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Got a small outdoor area? Well, even the smallest of space can be converted into a tranquil, relaxing oasis. This blog covers topics that will help you create your ideal petite retreat. Amongst other things, topics include choosing the right type of furniture for your weather conditions; 'how to guides' to achieve the look you're after and tips to maximise small spaces.

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Coastal Style -Taking it Outdoors

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With its airy, casual feel, and light colour palette taking inspiration from sand, sea and sky, it’s no wonder that Coastal style is an increasingly popular design choice in Australian homes. Its seems the perfect fit for our perennial summer lifestyles.





A key hallmark of this style is the blurred line between interior and exterior, which again, too, complements the Alfresco Australian home. Achieving the coastal look indoors, is pretty easy with a wide array of products available in Australian retailers. Achieving a seamless extension of this look to the outdoors, can be a little more challenging. The natural materials (cane, wicker, jute) so typical of this style, don't stand up well to the Aussie outdoors as they’re susceptible to mould, cracking and fading.


Coastal StyleCoastal Look

Of course, synthetic wicker patio furniture has been around for a while, but mostly in more boxy modern styles and darker colours which don't really suit the Coastal style. Well great news: manufacturer’s have now responded and the classic split cane styles are available in all weather formats: strong rustproof aluminium frames with uv treated weather resistant polywicker in whites and pastels. Likewise, outdoor rugs are available in washable, weatherproof formats that are natural looking and soft underfoot. So now you can get the look plus the durability, maintenance free, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the Aussie outdoors.

Coastal Style

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Shedding Light on the matter

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With Spring arriving, it’s time to start planning barbecues and alfresco dining again.And if you’re planning to linger after dark you’ll need to think about lighting.


Carefully placed lighting can transform your outdoor area into an enchanting and inviting space, and you don't have to break the budget or go to the expense of having your garden wired up by an electrician. Here are three pain free options to consider:



Hanging Outdoor CandlePretty Outdoor Candles

Of course, candles are the most obvious solution and always add something special to an occasion. Hurricane lamps with candles, hanging from tree branches and placed at floor level along a path area, will add drama to your garden undercut a very inviting entrance for your guests. Bespoke outdoor candles, available at Petite Retreat, include ready to hang lantern candles and even large floating pool candles. If you live in a small space, wall mounted candle holders can create a pretty focal point, whilst saving space. For windy settings or occasions when kids are likely to be running around, flameless candles are a pretty and safe option. Design wise, they’ve also come along a way and now there are options available in real wax with a very authentic flickering flame. Some even offer a remote control! No endless blowing out of candles at the end of a long evening.



String Lights


Festoon lights wrapped around a tree or strung across a veranda look very magical and create a wonderful holiday ambience. Many options require batteries so if you don’t want to be forever rushing off to the hardware for replacements, or trying to weatherproof the battery compartment, why not consider Seletti’s Bella Vista Lights? They are electric and totally weatherproof and come fitted with an extension cord long enough to reach an indoor socket.


Solar Lights

Of course, solar lights have been around for a while and we’ve all seen the stake variety available at our local hardware store or garden centres. If you’re after something a little prettier to throw a soft glow at floor level a little solar mason jar can look quite lovely, and will come on automatically after dark. A very inviting inviting ‘welcome home'!


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Buying Quality vs Budget Outdoor Furniture

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“I don’t want to spend too much money on something that’s going to sit outside in the elements”. 


If you’ve ever had that thought about outdoor furniture , you’re not alone. I hear that view expressed often. But here is why you should think and do the opposite. 

A lot of cheaper outdoor furniture is manufactured for European conditions not for the “acid test” conditions of Australia. Whilst our Aussie climate makes outdoor living fantastic (and worth spending on), it does take its toll on furniture, especially if you live near the coast. 

Coastal cities like Sydney have the perfect conditions for rust (the process where iron molecules combine with oxygen in the presence of water). Okay so most places have oxygen and water, but the addition of the humidity factor means water is present a lot of the time and high temperatures and salty air act as accelerants to the rusting process making coastal Australia rust heaven!
So if you’ve bought a cheaper setting made from mild steel, rusting is inevitable.  I’ve seen rust start within weeks.

So what are the alternatives?


