its own. A brick-built bench seat along one wall, and possibly going round a corner too, takes up far less space than a set of chairs. It can be made in several different ways: it could have a hinged wooden seat, for instance, which lifts up to reveal storage space for; or it could have a tiled top with cupboards underneath. A brick-built bench of this kind could have two deep troughs built into it at each end in which you could plant flowers.
A built-in table can be made quite simply if you can get hold of a very large piece of slate or marble that would make a top; these can sometimes be picked up in junk shops. Two simple brick piers usually suffice to take the place of legs, or, if the table top is very small, you might be able to get away with just one, acting as a central plinth.
Junk shops are also a source of temporary patio furniture – things like old kitchen chairs and tables – which you can get for a very low price. Unified by a coat of bright paint – bright blue, green, or scarlet, for instance – several odd chairs will go together perfectly happily, an old table, perhaps with a laminated plastic top, can be painted to match; then cover the painted top with a heavy sheet of glass to keep it good-looking. Indoor furniture that has been thoroughly painted should last outdoors for a year or so; though if the joints are glued they may need re-doing after a time.