Making your garden a cut above the rest
You'll need practical furniture that's right for you to make the most of the summer sun, says Sinead Ryan
Everyone has been enjoying their outdoor space a little more over the last few weeks and bringing the indoors outdoors adds another living room to the house. Wouldn't it be great if we could count on it every summer?
Garden centres have been doing a bomb, but selecting the right garden furniture is no easy task, and it's easy to get carried away by fancy displays without thinking through what's right for you. This week I'm looking at what's available, while the panel will keep your grass trimmed with the best in lawnmowers.
Form vs function
Before buying furniture it's important to assess what you'll use it for. It might sound obvious (eating and drinking), but are you planning on having parties, kids clambering all over the place, or a zen-like quiet space for contemplation? Are you going to keep the furniture in the same place or move it around? Do you want a heavy, fixed set or foldaway flexibility?
Measuring the space it will occupy should be the first job. It's important people can get around, move chairs in and out, without being squeezed into a patio space or falling off a deck. You can always buy extra, fold-up chairs for more guests.
Weather is going to be the single biggest indicator. While lovely pale wood and big fabric cushions look great around a pool in the South of France, they may get destroyed in one season in Dublin.
Woods like teak or cedar are hard-wearing, but be prepared to oil and maintain them every year. Aluminium or plastic is cheaper and long lasting and is much easier to store in winter months - but it can be ugly unless dressed up with nice cushions or rugs.
An alternative to both is artificial rattan (Ikea's Kungsholmen range is €636 for sofa, two chairs and table), because it looks great, but is weather-resistant.
The other option is wrought iron - it's very pretty and traditional, but often comes with tile top which will wear quickly in the elements. Pure cast iron can be expensive, but cast aluminium is as good and will last forever. Wicklow-based Outdoorfurniture.ie's 'Capri Florence' round table, and eight chairs with cushions is down from €2,799 to €1,999.95. Argos has a lightweight metal six seater 'Pacific' patio set for €134.99 which can store easily.
Topping up the tan with a paperback is a lazy way to spend an afternoon, and sun-loungers are very inexpensive.
Home Store and More has a simple fold up option for €29.99, while Debenham's retro 1920s 'Palmira' rattan lounger with deep cushion is a luxurious €504 (down from €840). Ikea's 'Applaro' wooden slatted lounger is €89. For cuddling up for two, Grange.ie has a love-seat lounger in rattan with huge cushions for €399.
Hopefully you'll want to shade from the sun all summer long, but parasols can be pretty as well as functional. A basic umbrella type for a small patio table costs around €79 from Ikea, while Nisbets.ie has one in cream, red or blue from €85.99. For a fancier version, try Johnstown Garden Centre's oriental-inspired 'Shanghai' tilted parasol in green for €149.
Even on the balmiest day in Ireland it gets chilly quickly, and patio heaters are a great way of keeping the ambience going longer.
If you only have a small table, there are table top varieties with the gas cylinder underneath for €135.28 from Calor Gas (the cylinder is extra, but a small 6kg will do).
A free-standing one is around €299 from outdoor.ie while the impressive Athena flame gas heater is €595.