This week I ventured on to my balcony for the first time in months and it's a sorry sight. Neglected plants, dust-covered pots and weathered furniture do not add up to my idea of using the extensive space as a "third room". The only residents are some homing pigeons who seem to view my existence on their turf with disdain and annoyance and have become slightly unsettled with my feverish clean-up activities. You see, I am planning my own Ramadan nights-style gathering for next week. Weather permitting, I picture this as a chilled-out evening (are hostesses ever chilled out?) complete with colourful scatter cushions, antique lanterns, a medley of mezze and me wearing an Allegra Hicks kaftan and snakeskin gladiators.
I hadn't quite pictured in this little scene the need to buy new garden furniture. Sadly, after a good scrubbing down with soap and water, I realised my garden set is decidedly more shabby than chic and will have to replaced. As the e-vites have already been sent and accepted, I've been scouting the stores looking for alternatives. Not having bought anything garden-orientated in at least eight years I didn't quite foresee the choice or budget being so, well, much.
There are four main furniture styles - wood, wicker or rattan, metal and plastic. While I'm definitely not a plastic person, debating the merits of the other three has proved problematic. Wood, and in particular teak, is a popular option in the UAE. To be more precise Australian teak, which in its natural state is a grey colour but it needs regular oiling. Aluminium is very much in vogue and is durable, low maintenance, and can be prettied up with fabric slings, cushions and straps. I ruled out oiling the former and eventually cancelled out the latter too. While I liked the French bistro-style tables and chairs I was shown and thought of adding a coat of paint and Marimekko cushions, nothing can detract from the fact that the chairs are downright uncomfortable. And at Dh400 upwards each, that's a lot of money for style over comfort.
The rattan option definitely appealed. Top of the list is the Spanish brand Kettal. Their latest line, Kettal Maia, is designed by Patricia Urquiola and offers "an industrial appraisal of handcrafted plaiting". While Urquiola is up there with Jaime Hayon as one of the design world's shining stars, I ruled out industrial appraisals on my balcony. The word "appraisal" is synonymous with time-wasting and ultimately demotivating activities and my planned soirée was to be anything but.
Undeterred, I looked at other ranges - the word "modular" came up frequently and, like sofas, I realised that garden furniture is no longer basic. It's extendable and extending rapidly. I saw lots of cocoon-style beds at Dedon (you can see this range at Villa Schmidt or Nakkash gallery) and the brand brings an Asian twist to European designs. It begs for manicured lawns and a perfect poolside setting. Not what my balcony can offer.
I found myself being swayed by synthetic rattan when I was at Resol - it blends durability with design - but came away empty-handed. I realised, not for the first time, that what I really wanted was an old Lloyd Loom armchair or steamer-style deck chair for a colonial look. It wasn't happening. Nowadays, garden furniture and its design is as competitive as say decorating the kids' rooms. When I asked about table sets in one store, I was told that the most popular were made in hi-tech synthetic materials "in quiet colours like taupe and cappuccino" . I almost laughed out loud, but realised that garden furniture is a serious business which begs respect.
While my mall trawl was educational, I decided in the end to go for something more authentic. I went to Satwa and came away with some extremely comfortable majlis-style cushions and sofa. While I'm clearly channelling Talitha Getty in Marrakech, the look is timeless and elegant. I don't think the pigeons will like it, though?