Garden Furniture

Bistro Table

The bistro has humble beginnings on the streets of France but today its popularity is evident worldwide as a common feature of our gardens and high streets. Bistro tables and dining sets remain one of the easiest ways to bring a touch of Parisian style to your home or garden. Read up on the story of the Bistro and get some ideas to inspire your outdoor space below.

What makes a bistro table set?

Today there are many styles of bistro sets available. They range from the classic decorative metal sets to the more contemporary styles in wooden or rattan. But what makes the bistro style unique? The design stems from its origins on narrow Parisian streets.

Today we often see Bistro sets spilling onto pavements outside restaurants or cafes with people enjoying an alfresco meal or a coffee. The original tables were designed to be small enough for just two people to comfortably share whilst allowing plenty of space for people to pass by on the pavement.

Some common traits are found in the materials of Bistro tables with the original designs having marble tops and metal legs. The onset of the industrial revolution meant the faster production of iron which made it much easier to add decorative legs. Both table and chair design evolved further to be folded away for easy storage; this was ideal as it meant larger restaurants could seat more people, filling their outside spaces as much as possible.

The popularity of bistro’s through history meant that copies of designs sprung up everywhere once their success began to show. It’s hard to trace an “original” design but we can recognise them by these basic features.

History of Bistro

So how did bistro restaurants begin? The original bistros developed in the apartment basements of Paris. Landlords would open up their kitchens as a secondary source of income, selling cheap and hearty foods to the paying public.

The social aspect of bistros meant that places like the Cafe Procope in Paris (which still operates today) became integral meeting points for the artistic and literary figures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Imagine Rousseau thinking on his social contract or Diderot compiling his Encyclopédie.

Often these set-ups would be organised outside buildings in the streets, facilitating the need for a smaller style of dining set to allow people to still pass by. This close proximity with the street made bistro’s synonymous with “people watching” as you couldn’t help but notice the rush of city life as it all passed by your table!

We’re not completely certain of where the word bistro comes from, but there are some stories which offer possible explanations. The most popular idea is that the word originated during the 1815 Russian Occupation of Paris, where Russian cossacks would cry “Bystra! Bystra!” to the restaurateurs. This roughly translates as “Hurry! Hurry!” which fits in with the developing style of the bistro as serving “fast food”. Whether this is true or not, we do know that the word Bistro entered both the French and Russian languages with the same meaning.

Another explanation is that the word originates from the French term “Bistreau” which translates as an innkeeper – more believable maybe, but certainly less romantic than Russian Cossacks in a hurry for their lunch.

What’s for Lunch?

Historically the food served at bistros reflected what was available locally or left over from landlords after serving their primary tenants. Menus were often made up with simple foods like soups, sandwiches, salads and crepes, served alongside coffee and wine and would likely change day to day depending on availability of ingredients.

Bistro Table With Coffee

This focus on food that’s simple, fast and relatively cheap has continued to the present day, though perhaps with a gentrified twist and a price tag to match in some chain stores…

How can I use a bistro set in my garden?

A bistro set is perfect for creating a dining space within a smaller section of your garden. If your outdoor space is a patio or balcony then these sets are ideal for adding a touch of style whilst saving on important floor space. Fold away chairs are perfect for dining on your own whilst having that extra seat available for guests and you can create a cosy space for yourself that’s perfect for morning breakfasts. What could be better than warm coffee and breakfast on the balcony, Parisian style.

Why not use a bistro set as an excuse to partition off a part of your garden and create a cosy dining area? To recreate that feeling of on-the-street closeness with life you could add interest around your table set. Perhaps a series of potted plants to add interest at differing heights? Or maybe position your set near some bird feeders so you can dine with the sound of birds singing each day and enjoy being closer to the wildlife in your garden. Maybe add some candles to the table and you’ve got a pleasant spot to spend a summer evening dining out or wrapped up with a good book.

From the streets of sixteenth-century Paris to your own back garden – a bistro set offers the perfect spot for hearty food and a good cup of coffee. With a style that’s made its way around the world bistro sets are an easy way to add a little Parisian style to your outdoor space.

Garden Furniture, Will

There is a great appeal to using natural materials to make the items we use, especially in garden spaces.  Rattan is one of the more familiar materials – traditionally used for lightweight furniture – but what actually is it, and where does it come from?

Rattan Climber Plant
A rattan cane growing in India. Picture credit: Dinesh Valke (2011) licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Rattan refers to around 600 species of vine-like palm climbers found growing in tropical regions across the world, although commercial rattan production is centred on Southeast Asia. The plant is formed of a spine-covered woody stem, which in the right circumstances can grow up to 100m long. Once the cane’s outer layer has been removed and the core dried or cured it becomes immensely strong, flexible and lightweight, and can be used for many purposes – Italian scientists are currently on the verge of releasing a working rattan bone graft!  

