Alfresco furniture increasingly reflects the components of a standard living room. Check out our guide to some of the best options on offer.
How do you decorate your outdoor living area? Pretty much the same as your indoor one. Only without the roof.
Ten years ago, the notion of an outdoor living area seemed a bit up-itself. Now, it’s mainstream. The standard respectable patio-set-plus-umbrella has given way to ensembles of outdoor furniture that mimic, almost exactly, the components of a standard living room. Including the sofa.
“It’s changed super-dramatically,” says Mary Ryder of Curated, an interior design service that is also a shop. She credits three factors. One was the Covid-19 pandemic. By forcing people to socialise outdoors, it showed us that it could be done.
The second is that we’re having longer, hotter summers (this isn’t the time or the place to dwell on the wider implications of that). And the third is fabric technology.
Until very recently, the idea of upholstered outdoor furniture in an Irish climate seemed laughable. “I used to go to trade fairs across Europe where they’d show me outdoor sofas. The salespeople would swear blind that they could be left outdoors. Then I’d tell them I was from Ireland and you’d get that long pause followed by swift backtracking,” Ryder says.
“If you had cushions for outdoor seating you’d grab them and scuttle at the first drop of rain. Now we have techno fabrics that are water resistant, stain resistant and microbe resistant, and all the cushions are made of quick-dry foam. You absolutely can leave them outdoors, although we’d always recommend that you use protective covers against dirt and insects if you’re leaving them for any length of time.”
Then, outdoor fabric was relatively niche and supplied only by specialist manufacturers. Now, most of the mainstream fabric companies have at least one outdoor range. “Every sales rep that comes in the door is thrusting books of outdoor fabrics at us,” Ryder says. This level of weather resistance is consistent across the price points, from high-end to mid-range. Where you have to be a bit more careful is with cheaper items, often found online.
They look like outdoor furniture but check the small print for phrases like “requires shelter”. The piece in question was probably designed for a more forgiving climate. You may be replacing it sooner than you planned.
The design principles for planning an outdoor living area are the same as for an indoor one. First assess the available space. Then assess your priorities. How do you like to entertain? If dinner parties are important to you, then prioritise the dining table.
Ryder says many of her customers are investing in large outdoor dining tables with ceramic tops. These can be up to three metres long and prices from Curated start around €1,800. “They’re just as beautiful inside the house as outside but they’re massively heavy. They absolutely have to stay in situ.”
Such tables are usually purchased with a suite of comfortable dining chairs, the kind you can happily spend the evening in. The most popular have removable cushions and corded back and arms on an aluminium frame (from €290 each).
“When people spend a lot of money on a dining set, they tend to use it for a larger part of the year,” Ryder says. A wall mounted space heater, or the kind so frequently found outside pubs, will extend the outdoor dining season considerably.
While the three-piece-suite is something of a rarity indoors, outdoor furniture is often sold in bundles; a sofa, two armchairs and a coffee table. Many have aspects of multi-functionality.
The Stafford 3 seater lounge set (€1,799 from Michael Murphy), for example, has an ice bucket set into the centre of the table top. The Belvedere set (€2,599) includes four armchairs and a table that also contains a fire pit. Ice or fire, take your pick.
Both are made of faux rattan, stylistically inoffensive in the Irish patio furniture tradition. The Italian brand Nardi, available in Ireland from Pieces, offer a wider colour range and include the Komodo sofa (€859 for a two seater) and the Net range of chairs (€119) and benches (€209) in fibreglass mesh.
Should you want a parasol without being tied to one that’s integrated within a patio set, Meadows and Byrne stock a three-metre parasol (currently €598) that’s suspended from a base that can be positioned at the side of a table.
Even if the basic furniture is the plainest, outdoor dining offers an opportunity to use colour in a gutsier and more vibrant way. There are two new designs from Oriana B., both made in Italy and reminiscent of the Mediterranean.
An 18-piece set in ceramic costs €125 and comes in a Greek-inspired blue-and-white pattern and a mandala print in primary colours. The latter has the look of Italian encaustic tiles. Serving platters in both ranges cost €45.
They also have a range of similarly cheerful tableware in melamine with pieces sold separately (€13 for a bowl; €15 for a dinner plate). The advantage of melamine is that it’s light and shatterproof; it will survive a round in the dishwasher but not the microwave. Microwaves are death to melamine.
Portable lighting, which charges from a USB connection, is also becoming ubiquitous. Ikea’s Vappeby speaker lamp (€60) combines music with light but one of the most attractive outdoor lights is still the Bolleke (€89 from Fatboy), a 20cm orb on a hanging loop.
The larger Thierry le Swinger (€249) is a drum light that works on similar principles and boasts 42 hours without charging depending on the brightness setting. It comes with a stand, which is optional. Each of these is sufficiently waterproof to leave out in a bit of rain, but not in a thunderstorm.
Outdoor rugs — another object that previously seemed ridiculous — can similarly be left out on a patio or balcony for at least the weekend.
The most thematically appropriate – although by no means the cheapest – is the Moon outdoor carpet from Zuiver, a circular rug woven to look like the face of the moon.
A two-metre diameter rug costs €699 from Woo Design. Zuiver also make a rectangular outdoor rug (170 x 240 cm) that mimics the print of a faded Persian carpet. It’s called the Coventry and comes in several monochrome colourways (€469 from Woo Design).
Given the increasing issue of lead times, properly organised people will have purchased their outdoor furniture months ago, leaving the rest of us scrambling to get organised. It’s not necessarily a bad time to shop, as many outlets offer bargains in July.
See curated.ie, pieces.ie, fatboy.com, orianab.com, meadowsandbyrne.com, michaelmurphy.ie