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Which Outdoor Seating is Best for Your Space?

Let these outdoor seating ideas tempt you to spend more time enjoying your garden, patio or balcony

Houzz UK contributor and award-winning landscape and garden designer. Claudia de… More

However big or small your outside space is and whatever your taste and budget, there is an alfresco seating option perfect for you. But with so much choice, where to start? Perhaps you’re looking for a spot for an evening drink à deux, a place to lounge or somewhere that will fit the whole family for lunch – browse these ideas to help you decide what will work best in your space.

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Hang in there
As well as traditional hammocks and swing seats, there are also many types of hanging chair or cocoon seats available on the market for outdoor use. Don’t worry if your garden or terrace doesn’t have a large tree to suspend a hanging chair from, as many of these chairs come complete with their own stand. The chairs range in sizes and style, either made from macrame, rattan, wood, metal or plastic. Use weatherproof cushions to add comfort and swing away!

Check out the garden furniture category in the Houzz shop

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Make use of a wall
A good way to incorporate seating into your garden if you have terracing is to integrate it into a bank when constructing your retaining walls. You can also build a seat or bench this way as a design feature when creating a raised wall around a patio area. Whatever material you choose for your wall, whether it is stone or wood, leaving an area for a seat will work well as long as you make sure you make it safe.

You can also create a floating seat bench, or a cantilevered one, coming out from a wall, which will create the illusion of a bigger outdoor area thanks to the negative space under the bench. You could then plant the negative space with shade-loving perennials and bulbs or ferns to make you feel like you are sitting within the plants. Try using ferns such as Dryopteris Filix-mas or Polystichum setiferum, and perennials such as epimediums, Liriope muscari or Alchemilla mollis.

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Enjoy the scent
One of the most romantic places to put a garden seat must be under an arbour or arch smothered in roses or other scented climbing plants. You cannot fail to be enticed to go and sit under the wonderful canopy of delicious blooms. A seat under an arch immediately creates a focal point. Position it in a place where you can sit and enjoy the rest of the garden. If you would like a good scented climbing rose that repeat flowers and has double soft pink flowers, choose Rosa ‘Mortimer Sackler’. Another lovely one to try, which is great for a pergola too, is Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’. This rambling rose has dainty open sprays of blush-pink rosettes. It is very fragrant and ideal for the shade.

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Be at one with nature
If you want a more natural seating area, especially if your garden is a bit wild and you like the idea of using rustic, naturally sourced local materials, could you build a lovely covered seating area? The one featured in the picture has been built to allow several people to sit together, and is similar to some of the thatched African-style gazebos on the market. With a roof, you can add lanterns for the evening and extend the hours you can enjoy your garden.

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Capitalise on a corner
Using a corner of your garden to create a built-in area for seating works very well, especially when you also design planting areas around the sides and back to make you feel like your are nestled into the space.

When building your seating make sure you allow enough depth. I have seen too many built-in benches that are far too narrow to sit comfortably on.
Choose plants that will add scent to the space like Lonicera periclymenum ‘Rhubarb and Custard’ or ‘Heaven Scent’, Trachelsopermum jasminoides, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Miss Jessopp’s Upright’, Sarcococca hookeriana and Lavandula ‘Hidcote’ or ‘Munstead’. Use grasses for movement and for softening edges of the planters: try Stipa tenuissima, which has a lovely soft, fluffy habit. And if you want to protect yourself from heat and like the idea of using trees, position the seating under some trees trained to grow in an umbrella shape, or site the seating near a tree that casts some dappled shade.

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Raise the roof
To have a secluded seating area in the garden and to block out the neighbours looking down on you if you live in a built-up area, build your seating so that it sits under a roof. The roof will also give you much-needed shade in the summer months as well as providing shelter from rain. You’ll also be able to hang lighting from the roof for the evenings. If you are keen on wildlife, consider a green roof, but before adding any type of living roof, make sure your roof material is strong enough to take the weight and that it is waterproof. Sedum plants are drought-resistant and make for the lightest form of living green roof to install. As long as you have a substrate (the layer of material on which the sedums can grow) above the roof’s waterproof membrane, you will be able to plant your sedums.

Get more ideas for creating a secluded garden

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Section off your seating
With gardens being used more as outdoor dining areas, it is very simple to create distinct seating areas, even in smaller garden spaces. If you enjoy entertaining and eating outdoors, devote an area to outdoor dining with a table and chairs for alfresco meals. There are so many styles of tables and chairs out there, from all-weather rattan to wood and iron or lighter metals.

By using planters to divide the space, or low beds filled with scented plants or perennials or evergreens for structure and all-year cover, you can easily create another area for relaxing in. For a permanent solution to garden seating, build a bench-style seat or if you prefer to move your furniture around to catch the sun for example, something portable and smaller, such as a bistro set; these come in a variety of styles and price brackets.

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Don’t blow the budget
If you have a limited budget for outdoor furniture, and you like a recycling project, one of the cheapest options is to use old wooden pallets to create tables and seating. Pallets are designed be very sturdy and used outdoors so they are great to use for making garden furniture. There are various videos and websites that show you how to make different types of table and chairs, and if you sand the wood, they can be painted or stained.

Make a plan first as you may need more pallets than you think. Work out, too, how you will cut them up. Use safety goggles and gloves, and old clothes to prevent glue or residue, which many pallets contain, ruining any nice clothing. Pallets can also be used as potting benches, and are great for growing strawberries
(though do check the suitability of your pallet for growing edibles; a stamp on the wood will indicate it has been heat treated rather than treated with toxic chemicals, and scour the wood for mould or signs of rot – these will also rule it out for kitchen gardening).

Read more about safety and discover 11 ways to repurpose a pallet with panache

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Inject some colour
One or two accent colours will add drama. Many contemporary designs are both stylish and practical. If you don’t want to buy any new furniture, then try painting some of your existing benches, tables and chairs in bold shades with paint suitable for outdoor use. Tie in your planting to suit your garden furniture and add a burst of bright colour using plants such as the bright red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ mixed with the burgundy-red Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’.

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Maximise a compact space
Even if you have a very small outdoor area or a balcony, adding seating to it will allow you to enjoy being outdoors on warmer days. Build into a small corner for a fitted look and use containers to add privacy.

You can buy outdoor rugs now, which will make the space more like a room; there are also many styles of freestanding lights and even plant pots that light up and trays that double as small tables to build on the ‘outside living room’ effect.

Also check out the various styles of containers that will fit over railings and fences, so you can enjoy sitting among your plants and flowers.

What is your favourite style of garden seating? Share your ideas in the Comments below.

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