My kitchen is not what you’d call palatial, which means storage comes at a premium. I also have what an old boyfriend of mine used to refer to as Monica Geller tendencies when it comes to insisting that things are tidily put away. Therefore finding a home for more than one set of plates and glasses just ain’t an option. Everything has its place. Same goes for furniture. I don’t have seasonal pieces to suit the weather, just the stuff I live with. I think I’m not exactly unique in these matters.
But for those of us lucky enough to have a garden or balcony of our own, or even a little park nearby, there’s our short erratic summer to enjoy (hello, this weekend!), when owning cool outdoor furniture and being able to host an al fresco dinner and drinks, without worrying about smashing the only things you have, would be nice.
Good news: loads of online and high-street retailers have thought this through and are producing well-designed pieces meant for the outside, but stylish enough that you’ll want to use them inside and all year round. We’re still talking weatherproof materials, such as PVC, acrylic, melamine, enamel and so on. And if you have kids, this stuff will be a godsend – it’s party-ready and no one has to worry about damage.
Retailers still market this stuff as high summer, so if you have a little hunt around, you’ll find loads of great things in the sales right now. Sainsbury’s has a great range of black and white patterned plastic tableware called Monochrome, annoyingly not available online, but worth hunting down in-store, as it looks much more expensive than it is.
I also like the useful, stackable bowls from Habitat, a snip at £12.50. Italian design brand Kartell, which produces furniture and homeware in acrylic, has created the Jellies range, which includes massive plastic platters in the prettiest shades – great for texture and clashing colours. However, if you prefer classic enamelware, which ages nicely with little dents and scratches, Falcon dinner sets, which start at £5, is forever cool and available from Heal’s.
I’m also into all the decorative extras, such as hurricane lanterns (very cool geometric metal and glass versions at Anthropologie, from £10), which add a romantic glow to night light, or vases and planters, which are handy if you have green fingers and fancy growing a few flowers or herbs. The key, with all of these things, is the edit – a just couple of great bits that tell a story of the season. Here are a few of my favourites:
I totally love this hand-woven PVC chair (£132) from Graham & Green. I look longingly at it and picture being curled up in the garden, a thumping great glass of rosé in hand, with the best mate sitting opposite me doing the same while we yabber like teenagers. And because it’s super-lightweight, you can drag the chair indoors and do precisely the same in winter. Result.
Useful things, rugs. They hide a multitude of sins indoors, they’re a shortcut to introducing colour and pattern in your home, but they’re also the easiest way to make your outdoor space look like you’ve actually bothered to decorate. Lots are now designed with PVC fibres, so they’re suitable for the garden, which is quite handy. US brand Pottery Barn now ships to the UK and is surprisingly reasonable, particularly during sale time. They do a great range of colourful patterned indoor/outdoor rugs, which are woven on a handloom from recycled plastic, so they look like traditional kilims, but work outside. They’re also reversible, which means if one side gets a bit messy, you can just flip it over. Prices start from £28.95.
I say it over and over and bore everyone around me, but lighting can make or break a room. It can also add something magical to your outside space as the sun goes down. I adore the soft glow of candlelight all year round and am really into these punctured bronze metal lanterns, designed by Tara Projects for West Elm, which benefit the artisan communities in and around Delhi. And because they start at £19, I’m thinking a small cluster would look great and will throw the loveliest twinkly light around a room or outside patio.
Picture your summer with a load of mates plonked outside, everyone needing a long, cool drink, but no one can be bothered to play bartender every 20 minutes. What you really need is a massive, eight-litre glass dispenser with a tap. Rustle up a refreshing summer Sangria, loads of fruit, loads of ice, loads of booze and let everyone help themselves, while for kiddies’ parties, a homemade lemonade will do the trick. There are many styles being sold online or on the high street (M&S does fun coloured versions in plastic), but I like this glass one for £33, which would look quite dramatic and centre-piece-y on a table.
Now that we’re apparently grown-ups, paper cups are just not cricket for summer parties, not when there are plenty of elegant plastic versions out there. Useful for rowdy parties when real glass isn’t the best option, I really like the embossed acrylic highballs and wine glasses at M&S. They’re a mere £3.50 each and come in the loveliest rose colour. I’m thinking a refreshing Vodka Collins would do me right about now.
Now you have the glassware and the dispenser, obviously you need the drinks trolley – sorry, portable bar. So it’s not strictly an essential, but good grief, it’s brilliant. This compact metal one from The Conran Shop, currently in the sale for £93, has been anti-UV powder coated so it’s great for the outside. It holds six bottles for goodness sake. That’s the first hour or two taken care of…