Everything You Need to Know About Garden Furniture
The History of Garden Furniture
In this country, it is fair to say that we get limited time to spend in our gardens. With the cold months and the seemingly endless downpours, we have to suffer, quality time in the garden does tend to come down to a couple of months a year. This endurance of the cold and rain makes us all hungrier for the time in our garden when the sun does shine, and by God, we Brits like to make the most of it, don’t we!
As soon as the sun comes out and the temperature rises above 10 degrees, you can smell BBQs cooking and kids playing in their gardens, and all seems right with the world once again. But we couldn’t do any of this without our precious garden furniture. Garden furniture brings comfort and style to our gardens, allowing us to sit peacefully and harmoniously and socialise with friends.
So where did our love affair with outdoor furniture start? As much as we love our garden furniture, I’m afraid it did not start in Britain. The dawn of garden furniture began in much warmer climates, where people spent much of the year outdoors. We have to go back to the Romans for the first evidence of garden furniture as we know it.
The Gardens of Pompeii
During excavations of Pompeii, stone benches and seats were found dating back to 43 AD. These furniture examples were found in Pompeii’s ancient gardens, which were an essential part of people’s lives throughout the Romain empire, as it is today throughout Italy and the Mediterranean.
Although these are the oldest known specimens of garden furniture, it is believed that the Egyptians and the Ancient Greeks predate these. Egyptian archaeologists have found furniture made from reeds and grasses, and whilst these would have been used for indoor furniture, they were undoubtedly also used outside.
Examples of Egyptian furniture include chairs, tables, chests, and baskets. The Ancient Greeks made much furniture out of wood as it was easy to style and fashion. But outdoor furniture, including benches and stools, was made from stone or metal. This trend is believed to have been copied by the Romans.
Medieval Garden Furniture
During medieval times, Britain was first introduced to garden furniture as we know it. Gardens and courtyards started to spring up in monasteries, churches, and castles, using the outdoor space to provide food and medicine.
As gardens developed and became more popular, seats made of turf became a common sight, providing people with a base to sit and enjoy the outdoor space. Turf benches came in all shapes and sizes, sometimes running the entire perimeter of the garden.
They were usually constructed with a frame of wood, brick, stone, or wattle, which was then filled with soil and turf laid on top. While turf benches may seem quite rudimentary, they are still trendy today and are a great way of “being at one with nature” and comfortable at the same time.
The Birth of Garden Furniture As We Know It
As with many of the advancements that we have come to know and love, the Victorians pulled garden furniture by the scruff of its neck into the modern era. The 1800s saw an explosion in the development of public parks, gardens, seaside resorts, and piers, inevitably leading to many people needing seats.
This coincided with the development of cast-iron large-scale production, and the rest, as they say, is history! The first park bench was born, becoming the de facto item in every park and garden across the country. The garden bench industry was born and kept on growing as new and unique styles were introduced.
Modern Garden Furniture
After World War II, gardens and outdoor spaces became popular again, with people meeting, eating, and congregating outside. Although quite unsightly, plastic garden furniture became the default item in almost every British garden due to its low cost and low maintenance. In the following decades leading up to the 21st century, we have seen many developments in garden furniture, with cast iron, aluminium, steel, and weave all taking pride of place in the world of garden furniture manufacturing.
Today, there are so many different styles and designs of garden furniture to choose from. There is something available to suit every taste. As we spend more time outside, creating a comfortable and stylish outdoor space has become paramount, so we can socialise, relax, and spend quality time with our friends and family.
Who knows what developments in garden furniture the next 50 years will bring us? We cannot wait to find out!
The Types of Garden Furniture
We are fortunate to live in the 21st Century. There are so many garden furniture options available that we are spoilt for choice. To simplify your job, we have included below a short description of the different types of outdoor furniture available and how they benefit you.
Chairs are a requisite for any garden. You could sit on the grass, but Britain is not known for its dry weather, and nobody likes a wet patch on their trousers! If you want to sit out in your garden and enjoy the outdoors, a chair or two is your first port of call.
There are loads of different types of chairs available, ranging from foldaway plastic garden chairs to swinging cocoon chairs and everything in between. Your budget and the size of your garden will dictate what is the best option for you, but see below for an idea of what is available:
- Stacking chairs
- Folding chairs
- Lounge chairs
- Sofa sets
- Swing seats
- Cocoon chairs
The humble garden chair now comes with so many different styles and options that there is something to suit all gardens and all tastes.
There’s nothing quite like eating and drinking outside, enjoying the balmy summer evenings with your friends and family. But unless you fancy sitting on the floor or eating standing up, you’ll need an outdoor dining set. Loads of different dining sets are available to suit all gardens and sizes, and tastes.
You may opt for a round dining table if you’re a traditionalist. Perhaps wrought iron or cast aluminium frame for an authentic and traditional Victorian feel. At one with nature? Maybe a wooden dining chair set would be for you, made from natural materials, enhancing the organic garden style.
If you have more modern tastes, you can go with the modular dining sets now available, which offer comfort, style, and practicality for your outdoor space.
No matter your garden style and tastes, there is a dining set out there just waiting to become a centrepiece for your outdoor space.