Rattan has long been an important resource in the lives of local populations, but its many desirable qualities mean it is now a globally-coveted commodity, with the rattan industry worth over US$4 billion annually. The industry is a vital source of income for many rural communities and is held as a shining example of sustainable, eco-friendly development – it grows reliably quickly, and is easy to harvest and process in a village setting. Given that rattan is dependent on trees to grow, its production also helps protect against destructive deforestation. In countries such as Indonesia rattan is now a valuable tool for protecting areas that would otherwise be under threat, although there are concerns about overexploitation.

Rattan being prepared for use

In the UK rattan is often used for garden accessories, where its natural appearance and touch helps blend with the greenery of the garden space – a good example being this hand woven planter with inbuilt drainage system. However, rattan is now rarely used for outdoor furniture. Although it is immensely durable, rattan will eventually suffer from prolonged contact with the elements after a number of years. There is consequently a great demand for synthetic rattan garden furniture, which aims to replicate the benefits of the plant while better serving in long-term outdoor use.

Synthetic rattan (or ‘rattan effect’) furniture is generally made from either Polyethylene (PE) or Polyurethane (PU), which both share the key characteristics of being weather, mould and UV proof. Despite this, PE rattan is widely considered to be the superior material, given that it’s notably more durable, as well as being environmentally friendly to manufacture and completely recyclable. Synthetic rattan garden furniture also come in several different weaves – full-round, half-round and flat – all offering different aesthetic effects and tactile experiences.

Primrose offers a range of high quality synthetic rattan garden furniture ideal for outdoor entertaining and alfresco dining: this 6 Seater Set is made using PE rattan with a full-round weave, and comes in a natural colouring, while this 12 Seater Round Sofa also uses PE rattan, but comes in flat-weave and a chocolatey brown colouring.

Rattan, whether natural or synthetic, has a great deal to offer any outdoor space. The natural product is a wonderful material for certain garden accessories despite its limitations, while the synthetic equivalent makes for some truly lovable furniture – perfect for any outdoor entertainer.

Will at PrimroseWill is a Copywriter at Primrose, and spends his days rattling out words for the website. In his spare time he treads the boards with an Am-Dram group, reads books about terrible, terrible wars, and rambles the countryside looking wistful.

See all of Will’s posts.

Charlie, Garden Furniture

While corten steel may be in fashion, rust is generally not a feature you want associated with your garden, let alone your garden furniture. Unfortunately, all materials with iron in are prone to rust to some extent, even stainless steel is stainless not because the steel itself is rust-proof but because it is coated in chromium which reacts with the oxygen and moisture in the air to produce a microscopic layer that protects the underlying iron in the steel from rusting. So how to make sure that your garden furniture set doesn’t rust? Especially as garden furniture, unlike the indoor variety, is left exposed to the elements all year round?

rusting furniture

While simply making garden furniture out of stainless steel might appear to be a good option, generally this is not done by the vast majority of manufacturers – as this puts up the price of the raw material by up to 500% as well as creating additional construction costs due to stainless steel not being as malleable as other kinds of steel or iron.

Just making your garden dining set out of stainless steel might be a bit pricey however there are many other alternatives suitable for outdoor use. At Primrose our Hectare ranges are made from powder coated steel. This provides significant durability even if left outdoors all year round, and the powder coating ensures there will be no visible rusting on the surface, meaning you will be able to enjoy your furniture year after year. As this type of steel comes with powder coating, it also means that there is no need to paint it to protect it from the elements, which is often necessary after a time to keep other types of metal garden furniture looking its best. While powder coating doesn’t guarantee no rust will occur, powder coated steel is valued as one of the best trade offs between durability, weatherability and price.

Another popular alternative is Aluminium. This material when exposed to the elements develops a thin oxide layer on the outside which protects the material from further damage. However, as with many materials, if this protective coating is scratched or dented, it does leave a space for rust to occur in the damaged area. Additionally cast aluminium, due to its lightweight construction, is often unsuitable to be kept outside as it can be blown about in strong winds, thus making damage to the furniture even more likely.

Cast iron is another popular material for garden furniture, partly because it is so heavy, as this means it is not prone to being knocked over by the wind. However of the three materials discussed here it is the most prone to rust. Being made from iron, it has a high chance of rusting if left uncovered in the elements, however much cast iron furniture is now treated with a protective spray which helps reduce this risk, and if it is painted this also helps prolong its life.

Whichever type of metal you choose for your garden furniture, it is always wise to be wary of the risk of rust occurring and look after your furniture by packing it away when not in use or covering it if this is not feasible. Stay tuned for more information on looking after metal garden furniture next week.


