Weeks of cold and grey London weather are over.
You glimpse the first daffodil. There’s a waft of Summer in the air.
Like a herd of buffalo sensing fresh grass, the prospect of outdoor dining leads to a frenzy of excitement.
With snorting and hoof scraping there’s a stampede for BBQs and parasols.
The dust settles, the migration’s over.
And all that’s left are white plastic stacking chairs from B+Q 😱
But you’re not one of the herd.
So what’s the alternative?
They never come up in Google search, but there’s a world of brands out there, creating stunning outdoor furniture.
Virgin pastures of beautifully designed, made to order dining tables and chairs.
So to make sure you get outdoor furniture that’s more than just a seat and a place to eat.
Here’s how to choose your furniture, plus the best brands to have on your radar.
For years, outdoor furniture’s been about practicality.
Durable, weatherproof . . . but also ugly.
I’m all for the Bauhaus approach of function before form, but when it comes to outdoor tables and chairs this has gone too far.
Thankfully, there are brands who’ve brought a good dose of style to the equation. Tables and chairs that are super comfortable and beautifully designed.
Leading the outdoor revolution is Belgian brand Manutti. Each design comes from one of four mood collections - tender earth, tropical concrete, salty dunes, or crisp water.
Their Torsa table has a contemporary urban feel. The sculpted teak legs, support a black ceramic top. Inspired by the tropical concrete mood it seats 8, ideal for a relaxed dinner with friends.
2020 was the year we discovered how important our homes were.
You worked from home, and with restaurants closed you also dined at home. Any opportunity to eat outside was a refreshing change.
So whatever happens this year, max your outdoor dining experience and make it fabulous.
The first question to ask yourself when choosing your table and chairs is
What’s your dining style?
This may sound obvious - you sit and eat! But if you take a moment to think, it’s more nuanced.
Do you prefer small and intimate, or do you love large entertaining? Is it very relaxed with friends, or do you need to entertain colleagues in a slightly more formal way? Do you sit outside with a Nespresso first thing, scanning the headlines? Or maybe a mix of all of these.
Do you want to work outside?
Can you sit with just your laptop, or do you need to spread out lots of paperwork? You don’t want to clear everything away for lunch, so have space to work and eat.
And if you’re working at the table pick some chairs with padding. Yes, you can get beautifully upholstered chairs that are completely weatherproof!
If your outdoor living area is big enough you’ll also want sofas and armchairs. Consider this when planning your outdoor dining.
Get clear on how you use your outside space. This’ll determine the size, shape and style of furniture you buy.
You want to optimise your space without cramming too much in. Particularly if storage is tricky. First consider your table shape. Here are the pros and cons of each.
Circular tables are more intimate, everyone’s seen, it’s easier to talk, but they’re a less efficient use of space.
Rectangular tables seat more but the people at the ends can feel left out.
Square tables are a happy medium but only seat four.
Extendable tables are a great solution turning circle into oval, and square into rectangle. But only some designs can be extended.
Barcelona based Kettal are world leaders in outdoor furniture. Every piece is hand made and finished in Spain, faithful to their philosophy of respect for the environment. Teak from sustainably managed plantations and recyclable eco-paints. To drive innovation they organise concept creation groups with young designers from different cultures and disciplines.
When you’ve picked your table shape, there are more ways to optimise your space.
For example, if you’ve a London courtyard garden, double up. Just buy one set of chairs that you can use indoor and out. I call this fluid living.
And if storage space is tight, use chairs that stack - yes there are beautiful ones!
Solid armchair from Manutti is ideal for doubling up. It’s inviting sensual shape moulds to your body. A graceful wooden frame combining strength and comfort. The design works indoors or out, and it’s stackable.
Always think of your outside space as a continuation of your inside. There should be a seamless flow between the two. A great way to achieve this is by using the same materials. Here’s the lowdown of the key ones with inspiration for each.
