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    Planning a patio

    Summary: Advice for planning a patio, which patio furniture to use, materials and finishes, soft furnishings and tips for buying patio furniture.

    During the hot summer months the garden is a great place to unwind and relax. A vast range of stone material suitable for patio laying combined with an equally extensive selection of patio furniture and equipment has increased the potential of the patio considerably. Today gardens of practically any size can have an individually designed patio to enhance the alfresco living experience.


    By taking time to plan and design your patio, you can create an area where all the different features combine to produce a unique space that possesses character, comfort and charm. In effect, transforming a popular garden feature into an outside room.

    This article looks at what is available to anyone planning to build a garden patio. The article will cover all aspects relating to patios from design and materials to patio furniture, heating and lighting. The actual building of the patio is covered in the lets-do-diy.com project, laying a patio.

    Patio furniture

    This patio furniture guide will help you choose the right look for your garden, whether you want a functional space or a stylish setting for alfresco entertaining. Find out about the range of furniture materials to choose from and the type of maintenance required.

    Create the mood for your patio area with carefully chosen furnishings to suit your style and usage of the patio. To search for ideas and inspiration consult magazines and websites for different styles of furniture and possible arrangements. If you use the patio for alfresco entertaining, tables and chairs in classic wrought iron or contemporary wood or aluminium finishes will extend the elegance of the dining room into the garden. If you want a tranquil area for relaxing in the sun, choose comfortable deckchairs, sun loungers, swinging seats, hanging basket chairs, hammocks, and benches piled with cushions.

    The range of materials for patio furniture is always expanding, but the most popular types are aluminium, iron, wood, wicker, and resin (plastic). Fashionable "mixed media" furniture combines these materials, for example setting off warm woods with sleek metal frames. When choosing your furniture, it is sensible to consider the level of maintenance required for the material as well as the tone it will set. Cushioned seats are comfy but have to be kept dry so it may be better to opt for removable cushions on a wooden or metal seat.

    Bench and ornamental pots

    Materials and finishes

    Aluminium (including cast aluminium) is lightweight, durable and easily cleaned. It is popular with owners of contemporary or minimalist gardens and families with children looking for sturdy furniture (although swinging chairs should be avoided). Whilst aluminium can be used to great effect for a retro look, when combined with teak furniture it can also create an attractive mixed media look. As an alternative, stainless steel is becoming more widely used in furniture manufacture, but choose a brand with high-grade rust-resistance.

    Wrought iron furniture is a classic choice for an English garden, and can be found with ornate Victorian styling or a rustic country cottage look. Iron is quite high maintenance as it is prone to rust, and you may wish to avoid it if you live by the sea or have no storage space for furniture during the winter months.

    Wooden garden furniture retains its popularity and is available in traditional or modern designs. Teak is the most popular hardwood used although there are many others to choose from, including Oak, Cedar, Cypress, and cheaper woods like Acacia. Tropical woods are the most durable but many consumers have boycotted these because of the impact deforestation has on the environment. For environmentally friendly wooden furniture, look for wood with the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) stamp or ‘Wood for Good' logo. To protect the furniture, you will need to treat it with wood preserver and oil or sealant, or a waterproof paint.

    For a look reminiscent of the Far East consider furniture made of wicker, cane and rattan (woven palm). In the past the main disadvantages of garden furniture made from these materials were they can become brittle after prolonged exposure to direct sunlight and are prone to staining if left out in the rain. But to overcome these problems modern furniture made from these natural materials is treated with a weatherproof resin.

    Alternatively, garden furniture is now available constructed from hand woven synthetic resin fibres. These products are generally of a very high quality in terms of design, comfort and durability, and while having the authentic appearance of wicker they are weatherproof.

    Plastic garden furniture with its basic utilitarian design and garish colours has in recent years become less popular. However, it too has its benefits and should not be discounted too hastily.  First and foremost plastic garden furniture is considerably less expensive than furniture made from other materials; furthermore it is extremely lightweight and hardwearing with no maintenance required. The design issue has also been addressed, with some manufacturers now offering styles ranging from traditional to ultra modern.  And with conservation now such an important factor in all our lives, garden furniture made from recycled plastic is also available.

    Deck chair and bamboo lamp
    Contemporary patio table and chair
    White wrought iron table and chair

    Soft furnishings

    When it comes to patio cushions and mattresses for sunloungers, look out for materials with weather resistant properties. Some fabrics, such as Dacron, are water-resistant and repel mildew and staining. You will need to treat them annually to keep them waterproof but they will last longer than ordinary cushions and can be left outside. If the patio is near a pool, avoid cushions that will be degraded by chlorinated water. If the seating is to be out in the sun, bear in mind that dark colours will fade unless you choose a fade-resistant material. Cushions can be ordered to size to fit your furniture with ties or velcro straps for attaching to seats or as a single cushion with backrest and seat welded together.

    Tips for buying patio furniture

    • Research the options on the internet or in magazines to find materials and styles you like.
    • Look out for ex-display or end-of-line bargains. Scratches and minor damaged can be easily repaired or painted over.
    • Avoid flimsy materials or complicated self-assembly furniture.
    • Ask about delivery costs and warranties.
    • Check care instructions to see how much maintenance is required. You may need to weatherproof wood and metal.
    • Make sure that all metals are galvanised (or brass) to inhibit rust.
    • Allow at least 300mm of floor space around each item of furniture and 600mm for the path of traffic to avoid overcrowding.

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