Bistro sets are perfect for smaller gardens, patios or balconies and offer much the same as a dining set, albeit slightly more petit. There’s something stylish and romantic about a bistro set, conjuring up images of warm summer evenings, relaxing on a balcony, or enjoying a glass of wine at a bistro in a warm country.
There are some stylish sets available too. Whether you are looking for a traditional European style made from steel or cast iron, a more natural wooden set, or a modern rattan set made for comfort and style, there are styles to suit all tastes.
Benches, as we know them, first became commonplace in Britain during the Victorian times. In the 1800s, public parks and seaside resorts were developed throughout the UK, which led to the mass installation of public benches – well, we all need somewhere to sit, right?
There is, without a doubt, a cultural nostalgia associated with garden benches. Memories of visiting parks as a child, or Victorian benches in movies like Mary Poppins or Peter Pan, all help to convey that feeling of nostalgia.
Culturally, benches have marked their place in British minds and hearts. Over the years, they have remained an important part of our heritage. It is now widespread to see benches in gardens up and down the country.
So, which is the right bench for your garden? It depends on the style of your garden, and also your taste. Many different styles of benches are available, ranging from traditional wooden benches, aluminium benches and even weave benches.
Looking for something a little bit different? How about a planter bench? Providing you with comfort and somewhere to sit, and an area to get your green fingers busy too!
Gazebos and Pergolas
Gazebos and pergolas are a fantastic addition to any garden, providing shelter and shade from the weather, whether rain or sunshine. They also provide a stylish focal point for your garden and are great for several different purposes, including:
- Relaxing space for some ‘me time’
- Dining and socialising
- Shade and privacy for your hot tub
- Somewhere for the kids to play
- Sports days
Gazebos and pergolas come in all different styles – Contemporary wooden gazebos, Victorian pavilions, and popup gazebos for days out with the family – there is a style to suit everyone. Another great reason to get a gazebo or a pergola is that they are easy to maintain. Made for the outdoors, they come ready-treated and are made to last in all weather conditions.
So, start looking for your perfect gazebo or pergola and organise dinner parties and social gatherings with your friends and family… Or start planning that much-needed relaxing ‘me time’ you’ve been waiting for. You won’t regret it!
Garden Furniture Materials
Garden furniture can be made from a variety of materials. Each garden furniture material comes with certain advantages and disadvantages. They all have in common that they are durable, weather resistant and easy to maintain, although this varies to some degree with each material. We have included below the different materials used to make garden furniture and their benefits and drawbacks.
Wrought iron was prevalent during the Victorian era due to increased productivity within the iron industry. It was used to make tables, chairs, and benches and conveys the classical Victorian style we have all come to love. It is solid and durable but very heavy and difficult to move. It is also prone to rust and requires painting when cracks appear.
Cast Aluminium provides a similar look to wrought iron and is a good alternative, offering a similar style at a lower price. It is much more common these days to have garden furniture made from cast aluminium than wrought iron, the most popular material used for metal garden furniture.
There are some excellent benefits too. It is much lighter than wrought iron, so it can be placed on your lawn without causing damage. It is rust-resistant and requires very little maintenance.
Stainless steel has become increasingly popular in garden furniture production but is less common than wrought iron or cast aluminium. Its popularity tends towards contemporary garden furniture due to its bright and shiny appearance. It is also highly durable, being completely rust and mould resistant.
Wood is one of the most traditional materials used for garden furniture, with its use as a building material and furniture dating back to 3000 BC. And it’s obvious why hardwood furniture is so popular. It’s strong, stylish, easy to manipulate and naturally beautiful. Wooden furniture looks natural outside with its organic style and patterns and will add style to any garden or outside space.
A word of warning, though, wood requires quite a bit of maintenance to keep it as good as new. The British weather can age wooden furniture reasonably quickly. It needs sanding and varnishing once a year to keep it in shape. On the plus side, with the flexibility to sand, paint, and varnish, you can quickly turn old, tired-looking furniture into something stylish, unique, and new.
Weave or rattan garden furniture has recently hit the scene and is now one of the most popular materials available. But did you know it’s been around for a long time and is one of the oldest furniture-making forms? The Ancient Egyptians are the earliest civilisation known to have created weaved furniture, with examples even found buried in Pharoah’s tombs.
The Romans then took the baton and integrated woven furniture into their culture. In the 17th and 18th centuries, wicker furniture was being used in Northern Europe and Asia, but it wasn’t until the Victorian era that it made its way to the shores of Britain.
Rattan garden furniture comes with several benefits which have helped to make it so popular, including:
- It looks stylish
- Durable and weatherproof
- It’s comfortable
- It’s lightweight and easy to move
Whichever material you choose, make sure it fits your style and personality. Each type of material has pros and cons and will be perfect for different situations. Get hunting and good luck!
- Wooden Garden Furniture
- Weave Garden Furniture
- Metal Garden Furniture
- Aluminium Garden Furniture
- Garden Furniture for Autumn and Winter
Garden Furniture Brands
There is some fantastic garden furniture on the market today, thanks to some equally impressive companies who consistently push the boundaries and excite us furniture lovers. So, who are the leading garden furniture brands?
