NEW YORK — Outdoor spaces have long been a key feature of homes. These crucial features provide a welcome respite from sitting behind the computer, delivering fresh air and, if the sun cooperates, a dose of Vitamin D. Entertaining friends and family outdoors is important, too, prompting a need for appropriate seating. A few thoughtfully chosen, well-placed pieces of garden furniture can transform a humble patch of green into a refuge.
Benches, loungers, sofas and chairs designed for outdoor use are available in a variety of looks and styles. Cast iron, marble, wood, stone and powder-coated steel are a few of the most commonly used materials. Smart buyers seek pieces that are well-made, comfortable, hardy enough to weather all seasons and exhibit timeless style.
Marble and stone have been used in gardens for centuries, not just for seating but for urns, planters and statuary. It’s no surprise that buyers in the United States have been actively acquiring antique and vintage examples from Europe for years. Many pieces are now at the point in their life cycles where they are ready to go to auction and move on to their second or third home. A fitting example is an Italian Neoclassical-style white marble bench, dating to the late 19th or early 20th century, which sold for $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022 at Andrew Jones Auctions.
Large vintage and antique sets of outdoor dining tables and chairs are hard to come by; they are out there, but they tend to be expensive. More intimate sets, designed to seat three or four people, are easier to find. A 20th-century suite of carved limestone garden furniture made $7,479 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at Dreweatts Donnington Priory. The durable yet whimsical set features a round table on a pedestal decorated with dolphins, and the curved seats also have carved dolphin supports. Natural motifs are common on garden furniture, but the dolphins festooning the limestone suite represent a pleasing nautical twist.
Faux bois is the art of imitating the look of wood by using other materials, typically concrete. This aesthetic was all the rage in the late 19th century, but as time has passed, fewer and fewer artisans have specialized in it. Carlos Cortes, a third-generation faux bois concrete artist who is part of a family tradition that began in San Antonio, Texas around 1924, keeps the technique alive. A Carlos Cortes demilune faux bois garden bench, measuring 37 by 79 by 27 inches, achieved $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021 at Vogt Auction Texas.
Mid-century Modern indoor furniture has been in high demand for six decades and counting, so it’s not shocking that outdoor pieces from this era are equally coveted. Russell Woodard represented the third generation of his family’s patio furniture-making business. In 1956, it debuted its curvy wire mesh Sculptura chair, making it the first firm to build a sculptured chair that did not rely on costly molds. The design was popular enough to merit the creation of a Sculptura sofa. In 1994, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum paid the Sculptura chair the ultimate complement by adding one to its permanent collection. A pair of circa-1950 Russell Woodard Sculptura sofas in white powder-coated steel mesh and iron realized $1,900 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022 at Westport Auction.
Francois Carre’s Sunburst chairs, also known as pinwheel chairs due to the radiating pattern on the seats and backs, add style and panache to the backyard. This iconic design, patented in 1866 by the French designer and using spring mechanisms, was made in the United States and France up to the 1940s. A vintage set of four Carre Sunburst garden armchairs brought $1,100 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021 at Fox and Crane Online Auctions.
Whether you want a patio-style table and chair set for dining al fresco or a cozy bench for relaxing with a book, there is no shortage of stylish statement-piece seating options that will make your outdoor space your own.