Teak’s traditionally used for outdoor furniture. With a high natural oil content, it’s hard wearing, resistant to rot and almost impervious to sun, rain, frost or snow. It naturally oxidises over time to a beautiful soft silver-grey. All the best companies use teak from sustainable plantations so you’re not contributing to deforestation.
Designed by Jasper Morrison, the Riva range is a modern take on the traditional plank design with subtle rounded detailing. I love the invisible feet adjusters. No wobbles, no spilt Pimms! For extra comfort, optional squishy cushions come in 34 muted colours.
Gloster specialise in teak. Based near the Perhutami plantations of East Java, all their furniture is hand made by skilled Indonesian craftsmen.
Their Carver table’s a beautiful example of Danish design meets artisanal woodworking. The slatted teak top has a buffed finish and sits on a sculpted powder coated frame. Sizes range from an 89cm square to a 2.8m rectangle. Styled here with their Archi dining chair, it’s back rest wrapped in outdoor rope.
Weatherproofed by surface treatments or painting, metal can be formed into interesting shapes. The best options are aluminium, used for it’s lightness, and steel for it’s strength.
Prato is my top pick of metal framed tables. U-shaped legs are forged from solid iron then sanded and anti-oxidised. I love how the minimal design connects to the table top.
Shown here in teak and partnered with their rope backed Duo chair, it comes in ceramic and glass options. Both are designed for indoor and out. A great choice to double up for your minimal kitchen.
In contrast to the angles of Prato are the sinuous arcs of Curve chair. With contoured teak seat and winged back rest that hugs you, it’s a comfortable choice.
Think of ceramic as artificial stone. Made by super heating sand, clay and natural stone it’s harder than granite. Practically indestructible. So no need for heat pads when you bring the Le Creuset to the table.
An inventive use of ceramic is Split table. Two large lozenges perch on Y-shaped legs. Dividing the table top adds lightness to the design. Seen here in pumice it also comes in black nero and seats 10. Perfect for a poolside party.
Cane from the Rattan vine has been used to make furniture for centuries. With a nod to this tradition, Patricia Urquiola designed the Vimini chair for Kettal.
Vimini means wicker in Italian, but although the chair has a nostalgic quality it’s made of synthetic fibre that’s durable and easy to clean.
Beautifully complimenting the woven design is Mesh table. It’s cylindrical base has perforations like contemporary architectural grills that filter light. An interesting design detail.
Another modern interpretation of cane is Maia dining armchair. It has a light, open structure created by hand braiding eco-friendly synthetic fibre. With 30 frame colours and 35 seat fabrics there’s almost limitless options.
Taking the cane idea a stage further, designers are creating chairs with cord. This gives flexible support, ultra comfort, and allows rainwater to pass straight through.
Nodi armchair from Tribù has interlaced, PVC hemp rope, wound round a geometric metal frame. The chair looks light and airy, and the subtly angled armrests are a nod to modernism.
And finally, here’s a chair that combines all these materials and still looks minimal. Inspired by the elegance of America’s Cup racing yachts - The Dean armchair from Dedon.
Their motto is 'only the best - and then some' and it shows. Recyclable fibre blends with fabric and envelopes the aluminium frame. And with teak armrest inlays it’s sophisticated, refined and timeless.
Every dining experience, extending late into the Summer evening needs lighting. So here’s my top pick for a minimal light. Overhang Half Dome from Kettal.
Created by Naoto Fukasawa who specialises in simplicity and minimalism, it’s the epitome of modern Japanese design. It’s operated via a hidden sensor by passing your hand under the dome.
And with your outdoor furniture in the bag, discover how to create the perfect ambience, with this minimal tableware.
Outdoor dining’s come a long way.
From wobbly wooden tables and plastic stacking chairs.
To elegant design, innovative materials, versatility and comfort.
Your key considerations when choosing your furniture are - dining style, table shape, using space and coordinating materials.
So look further than the obvious and go exclusive.
Select from the well designed and made to order.
Elevate your outdoor dining this Summer and avoid the stampede!