Classic Garden Furniture
Article by Ryan Dowmann
For many people, items of garden furniture are those essential items that make spending time outdoors in the garden both comfortable and more enjoyable. Some items serve a more useful purpose such as seating areas or tables for dining, while others are largely design features like gazebos or arbours. In this review of classic garden furniture we’ll look at some of the mainstream designs that have found their place in gardens all over the world.
There is perhaps nothing more common in the garden furniture sector than the classic garden bench, the seating design that has been produced in numerous materials, but whose design has remained very consistent. For many people a classic garden bench is made from hardwood, either teak, mahogany or the more environmentally friendly iroko, but for cost purposes cheaper alternatives are available in softwoods like pine, but these are unlikely to be resilient enough, especially if left outdoors in climates like the UK. Alternative materials are now available such as eucalyptus, cedar, and acacia which aim to improve weather resistance while keeping costs down. In terms of design the bench comes in a standard form, normally with seating for 2 or 3 persons. The major option is whether to purchase your garden bench with or without arms, but otherwise styling features are mainly reserved for the back height, lat style and leg styling.
The very simple and sturdy designs are the type you find in public parks and gardens all over the country. They are built to strong simple designs, from the best of hard-wearing materials and aimed at sustaining frequent use. Some designs remain very simple and cheap to produce, including the styles that use cast iron end pieces joined by long planks of wood making up the sea and back. Besides being cheap to manufacture, these classic designs were also simple to maintain and repair, but the long lengths of wood required could become vulnerable if placed under excessive strain. A more ornate design is attributed to the architect and garden designer Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens was a famous 20th century for creating some of Surry’s most famous private residences and worked alongside Gertrude Jekyll on commissions which still stand up today as classic creations. From his early beginnings in garden design Lutyens moved on to all kinds of grander commissions including water gardens in India, university colleges at Oxford, Liverpool Cathedral and even contributed to design work for the city of Hull. Perhaps his smallest commission was a dolls house built to 1/12th scale and exhibited at Winsdor Castle. The Lutyens-designed garden bench features a high, more ornate back and roll style arms that make the bench appear almost sofa-like. Lutyens designed a similar piece of furniture and called it the Thakeham bench, although modern designs use the designer’s name itself. (In 1902 Lutyens designed the house Little Thakeham, at Thakeham in Sussex for Ernest M. Blackburn).
Garden tables are another item of outdoor furniture that come in many different styles and quality levels. From simple and sturdy bench and table combinations, as seen in thousands of pub gardens up and down the country, to more ornate designs in cast iron that draw on designs from the Victorian era. The classic picnic table design, which comes in rectangular and round formats, relies on its strength of design to enable construction from cheaper materials like pine and other softwoods like spruce. In fact table designs made from teak and other hardwoods can be unmanageably heavy. Modern materials have now brought garden table design to a level where stylish and functional items can be made very cost effectively from man-made materials, such as plastics and resins. These garden tables are both lightweight and hardy to inclement weather conditions. There are also useful in coastal areas where salty sea mists can be the undoing to cast irons designs, causing them to rust quickly.
Other items of classic garden furniture include the love seat, a combination of two seats with an attached centre table area. This is one of several classic seating designs which include individual garden chairs, swinging seats and wooden sunloungers, deck chairs and steamer chairs, a specific design made from teak where a classic outdoor armchair is easily converted into a lounger through the use of foot extension piece. Outdoor director chairs are also a popular classic design, particularly as they fold quickly for out-of-season storage.
Another item of garden furniture which is also derived from a classic design is the outdoor parasol. This folding design made from a hardwood frame and a canvas-type canopy is frequently erected by placing the centre pole through a specifically placed hole in a garden table top. There is also now an alternative design on the classic centre pole parasol which uses a cantilever design to support the canopy. This allows larger spreads and avoids the unsociable centre pole which restricts vision across the table. These cantilever parasols are often more expensive due to the heavier and sturdier base required.
About the Author
Ryan Dowmann is a garden specialist writing on home & garden subjects for Robert Dyas who offer a range of garden furniture and gardenware.
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