Outdoor grade stainless steel is over 300 times more rust resistant that mild steel.  This is because the chromium found in stainless steels reacts quickly with oxygen environments, to form a fine barrier  that is highly durable and non-reactive. The rusting rate is less than 0,05 mm per year.

Aluminium is even better.  It doesn’t rust. Don’t believe me? When last did you see rust spots on a plane? It does weather and corrode (not the same as rust!) but the resulting aluminum oxide forms a thin, hard layer that actually protects the metal from further corrosion.


Okay so now perhaps you’re thinking :

“Aluminium and stainless steel are too expensive, I’ll just get another cheap setting when mine’s rusted through”. 



That’s false economy. Not convinced? Let’s do the numbers.


That $299 mild steel setting you may have bought from a chain hardware may last three years at best. The equivalent setting  made from outdoor grade stainless steel would cost around $999, so three times as much but it is three hundred times more rust resistant!


So over a fifteen year period your stainless steel setting will still be going strong, but you would have bought five cheaper settings, totalling $1495 - already 50% more. The aluminium version would be holding up even better. 


Buying quality is not only good for your pocket, it's good for the environment too:  just think of the piles of rusting garden furniture at your local waste disposal dump. I can't remember a council cleanup that didnt have garden furniture on it!

Us Aussies,  are house proud and design conscious….. so don't let the exterior let you down with worn, tatty looking patio furniture.

In a nutshell:  buying quality is cheaper and better in the long run.



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Perfecting Tropical Plantation Style

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In the heat of summer, a cool, shady oasis can provide a welcome escape. Increasingly popular indoors, Plantation Style, is  a great look  to extend outdoors onto a verandah. If you’re careful about your material and furniture choices you can even extend it to a full outdoor  or poolside location. 


So what exactly is Plantation Style?  It also described as British Colonial Style but with British territories once stretching across Africa, India, Asia, North America, and the South Pacific, that probably doesn't narrow it down much. So enough of the history lesson.  






Most typically,  it is associated with the tropics and conjures up imagery of wide verandahs with cooling plantationshutters; potted plants; the sound of lazily rotating ceiling fans; and perhaps even the  clink of ice in a glass of gin and tonic – the perfect respite from tropical heat.


Essentially, the style partners traditional British furniture and decor elements with local textiles, materials and plants. Think formal tempered by casual; sophisticated elegance combined with island style; and practicality merged with the exotic. 


With our warm summers and humidity, (okay maybe not as bad as the tropics) Sydney climate is ideally suited to this kind of decor style. To achieve this look on your verandah or outdoor area, the key elements are: 


  • Dark Flooring or decking contrasted against light  or brightly coloured walls and fabrics and furniture. 
  • Wooden shutters or rattan shades, ceiling fans with wicker, rattan or palm leaf blades
  • a colour scheme that mixes corals or cobalt blue with gentle shades of the sea, forest, sun and desert (pale greens, blues, tans or creams).
  • Cane or rattan furniture
  • Natural fibre rugs  eg. sisal and jute
  • Cushions with botanical prints: palm trees, tropical foliage and flowers or paisleys, or exotic birds
  • Potted ferns, palms and orchids in brass or aluminium pots, and elevated pots on plant stands
  • Accessories with Asian, African, Indian or Caribbean heritage.  Perhaps a few pineapple ornaments; a bird cage or two and some shells and coral 
  • Hurricane lamps dotted around to illuminate the tropical foliage
  • and, if you can find one, a bar cart with the obligatory bottle of gin!


palm leaf cushionOutdoor-Cane_-Chairsbritish-colonial-styleWhite_Cane_rattan_chair




If you’re  wanting  to extend the look to a full outdoor or poolside location you need to: 

  • substitute cane and rattan with all weather cane or rattan which will endure salty coastal air and won’t require maintenance. There are some great options available that replicate the look of cane exceptionally well. An added bonus is that you won’t have the hassle of ever having to repaint or repair split pieces of cane
  • replace natural fibre mats with outdoor rugs made from polypropylene
  • buy full outdoor cushions that are uv treated and mould resistant
  • adapt Palm choices to suit your garden’s microclimate.



