The eclectic picnic - how to master outdoor living
Lighter moveable pieces the key to mastering outdoor living in Ireland
Outdoor living is a moveable feast. One minute you're pouring lemonade in the sunshine... then the wind changes. Clouds blow across the sun, but you pretend not to notice. The clouds release a few warning drops of rain. You ignore them. Next thing, you're scrambling for shelter, dragging the picnic basket behind you. An Irish summer is a beautiful thing, but there's nothing trustworthy about it.
They say that there's no such thing as bad weather - only unsuitable clothing. I reckon the same is true about outdoor living. Having the right equipment will help a lot. That's why I'm a big fan of bistro-style garden furniture. It's designed so you can pick it up and run.
"The Irish climate doesn't lend itself too well to outdoor living," says Hollie Brooks of Mia Fleur, an online boutique that specialises in mildly eccentric homeware. "The key to making your outdoor space work is to introduce smaller, lighter, more portable items. That way, you can easily bring them inside. It also means you can sun-chase and move your furniture to different spots in the garden according to the time of day."
There's a lot of guff written about creating an 'outdoor room', but Brooks has a simple and practical approach. "All you need are a few key accessories. An outdoor rug is definitely a must - it creates a focal point and helps to define the seating area within a space."
Outdoor rugs are pure genius. They create the sense of being in a room and it doesn't matter if they get wet. They're not terribly expensive either. Mia Fleur has a reversible woven acrylic rug in black and white Greek patterns for around €32, but you'll also find a good selection in Ikea from €20.
"An outdoor rug is also a bonus if you're not too keen on your patio, but don't want to have to re-do it - it's an affordable way to cover it up," Brooks suggests.
Using mirrors will help to make a small outdoor space seem larger. Mia Fleur has a large (105cm diameter) decorative garden mirror (€329), its surface segmented by a stylised floral frame, which combines well with their grey bistro set (€325). Bistro furniture was designed as outdoor seating for 19th century cafes and it still carries an aura of Parisian cool. Typically, a bistro set comprises a smallish round table and a pair of chairs, all of which are physically light and can fold away. The trouble is that it's not always as comfortable as it should be. When the Irish designer Carolyn Donnelly (below) was looking around for inspiration for her garden furniture collection for Dunnes, she found that many bistro sets were just too small for comfort.
"We designed a really smashing bistro set. The table and chairs are a decent size and we had it made in our colours."
The Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic bistro set is made in woven faux rattan and comes in either green or ivory, each with a striking diamond pattern in black.
"I do find that Irish people are looking for something more quirky for their outdoor spaces," she says.
Combine it, if you dare, with the Bali parasol (€195). This full-height sunshade, a fine piece of decorative madness, is made in India and hand painted in gold. "It's nearly sold out," says Donnelly. "People have been buying them for weddings."
She has also designed plenty of affordable fun stuff for outdoor living, much of it flamingo themed. It includes a flamingo salt shaker (€5); flamingo jug (€15); flamingo mug (€4); flamingo dip bowl (€12); flamingo plate (€12); and flamingo string lights (€10). "We went for a 1950s style - it's all very retro, in a semi-smart, nonchalant sort of way."
Donnelly has a big fan base, including enthusiasts who like to buy everything she designs. "There are a lot of people who are crazy into the range. They go all out with it." But over-the-top is only one of the options and it's perfectly possible to offer a home to one flamingo without inviting the whole flock.
"At home, I like to keep the table fairly minimal, with maybe one wow piece, like the flamingo serving dish. My own style isn't about everything matching - it's a collection of things that I love." Before you invest in multiple items for outdoor living, Donnelly suggests you first consider how far you will have to carry them.
"My living space is on the first floor, so everything that's going out to the garden has to be carried up and down stairs. You have to be practical at the end of the day."
The range includes a big roomy wire tray with deep sides and handles, and a wine glass that's so cheap it doesn't matter if you break it. "It's hard to find a wine glass that's not so gorgeous that you're afraid to use it. If you do smash one of these, you can replace it for a few euro."
The other theme in this year's range is cacti, from a giant faux cactus (€120) to cactus-print seat pads (€18). "We originate all our own prints," she says.
When the Carolyn Donnelly Eclectic range was launched five years ago, not all the prints were designed in-house. Now Dunnes employs a number of art college graduates from around the country. "A lot of these people are amazing with print," Donnelly says. "The range has become very design driven."
Another way of delineating an outdoor space is by using colour. "It allows you to highlight the best features of your garden," says Monica Alvarez, one of the judges on RTE's Super Garden and colour consultant for Cuprinol. "Think zonal, with bands, blocks or subtle stripes of colour on fences and walls. Then have fun picking up colour in your outdoor furniture, terracotta pots, and stone walls to unify the space."
She's done this to good effect in an outdoor cooking area by using neutral colours (Seagrass, Sage and Muted Clay) combined with bright Rich Berry to create a stencilled tile effect. "The secret ingredient is a small amount of decorative painting, which unlocks the potential of the palette in a stylish and practical way."
A litre tin of Cuprinol Garden Shades costs around €14 and can be used on terracotta, brick or stone, as well as wood. If you want to see how this works in practice, Cuprinol will be showcased in the Kaleidoscope of Colour Garden at Bloom In The Park 2017, which continues in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, until June 5.
See bloominthepark.com, cuprinol.ie, dunnesstores.com and miafleur.com.