AFK Garden is a company based in Lincolnshire that specialises in designing and manufacturing high-quality wooden garden furniture. Their range includes arbours, swing seats, planters, bridges, and log stores.
Anchor Fast has been around for over 25 years and designs and manufactures a range of wooden garden furniture for consumers and the education and leisure markets. This includes schools and universities, pubs, and parks.
Garden Furniture Global
For 75 years, Garden Furniture Global has been designing and manufacturing luxury garden furniture. They specialise in aluminium and resin weave furniture, including seats, tables, and sofa sets, and they also produce parasols, gazebos, and accessories.
Glencrest was formed in 1981 as a cushion manufacturer. They now design and manufacture a range of garden furniture, including bistro and dining sets, sofa sets, parasols, and cushions. They are well-known for their luxury dining sets, including the Sandringham, Seville, Balmoral, and Buckingham sets.
Innovators International is a world-renowned brand which was incorporated in 1988. Since then, they have been designing and manufacturing high-quality garden furniture, including rattan, teak, oak, iron, and resin. Their product range includes dining sets, loungers, benches, sofa sets, bistro sets, gazebos, parasols, and more.
Kaemingk offers a range of beautiful, original, and creative items for your home –inside and out. Their outdoor living collection ranges from sofas and garden benches to cushions, fountains, and lighting. Kaemingk’s range of products is well worth a look if you’re looking for something stylish that’s a little bit different.
Masters Outdoor Leisure
Masters Outdoor Leisure is a company based in Cradley Heath in the West Midlands, specialising in designing and manufacturing stylish gazebos for all occasions. They also provide gazebo accessories, including casual chairs, swing hammocks and cushions.
Mercer Agencies is based in Northern Ireland and has been selling a range of products for over 26 years, including garden furniture, Christmas accessories, LED pull lights and click-clack tiles. Their garden furniture includes the popular and stylish Amalfi range.
Supremo Leisure is a popular and stylish brand that provides a range of weave, aluminium and fabric garden furniture items for formal dining or relaxing with the family. Their range includes dining sets, patio furniture, sofa sets, duo sets, parasols, and more.
Zest 4 Leisure
Zest 4 Leisure was founded in 2005 with the aim of bringing high-quality timber products to retailers and garden centres. Their products look fantastic and can add style to any outdoor space. They provide a range of timber products, including tables, chairs, benches, companion seats, arbours, pergolas, fences, storage boxes and climbing support for plants. If you like wood, visit these guys!
Garden Furniture Maintenance
Keeping your garden furniture looking great is a challenging task. Properly caring for your outdoor furniture is essential if you want it to get years of enjoyment out of it. Nobody wants to invest in stylish and comfortable garden furniture only to pay to replace it after a few years. So, here are some tips on keeping your furniture looking great and working as it should.
Cast Iron Garden Furniture Maintenance
Cast iron is a beautiful material that provides a traditional, authentic Victorian style for your outdoor space. The compromise you face when purchasing this type of furniture is that it requires a lot of maintenance to keep it looking great.
The biggest problem with cast iron is that it is prone to rust, which means regular cleaning and touching up with specialised metal paint when required. The need to do this can be minimised by keeping the furniture covered with waterproof coverings during the wetter and colder months. It also needs cleaning every 6 – 12 months to remove dirt, dust, mould and algae which will prolong the life of the paint.
Aluminium Garden Furniture Maintenance
Unlike cast iron, aluminium garden furniture is rust-proof, making it easier to maintain. It only requires a wipe-down with soapy water once a year to clean off the dirt. It is much lighter than cast iron, so it is much easier to move into your shed or outhouse during winter.
When it is outside, we recommend covering it with a waterproof cover to prolong its life. As with all painted furniture, the paint can get chipped or cracked. If this happens, clean the area, and touch it up with some metal paint.
Stainless Steel Garden Furniture Maintenance
Stainless steel garden furniture is becoming increasingly popular, and with good reason – it requires very little maintenance to keep it looking great. Stainless steel is rust- and mould-resistant and will not be damaged by direct sunlight.
To keep it looking great all year round, wipe it with water and soap every few weeks and polish it with a dry cloth to keep it nice and shiny. Again, it’s always best to keep it covered when it’s not being used, so invest in a decent waterproof cover or put it away in your shed or outhouse.
Wooden Garden Furniture Maintenance
It’s tough to beat wooden garden furniture in terms of style. It has an authentic, natural and organic look which looks great in any garden and fits seamlessly with the outdoor world. The compromise is that looking after it requires more work than furniture made from other materials.
Nothing feels the weather quite like wood, so it is essential to keep on top of the cleaning and varnishing to keep it in the best possible shape. Use natural oils where possible to preserve the wood.
As garden furniture specialists, we recommend monthly cleaning with soap and water to keep the dreaded mould and mildew at bay and six monthly (or yearly at a push) varnishing to keep it looking fresh. The great thing about wooden furniture, which sets it apart from all other furniture materials, is that no matter how old or damaged it may be, you can always sand, varnish, paint and restore it to its former glory.