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With the increasing popularity of Plantation  and tropical decor styles,  wicker and cane furniture,  has made a big comeback. Or is that rattan furniture?  These terms are often used interchangeably and it can be confusing to know what  terms to use in an online shopping search. Does one search for rattan furniture or cane furniture online ?  And what about cane outdoor furniture - is there such a thing?


This post will clarify some of the terminology; shed some light on why there is confusion as well as summarise the pro’s and con’s of natural vs synthetic products.



Cane vs wicker vs Rattan 


Okay, so what is the difference?  Well, the word wicker describes the process of weaving no matter what the material.

Rattan and cane  are examples of materials that can be used in this process whereas rattan is a very flexible vine that grows in rainforests.


Furniture can be made from an entire rattan pole, sometimes even with the skin still on it. Cane refers to a part of the rattan vine or pole  which is peeled off and most often used to create cane webbing for seats or binding to hold  rattan poles together.  What about split cane furniture? Well, split cane is a length of rattan that has been machined (‘split’) from the pithy centre of the rattan vine.


The way I like to think about it is that cane is a part of rattan, and both  can be used in the process of weaving.


Sounds simple, so why is there confusion over what to call it?  Well, that’s because  some furniture is a combination of the two eg.  a chair  frame made of  rattan  and seating and binding made from cane.  So does that  make it a cane chair or a rattan chair? If  the item you have in mind has both elements you’re best to search

using both names, or  try searching for cane rattan furniture


Okay, so that’s the technical lesson over... but hopefully it has helped clarify a few things.







Choosing Cane and Rattan Furniture


If you’re looking for indoor furniture,  most cane and rattan will stand the test of time very well.    You can also place it on well protected verandahs that don't get too much weather or full sunlight. 


But if you’re looking to use it on a verandah that gets some weather or a full outdoor location  you need to be aware that even the best quality cane furniture 


  • is vulnerable to too much moisture
  • can  become mouldy 
  • will become dry and brittle over time , if exposed to too much sunlight leading to  cracks  and unravelling binding
  • can attract insects and small pests


So  if you’re after cane garden furniture  you’re much better off going for all weather  options that have aluminium frames and synthetic cane binding and weave. Aluminium is corrosion resistant and synthetic wicker is: 


  • mould resistant
  • UV treated 
  • and super easy to keep clean. 


And the look?   These days  the all weather outdoor cane furniture looks very authentic:  options range from the traditional  white cane furniture  to brightly coloured versions all the way through to options that mimic the look of  unpainted natural cane with alls its texture and varied colour. 






The best part: with synthetic all weather products  you wont have to worry about repainting or repairing split cane . You get the  the look without the hassle . So if you’re after cane outdoor chairs  or maybe  an outdoor cane sofa set,  go for all weather options. Petite Retreat stocks  a range of these so take a wander over to the product pages to see if there is something that strikes your fancy.



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Getting Rugged Up - How to Choose & Clean an Outdoor Rug

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Well, it certainly is chilly right now,  and the thought of sitting outdoors probably makes you  go brrrr! 


Pavers or concrete can be pretty cold underfoot at this time of year, and even with shoes on the cold seems to ooze out of the floor, and into your bones.


When  I suggest  outdoor rugs to my customers, I typically get similar comments, challenges or questions, so I decided to compile a few of these into a blog post…with some responses.




“Outdoor rugs look so plasticky & thin - my feet stick to them in summer and they’re not thick enough to stop the cold in winter”


Quality_Outdoor_RugThis used to be  true a few years ago, but the quality has come a long way  - so it is fair to say, not all outdoor rugs are created equal.  

Whilst most are made from polypropylene, there is a vast difference in  their manufacture process.   Some are made from a polypropylene straw, which  creates a flatter, thinner product. More like a mat than a rug. 


Dash & Albert  use a a sophisticated manufacturing process  which creates a really fine yarn that can be tightly woven for a more rug-like result.  Think of it like bed sheets:  the finer the thread and the higher the thread count, and the more luxurious the feel.   Just take a look at this close up photo of the Dash and Albert rug - you can see the soft,  thick pile close up. 


Tip: when buying online - it can be hard to see the detail of a rug. Always look for close -up shots and if none exist email and ask for one. 





“Can I get a rug that will  co-ordinate with my colour scheme?”


