Garden designer and journalist Tabi Jackson Gee has come to the Tat reader's rescue to help us navigate the tricky world of antique & vintage garden furniture. We want pieces that will stand the test of the obnoxiously fickle British weather, and she is here to help.
Every spring, I get a flurry of panicked emails from my friends. As the days get longer and warmer, they all start to think about their gardens and particularly furniture; only to find that most decent establishments selling such wares have 3-4 month lead times and have already sold out of 90% of their stock.
So unless you want to wait until mid-summer to get your hands on your seventh-favourite teak dining table, a brilliant alternative is of course choosing second hand or even antique garden furniture. Buying something that’s had a life before it comes to your means you’ll instantly inject character and depth into your garden. This is especially helpful if you’ve just redone your outdoor space and it looks a bit like something from the end of a garden makeover program.
I also highly recommend using reclaimed materials to create your own furniture; my mother made a table using a wrought iron base, a stable door and a huge slab of glass. We’ve had many merry lunches around it. I’m also currently working on a project with interior designer Emma Stevenson where we’ve designed a built-in seating area with scalloped backrests made entirely from reclaimed iroko from Retrouvius.
Just as with interiors, it’s all these decorative and fun elements that make a garden unique.
So without further ado, here’s a quick guide to choosing second-hand furniture and some great places to buy it from.
Choosing furniture that will last (and doesn’t mind our crazy British weather)
Outdoor furniture will weather and age; so it’s important to make note of any maintenance tips you can find online and to understand the materials it’s made from. For instance, some wood needs sanding down and oiling every few years and metals can rust if not cared for every now and again. But letting nature run its course is also part of the beauty of choosing materials that do change over time, so don’t go too mad with the wire brushes.
Go for complementary materials that bring out the best in each other
Wrought iron, oak, teak, cedar, marble… the world of second-hand furniture is full of delights. But while the ramshackled garden look is to some people’s liking, I’d argue it’s best to exercise some restraint when you’re choosing furniture for your garden. For instance, mixing different types of wood can be jarring and detract from the beauty of each piece. Also, having too many materials - remember there’s the flooring, fencing, etc to take into account too - can take away from the relaxed and calming feeling that most of us want from our little private green oases.
Sculpture, urns and decorative planters to elevate the charm factor
Back to the ramshackled thing; one area I do condone a mix of materials is in your collection of plant pots. Traditional terracotta and timber planters alongside more modern pieces like copper, zinc or stainless steel can create a more ‘I woke up like this’ feel than a collection of matchy matchy pieces. I’d usually suggest two or three large statement planters along side a random selection of planters that seem as though they are (or actually are) collected over time.
If you want something a little less ordinary, old water troughs, baths and sinks are great to use as planters. Larger items like copper vats are beautiful if a little is more expensive and allusive, but this all just comes down to knowing where to look - which we’ll get to in a minute.
Where to buy the best second hand and antique garden furniture
Readers of TAT will be, I’m sure, no stranger to the joys of finding salvaged items in reclamation yards. I’m particularly fond of Watling Street Reclamation - because it’s in the village where I grew up. They always have miles and miles of items from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from old orangery roofs to creasing tiles and chimney pots. My sisters (Ellie and Hermione Gee of Hum London) rave about Burgess Reclamation Yard in Oxfordshire; I’ve never been but I trust their taste completely so am happy to recommend it here too.
There are of course a plethora of marvellous places like this up and down the country that are increasingly getting better at using Instagram and the internet to publicise their stock. They’re also good people to go to if you’re after something specific that you need help sourcing.
Here are a few to get you going -
Sunbury/Ardingly Antiques etc etc etc
As with reclamation yards, I’m sure there are plenty more of these that aren’t in the South East but you get the jist. As well as being able to see items in real life before you make the decision I would firmly say that these are the places you can visit without a clear objective in mind, and see what you stumble across. That’s the joy of antiques for me, anyway.
An Instagram finds from last year, Thread Gold Studio stocks both interior and exterior pieces. I had my eye on these wonderful shiny copper drums.
Furniture for your garden and home full of spirit is John and Trixie's ethos, the owners of Lovingly Made, who believe wholeheartedly in pieces with stories. These pieces have already shown you that they will stand the test of time, so by far the best place to invest your money.
From stone statues and gargoyles to antique gates and giant pigs, I love pretty much everything that Lichen Garden Antiques sell. I usually just ogle over their stock on Instagram and the website, but they also have two showrooms that are open by appointment.
Lorfords is a dangerous place to visit. It is dangerously good at finding pieces for which you would give your eye teeth. Not only for your home but your garden too!
I found some beautiful wrought iron plant stands on here that are now living happily in a client’s very cool London courtyard. The Hoarde have an entire ‘Garden Architectural’ section full of furniture and other bits and bobs, like this Victorian antique cloche (good for growing things under while the soil warms up.) Other online antique destinations like 1st Dibs and Vinterior have brilliant garden items too.