How to design an outdoor dining area

Create the perfect space for dining al fresco in your garden with these tips on planning and designing and outdoor dining area

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An outdoor dining space should be within easy reach of the kitchen, near the barbecue area and in shade or dappled shade. If there are no trees to offer shade naturally, you’ll need to create screening. For small gardens, that will mean a parasol, ideally one with a directional shade that can be angled to block the sun’s rays; for larger gardens, you could erect a pergola.

Which materials?

What you choose will depend on your garden’s style, but stone is best for an outdoor dining space. Large slabs suit contemporary spaces, while country-style gardens look good with reclaimed bricks. ‘Stone is one of the best surfaces, as it is more solid for a dining area and perfect for paths, steps and around water,’ says Amir Schlezinger, garden designer at Mylandscapes.

‘However, natural stone can get stained by pollution, algae and food, and particularly under trees, such as limes. Sealing the stone – especially sandstone and limestone – is a must. Porcelain tiles, which do not absorb moisture, are practical and cost-effective.’ Create added interest by laying slabs or bricks in circles in a herringbone pattern or by combining materials – sandstone slabs broken up with rows of bricks, for example.

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What to plant

‘Edible plants by a dining area provide an appropriate setting,’ says Amir Schlezinger. ‘An apple tree looks great in a large space, while smaller, sunny gardens can have a raised bed filled with herbs. Cherry tomatoes, peppers and lettuces are easy to grow and take up little space, plus adults and children will enjoy picking them.’

Which outdoor dining furniture?

If your garden is large enough for a generous outdoor dining area, invest in a table that can seat at least eight people. If the space is small, folding tables and chairs are a sensible choice as they can be stored out of the way in a shed. If you don’t have a shed, choose a garden lounge set, in a sofa/ armchair/coffee table combination, as it can be used for both dining and lounging.

‘Wooden furniture is ideal,’ says Daniel Fairburn of furniture specialist Out & Out Original. ‘It can be classic or modern and complements every garden style, and quality designs will last. The most durable wood is teak, followed by eucalyptus. When buying, bear in mind that wood will last as long as it took to grow. New teak – which has an almost-white colour within – grows fast and is of lesser quality.’

To make meals more relaxing, Daniel Fairburn suggests furniture with supportive chair backs, armrests and deep cushions. ‘Go for designs with substantial wooden components – an indicator that they are well-constructed,’ he says. ‘Ensure that metal frames are made from corrosion-free aluminium, which lasts longer, and check that cushions are well-filled so you can sit outside for as long as you would on indoor seating.’

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Furnishing your outdoor dining space

An outdoor dining table with comfortable chairs is a must if you plan on eating al fresco a lot — or as often as the weather will allow. However, if your outdoor dining experiences are limited to snacking on the odd burger or sipping a glass of wine in the sun, a sofa with a couple of side tables should suffice.

IQ furniture breeze outdoor table

Breeze Outdoor Dining Chair from IQ Furniture, prices starting at £315. The Breeze outdoor dining chair offers comfortable seating with the highest levels of design. The clean lines and monochrome colour options offer a contemporary design. These dining chairs are available in a stacking and non-stacking option with a choice of cushions.

iq furniture modular outdoor furniture

Connect Outdoor Modular Sofa from IQ Furniture, prices starting at £740. The Connect outdoor sofa merges the weaved design of a classic outdoor furniture piece with the modularity of a modern sofa. With a range of sofa modules that can be connected together you can create the optimum sofa configuration for your garden or patio.