Benchmark outdoor furniture for summers in the garden

Jerome Powell

If you have a question for Luke about design and stylish living, email him at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram @lukeedwardhall

It’s that time of year where thoughts turn to outdoor furniture (sharpened even more by Covid restrictions). Could you give some pointers on setting up glorious outdoor spaces, including stylish alternatives to the ubiquitous boxy all-weather wicker?

With all the uncertainty surrounding holidays abroad (remember those?) this summer, most of us will be spending more time in our gardens than summers previous.

We’ve been consoling ourselves: yes, the thought of a spritz and a nut in a square in Ravello, the sound of church bells tolling and the scent of bougainvillea heavy in the air is a delicious one. Lemony pasta and granita and passeggiatas!

But . . . whatever. If we can’t get to Italy we’ll still have our hollyhocks and foxgloves, the cows and the bumblebees and maybe even some actual heat. There is an ice-cream maker under the stairs, and I’ll bulk buy the Campari.

Adico’s 403 bistro chair, designed in the 1950s, available via The Conran Shop
Adico’s 403 bistro chair, designed in the 1950s, available via The Conran Shop

The key to getting the most out of our time at home this summer will be good planning. I recently ordered a yellow-and-white striped awning from Period Tents that will be ready in time for June. It has a scalloped edge and more than a hint of Camelot about it, which is just fine by me. My plan is to put it in the middle of the lawn at the back of our cottage, which we let grow tall and wild.

To go beneath, I’ll source a simple wooden trestle table, and folding bistro chairs will do nicely. (I have been slowly adding to our collection of old green-painted ones; for similar versions try reclamation dealers such as Reclaimed World and Peppermill Interiors.) I’m envisioning long summer lunches followed by snoozes in the long grass.

Perhaps I will go full Renaissance fayre and commit to my idea of adding a small pavilion-type tent to our front garden. Think Napoleon’s campaign tent, but with olives and cocktail stirrers.

Oka’s all-weather rattan Sydra side table
Oka’s all-weather rattan Sydra side table

Earlier this year I acquired a set of four white-painted faux bamboo chairs made by Angraves, which I also cannot wait to put to use. (In 2011, after eight years of working with Angraves, the last rattan workshop in England, Lulu Lytle of Soane Britain saved the business from going into administration.) I’ve seen a lot of Chippendale-style rattan chairs but these ones have a very pleasing Gothic shape, which I hadn’t come across before.

They were a pretty good steal and should look wonderful pulled into our vegetable patch, the broad beans as a backdrop and a little table in between for a jug of Negroni. I suggest searching eBay and The Saleroom for similar examples — there are some excellent bargains to be had.

What else? I like Portuguese brand Adico’s 403 bistro chair, designed in the 1950s. Available via The Conran Shop, it is made from wood and painted metal, and comes in springy hues including bright yellow and sage green.

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I like, too, Oka’s Viticcio chairs and bench, made from twisted metal, which gives them the fantastical appearance of being covered in vines, while its practical all-weather rattan Sydra side table would work well as a lounger-side receptacle for books and sunglasses.

I would advise against the ubiquitous synthetic rattan-effect furniture look — those L-shaped sofas and club chairs that are always so very blocky and inelegant and usually ash grey in colour, with matching sad cushions. It’s a cold, hard look that to me always seems so at odds with what gardens should be about (in my mind, anyway): a natural, free, bucolic exquisiteness.

Jennifer Newman’s Linear metal dining table and bench
Jennifer Newman’s Linear metal dining table and bench

However, if you’re looking for outdoor furniture with clean, contemporary lines, look to Jennifer Newman Studio. Its Linear and Angle range of tables and benches are made from powder-coated welded aluminium. I love the simplicity and boldness of these pieces and the fact that they can be painted any RAL colour. The sharpness of these designs would provide a very satisfying contrast with lush green planting.

If I can bear removing them from my studio, I am very much looking forward to using in the garden the chairs I acquired last autumn from Now on the Ocean, a company founded by Najim and Othman, who make furniture in Morocco inspired by rustic English 18th-century designs.

My chairs were made from strawberry wood and painted glossy telephone-box red. They look pleasingly imperfect and irregular, like strands of coral woven together to make a throne for some ancient sea god.

Raj Tent Club’s Tea Tent
Raj Tent Club’s Tea Tent

Last, look to Raj Tent Club. I love its green-painted cane bentwood table and chairs set, and Palm Springs metal chair, which, with a good cushion, would transport one immediately to a Slim Aarons stage set. The company also sells vintage items (I have my eye on a Regency diaphragm chair, originally from the orangery at Shardeloes House, Buckinghamshire).

Plus — the clue is in the name — it makes a variety of charming tents. Its Tea Tent would be just perfect for my outdoor bar. We’ll call it Merlino’s after our whippet Merlin. (I must admit I’ve already designed the coasters.) If we can’t get to Amalfi, it’ll have to come to us.

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