These days there is a vast variety of colours and patterns available, and you should be able to co-ordinate  with your chosen colour scheme. Outdoor rugs are actually a great way to connect indoor and outdoor decor schemes. Have a look at some of the choices,  patterns and sizes here.

Beautiful Outdoor Rugs
























“How will I keep it clean?”


Take a look at these simple photo instructions on how to keep your outdoor rug clean. Cold soapy water and a gentle scrub with a brush followed by a rinse under the shower or with a garden hose is all that is needed.  Just hang the rug  over your balcony railing, pool pence or washing line to dry, and you’re done!  



Cleaning outdoor rugs

easy to clean outdoor rugs








































Still dont believe me? Check out this video!












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Outdoor Furniture to Suit a Hot Sunny Balcony .

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Many balconies get exposed to full sun at some point during the day, and outdoor furniture can quickly heat up and be almost painful to sit on!
The obvious solution is to go for wood,  or, wood and wicker combinations. 




But if you like the relative low maintenance that metal (particularly stainless steel and aluminium ) affords you, there are some ways around it. 

Go for: metal chairs with seating made from outdoor fabrics like Batyline and arms that have a wood trim



Stainless Steel and Fabric Patio Chair

Modern Outdoor Dining Chairs
















metal frames with open weave polywicker to allow air through



























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Choosing Outdoor Furniture - Wood vs Wicker vs Metal

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Are you trying to choose your outdoor furniture and not sure whether to go for timber of metal? Or maybe, you’ve already decided on metal but you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the types available and not sure how to assess the quality? 


The process of shopping for outdoor furniture can become daunting and conversations quite technical. 



Things to keep in mind: outdoor furniture needs to be durable to  the weather elements around your home. Depending on where it is placed it will need to 

  • withstand long-term exposure to UV rays, 
  • moisture
  • high winds. 
  • and, in Australia,  heat  (which can make some materials  too hot to sit on)


All these weather elements can quickly wear down outdoor furniture  that has been made with inferior materials. .


To help you navigate your options, I have compiled a table that summarises the pro’s and con’s of  the most commonly used materials. 


I have  also provided a definition for each material. I have tried not to become too technical , but is important to know, for example, that not all stainless steels are created equal. 


stainlesssteelpretty all weather wickerrattan chairteak bench














Let's start with metal:






Mild Steel 

The most common type of steel

Carbon content  is up to 3%



Relatively Cheap

Weakest corrosion

resistance of all metals.


Must be painted/  treated/sealed to prevent



Ask whether its been galvanised. 

Wrought Iron

A  collective term for products ‘wrought’/shaped by hand. 


Historically also used to refer to a very low carbon steel (less than 0.08%) . 

Heavy - won't tip over in wind


Holds Rust protection treatments better than mild steel .(Can hold a galvanised layer  that is 25% thicker than mild steel).


Needs some care to prevent rust. 

Can get  quite hot on warm days and  very cold on cooler days

Stainless Steel

Contains a minimum of 10.5% chromium which  forms a film preventing surface corrosion.


There are different grades of stainless steel. Grades 304 & 316 are best for outdoors



304  Grade Stainless steel 

18% chromium

 8% nickel

At least 313 times more corrosion resistant than galvanised mild steel.


Stronger than 316 stainless steel 

Need to keep clean to avoid tea spots 

316 grade Stainless steel 

16% chromium

10% nickel

 2% molybdenum

At least  600 times more corrosion resistant than galvanised mild steel.


Molybdenum  helps resist corrosion to sea water and salts.

Most expensive kind of Stainless steel 



rust proof


requires little maintenance

light - can move furniture easily


remains cooler in the sun (vs other metals)

Most  expensive of all


Light - may tip over in wind


When it comes to wood, things are a bit more simple, and more obvious to the eye: 









eg. teak, redwood,   kwila (merbau), 

jarrah and


High natural oil content

dense grain structure



resist decay


repel water


dont shrink or swell


remain smooth to the touch 


resistant to termites and insects


remain cool in the sun


*Teak is the best hardwood because it is not as heavy as other hardwoods, and its leaching not as heavy.

More expensive than softwoods. 