CharlieCharlie works in the Primrose marketing team, mainly on online marketing.

When not writing for the Primrose Blog, Charlie likes nothing more than a good book and a cool cider.

See all of Charlie’s posts.


Decoration, Garden Furniture, Gary, How To

wood treatment

We spend a lot of time and money making our gardens look great. Wooden furniture and fittings are some of the most versatile and popular methods of garden decoration in the UK, but like any natural product, a little maintenance is needed to ensure that all your time and effort hasn’t been put to waste.

What happens if I don’t look after my wood?

Wooden furniture can last for years if looked after properly, but like any natural product, its quality can be affected by the weather. Most people will first see the decline in quality in the spring when they begin to use their outside spaces again and assume that the damage was done during the winter. Whilst the winter weather does cause most of the damage, it’s only because of conditions in the summer; a long, hot season of bright sunshine and occasional high humidity and showers can cause a lot of strain on the fibres in the wood. This strain makes it more likely that a combination of water and cold in the winter will cause either mould or mildew to form, which causes weaknesses and rot in the wood.

How often should I treat wood?

Treating your wooden products should be a priority, and depending on your local conditions and wood type this may need to be done from once every 3 months, to once every 12 months. Failure to do this may lead to decay and damage caused by exposure to rain and the elements.

Wood Stain

Preservation – the basic method

The key to wood preservation is the prevention of water getting into the wood. There are a few key steps in achieving this and this method can be applied to furniture, fence panels, sheds and exterior wooden window frames. These steps can be undertaken at any point in the year and should be done in as dry conditions as possible.

Step 1 – Clean your surface: Over the summer, your furniture will naturally accumulate a layer of dirt and residue. This detritus not only looks bad, but it can be a carrier of moulds and spores that can seep into and destroy the wood. To do this, simply wipe down your furniture with a damp cloth and some soapy water. Be thorough and get into all cracks and crevices, particularly screw holes and hinges. Larger items like fence panels and sheds may be cleaned with a pressure washer – but always check if this method is suitable first.

Step 2 – Wax and varnish: To treat wood you will require treatment products specific to the material, be that teak, oak, pine or wicker. Apply it thoroughly, making sure you apply it to all sides of the furniture, over and under. Check with the manufacturer if you are unsure. Make sure the surface you are trying to treat is dry before applying your treatment product and follow the product’s instructions.

Step 3 – Dry and cover: Once your furniture is clean and protected, allow it to dry, and find an appropriate place to let it sit over the winter.

  • Sheds and garages are ideal places to put small items of wooden furniture as they are generally drier than the outdoor alternative.
  • For those items too big for a shed, consider investing in a cover to keep them dry over the winter.
  • Remove soft furnishings and cushions from the furniture and store these inside.

These are the basic steps that need to be taken to protect the wooden furnishings in your garden. Some other things you can do include putting pieces of wooden furniture on a pallet to allow for the circulation of air and reduced risk of standing groundwater and making sure that any covers are secured with bricks or pegs so they won’t become uncovered by strong winds. If you take these steps every year you will be extending the life of your wooden furniture by about half. Some types of wood can be bought pre-treated, however, this does not mean that they do not need any further treatment once bought, and different types of treatment will require different levels of upkeep.

Untreated fence

  • Untreated wood – Untreated wood is the most susceptible to rot, fungi, and general weathering and should be treated as soon as possible with the method above.
  • Dip treated & paint stained – Protection may begin to fade after 6-12 months and may offer little or no more protection against the weather than it originally did when purchased. This kind of wood can be treated at any time of the year and treatment should be reapplied about once a year.
  • Pressure treated – If your wood has been pressure treated (a premium wood preservation technique), it will have longer lasting protection than a wood treated with a base layer preservative. Pressure treatment forces the preservatives into the lumber through the use of a vacuum. However, pressure treated wood is not waterproof; a weather-proofing top coat or base layer preservative is recommended every 12 months to fully protect timber through the winter months. However, it may not be best to treat pressure-treated timber straight away, as it needs to weathered (this should take 2-3 months).

Wood treatment is an often overlooked part of annual garden maintenance, but neglecting it can often lead to higher expenses in the future as you will more than likely have to replace damaged wood in a few years. The steps outlined here are the basics of preserving your furniture or wooden buildings. Some wooden products may require extra protection, and it is best to always check any instructions that came with the item. Either way looking after the wood in your garden properly and at the right time will mean when it comes to it, you will be able to spend long sunny days relaxing in your pristine garden.

Gary ClarkeGary works in the Primrose product loading team, writing product descriptions and other copy. With seven years as a professional chef under his belt, he can usually be found experimenting in the kitchen or sat reading a book.

See all of Gary’s posts.