Lewis also suggests using garden furniture to divide your outside space and create different areas, as you would inside – for example, separate spaces for drinks, dining and stretching out for a nap.
“A corner sofa can be a handy piece for providing lots of seats, and can also act as an effective room divider, looking very chic if you plan it into your space properly,” he says. He recommends the luxury British brand Coco Wolfwhich sells upholstered furniture covered in highly technical materials, many sourced via the marine industry, which can withstand being left outside all year round.
An increasing number of designer brands have released outdoor collections over the past year or so, catering to customer demands for stylish garden furniture, and these have inspired a more comfortable, decorative look at the more accessible end of the price scale too, with brands such as Made.com and Sofa.com releasing designs for garden furniture that look much like pieces you might have in your living room (these are unlikely to be as durable as the designer versions, however, so you’ll need space in the shed to store seat cushions on rainy days and over winter).
The current trend for rattan furniture is one that similarly translates well outdoors, where lightweight, moveable furniture is particularly useful: for a modern take, look for colored rattan, such as the vintage-style chairs and sofas by Birdie Fortescuewhich come in pretty muted shades of pink, blue and green.
Alternatively, for a weekend DIY project, find some second-hand rattan chairs and spray-paint them yourself using an outdoor-appropriate paint such as Rustoleum. Rattan daybeds are currently having a moment – for the ultimate in Riviera chic, interior designer Flora Soames has collaborated with the Houghton Collection on a vintage style wicker lounger with a cushion in her vibrant striped fabric.
Occasional tables are an important consideration in the garden too, according to Lewis: “I’m an outdoor-table nut,” he says. “I like to always have a few of these in my garden so that there’s somewhere to put drinks, set up a space for tea, or arrange a set of potted plants to form an elegant backdrop.”
His advice is to think beyond classic teak and look for vintage marble, zinc or slate-topped tables that add a different texture and character, while also being practical and durable.
Paul Middlemiss, a former buying director at The Conran Shop who has since established Merchant & Found, the UK’s leading vintage furniture and lighting store, says that vintage pieces are often more durable than their modern counterparts, and can improve with age and patina. He recommends the classic French café chair designed in 1934 by Tolix, which comes in a variety of colors and “never goes out of fashion”. “It looks brilliant whether new or vintage,” he adds, “and can be left outside all year, or brought inside over winter to sit around the kitchen table.”
Other vintage pieces he likes for the garden are chairs by the defunct brand Multipl’s – “an iconic part of industrial French history and a competitor to Tolix that did not survive, making it even more collectible and rare” – and the 1950s metal Toledo chair, which was used as a marketing tool and thus often comes stamped with names of French breweries, giving it some extra vintage character.
Outdoor textiles have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and are useful for bringing color and comfort to a garden, especially one with metal or wooden furniture. Even a small, shady courtyard looks instantly more inviting with the addition of blankets, throws and outdoor cushions – which previously tended to feature lurid primary palettes and plasticky fabrics but these days come in soft fabrics and all sorts of colors and patterns.
Similarly, outdoor rugs (which took off as a trend last spring after a particularly tasteful one was spotted beneath the feet of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their interview with Oprah Winfrey) have become increasingly widely available, in a variety of styles and colors . They also make a good tool for softening up your outside space and zoning dining or sitting areas – try Kukoon Rugs and Weaver Green.
To finish off a garden look, Middlemiss suggests picking up vintage outdoor accessories to display, in much the same way as you might arrange ornaments in the home: “Accessories such as plant stands, watering cans, cloches and storage containers look brilliant dotted about the garden and add a bit of personality and depth to a scheme, particularly when interspersed with new outdoor furniture. “
The return of the swing seat
Swinging sofas conjure up childhood memories of long summer days when there was little more to do than leaf through a book, while gently rocking. It’s a nostalgic image, which still seems an extremely satisfactory way to spend a sunny afternoon. Could a swinging sofa be the garden must-have we never knew we needed?
ODD (oddlimited.com) has been making its Old Rocker swing seats in very limited runs for nearly 20 years and counts actors and designers (including Helena Bonham Carter and Pearl Lowe) among its clients.