Some hardwoods e.g. Kwila leach


eg pine 

less dense (than hardwoods)

Cheaper than hardwoods



Need to be pressure treated, sealed, varnished or painted.  


Less durable (than hardwoods)


Then of course, there are wickers, rattans and canes, both natural and artificial.  Remember that a lot of furniture made with these products, has a metal frame  so be sure to ask questions about the frame too. 





Natural Wicker

Not a material but rather a weaving process and is typically  made from cane, bamboo  or rattan 

quick drying 

light - can move furniture easily 

Cooler  to sit on than metal

Prone to dirt and dust

Light - may tip over in wind

Will rot over time.

Rattan (reed)



The rattan reed comes from core of rattan palm.



Rattan Poles are sturdy enough to be used as a frame and steamed and bend.

light - can move furniture easily 

Cooler  to sit on than metal

Very porous (unlike cane)

Light - may tip over in wind


A  part of the rattan plant produced by peeling off the skin of the rattan vine. 

Typically wrapped around  solid hardwood, steel, or aluminium frames to create a furniture item.

light - can move furniture easily 

Cooler  to sit on than metal

Has a natural glossy finish so doesn't accept paint well 

Will rot over time 

Light - may tip over in wind

PE wicker

Polyethylene wicker. Can be made from resin or vinyl.

Several branded products on the market eg. Viroweave, Ecolene

Mould and mildew resistant

Often treated for uv degradation 

Easy to clean 


Fabric is cooler  to sit on than metal

Quality varies across brands. Ask lots of questions about UV stability or go for one of the better known brands






Outdoor fabrics have come a long way.

Sling Seating Fabric: Look for good brands like  Textilene and Batyline

Outdoor Sofa Upholstery 

Look for brands like Olefin or Sunbrella 

Good brands are: 


Porous for quick dry 

UV treated 

Holds shape over time

Mould and UV resistant 

Fabric is cooler  to sit on than metal

Needs cleaning 


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Furnishing a Small Outdoor area

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Probably, the most important,  and one of the most expensive decisions,  you’ll make for your outdoor area, is choosing your outdoor furniture. With a small outdoorspace there are a few things you need to think carefully about: 

How will you use the space for most of the time?

  • alfresco family lunches over the weekend?
  • as a quiet place to drink your coffee before work or have a relaxing glass of wine after work?
  • as a lounge area to stretch out and read a book on a Sunday afternoon?
  • All of the above?

Be realistic : the idea of frequent weekend alfresco entertaining may sound fantastic, but how often are you really going to do that? Are you more likely to lounge outside reading a book?   Or vice versa? Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that it is an either/or decision, but you really want to avoid overcrowding a small space. So,   if you are more likely to be relaxing than serving three course Sunday lunches, rather allow a little more space for a really comfy lounge chair and buy folding dining table and chairs. 

Once you've decided on the purpose there are  a few things to think about when selecting the furniture. These will maximise the space: 
1. The Silhouette of the furniture
With a small space,  you need to  avoid ‘bulk’ at all costs and look for slim, simple lines. So go for: 

  • chairs that can slide fully under tables
  • slim profile legs on tables and chairs
  • sofas and bencheswith narrow, preferably no arms, 




2. Materials that ‘open up’  your space, think  

  • wicker that has an open weave rather than compact weave
  • slatted seats  or  fabric seating  that allow light to penetrate  (Batyline andTextilene are good options) 
  • glass table tops




3. Portability of the  furniture
Finally, if the area you’re looking to furnish, is your only outdoor space, as it often is for those of us with balconies, you’ll want to think about how  you can clear some space when needed. Lets face it, sometimes we need to use the space  for  some practical activities  (drying  laundry, or doing some DIY /repairs) and its great to be able to clear a bit of space  temporarily to do this.  So, if that sounds like your situation look for :

  • Stackable  chairs
  • Folding Chairs and tables  or maybe,
  • go for two small tables instead of one big one.Two small square tables can be pushed togetherwhen needed for  entertaining, and pushed into different corners when not in use.  Or,  if you go for the right look, you can even use one indoors




Okay,  time to go shopping? Not quite. There’ s one more thing to think about:  the materials that  your furniture is made from. I’ll deal with that in my next post , and  yes, then you’ll be well prepared to go shopping!

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