If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor space that can accommodate more than a patio chair or two, setting up an actual alfresco dining situation can go a long way toward transforming your backyard into something of a getaway. And because the pandemic has put a hold on a lot of summer travel plans, a staycation may be the only vacation you may be able to take. No, getting a dining table and a set of chairs won’t instantly turn your balcony into one overlooking the Aegean Sea, but it can make your outdoor setup a cozier place where you want to linger longer (like, say, a balcony overlooking the Aegean Sea).
To help you find an outdoor dining set for your space, we turned to nine interior designers for help. While many of their recommendations came in the form of bistro-style dining sets — a.k.a. smaller tables with two chairs — one of those may be all you need, given that social-distancing rules still apply in many places. Some of the sets include chairs that you can also purchase separately, though, in case you want to fit one or two more around the table (we’ve noted which throughout). But further down, the experts also recommend several larger dining sets, for those who need more seating or are looking to furnish bigger outdoor spaces.
Best bistro-style outdoor dining sets
Best overall bistro-style outdoor dining set
Three of our experts — Tiffany Thompson, an interior designer and the founder of Duett Interiors; Sarah Ramirez of Decorist and Found and Collected Design; and Neffi Walker, interior designer and the founder of the Black Home — all recommend this metal bistro-style set as one of the best you can get (at a relatively reasonable price) for dining outdoors. Made from powder-coated iron, the set is weather- and rust-resistant. Another reason they all like it is that it has an oval-shaped table, which sets it apart from the many other sets with round tables on this list. The table also features a nifty space-saving design that Thompson and Ramirez both told us about: The armchairs tuck right into the table when not in use. All three interior designers also note that it comes in festive colors; Walker calls the coral color shown “playful,” but the set also comes in a mint green that Thompson says “instantly reminds me of summer.”
Best less-expensive bistro-style outdoor dining set
Interior designer Nick Olsen calls this three-piece dining set classic, charming, and practical. Interior designer Natalie Kraiem also likes this set, which is a bit more compact than the one above, saying it may be all you need to get the most out of a smaller outdoor space. The table and two chairs are made of a powder-coated steel that’s resistant to rust, and everything folds up for easy storage. In addition to this cheery pink, the set is available in black, blue, white, yellow, and mint green.
More recommended bistro-style outdoor dining sets
This wicker set comes recommended by two of our experts, Decorist designer Tina MartinDelCampo and Walker, who owns it herself. She calls it “comfortable and stylish enough for any space,” and MartinDelCampo agrees, saying, “Wicker is really hot in the design world right now.” Slender hairpin legs made of steel add a modern touch, while the table’s glass top allows for drinks and other objects to lay flat. The set also includes seat cushions with weather-resistant, machine washable covers.
If you’re looking for something basic and affordable that gets the job done, Amy Azzarito, the author of The Elements of a Home: Curious Histories Behind Everyday Household Objects, From Pillows to Forks, recommends this minimalist set from Ikea. She calls it an “Über-affordable option” that “looks good and folds for easy storage,” making it ideal for smaller balconies or patios. “If you’ve lived in New York longer than a heartbeat, you’ve probably sat at one of these,” Azzarito says of the dining set. To make the chairs even more comfortable, she suggests adding seat cushions, and additional chairs in the same collection are also available for $25 a pop.
For another festive set at a decent price, consider this metal one that Azzarito also recommends for how cute and petite it is. It’s designed by the Novogratz design team, which has appeared on HGTV and Bravo and is known “for using bright, punchy colors,” according to Azzarito. (It comes in a turquoise finish, in addition to this yellow.) She adds that “it has a great profile for a small space; I love how the chairs’ high backs give the set some visual heft while maintaining a small footprint.”
Another metal set, this one comes recommended by MartinDelCampo, who particularly loves the chairs’ tapered legs. “It’s traditional while still feeling cool and modern,” she says. The fact that it’s made of cast iron is another bonus, according to her, because in addition to being super durable for outdoor use, she says that you can easily spray paint it every few years when it starts to look dull. (For that, MartinDelCampo recommends using Rust-Oleum spray paints in any color.)
Thompson recommends another Ikea set, which she likes because it’s “completely foldable” and “multiuse.” Made of sustainable acacia wood, the set includes a square-top table that’s larger than that of your average round bistro table and has two folding leaves that can be adjusted according to your needs and space restrictions. The two chairs it comes with also fold up, and Thompson notes that “you can easily break this down and store it in a small closet in the winter months.” The chairs are also sold separately for $35 a piece, and you can add a chair pad to them for increased comfort.
If you prefer wood but want a round table, consider this set that MartinDelCampo recommends. “This set is a space saver,” she promises. “It’s a perfect set for apartment and condo owners who have limited balcony spaces but crave an outdoor dining space.” Adding to its appeal are what she calls the “beautiful finish” of the Brazilian eucalyptus hardwood and the set’s “classic design that everyone can enjoy.”
This wooden bistro-style recommended by Ramirez also has a nifty space-maximizing design: built-in shelving in the form of a cabinet attached to the table. Made from acacia wood in a weather-resistant dark finish, it comes with two folding chairs, and everything — including the cabinet — folds up compactly for easy storage (the chairs can be tucked inside the base of the larger unit). “This petite set is very adaptable for a space that needs to be multifunctional while looking chic,” says Ramirez. “I love that everything folds up into a compact unit.” To dress it up a bit, she suggests hanging some plants from the frame.
Azzarito loves this modern dining set that’s weather-, water-, and rust-resistant. The two chairs each have a durable metal frame and flexible wicker seating that conforms to your body for added comfort, a feature that Azzarito appreciates. She adds that the chairs’ base is particularly suited for a deck. “When you’re looking for outdoor chairs, be aware that if your balcony or deck has gaps, many chair legs can get stuck,” she says. “This style of chair leg solves that dilemma.” If you want to punch up the set’s subdued charcoal-gray finish, Azzarito suggests adding “some bright, poppy cushions.”
Azzarito also recommends this three-piece set, pointing out that an outdoor chair should be one that you and your guests will want to sit in for a while. “The molded, perforated plastic backs of these chairs is guaranteed to be comfortable,” she says, as they’re curved to cocoon any bodies sitting in them. She notes that the perforations have another benefit: They allow the chairs to dry quickly after it rains. The chairs, she says, are also UV-resistant: “Rain or shine, this set will withstand the elements,” promises Azzarito. If you need additional chairs, the Brittney line includes smaller, matching patio chairs (and stackable patio chairs) that would work just as well around the table (those patio chairs, by the way, make an appearance in our list of the best expert-recommended patio chairs). The patio chairs, which are also perforated, are sold out in the color that matches the dining set, but are available in other hues like white (shown), yellow, and red that would look nice against the dining set’s dark-gray color.
Instead of chairs, this bistro-style set recommended by Azzarito comes with stools, which she likes for their versatility because they can also be used as side tables. The table and stools each feature a wooden top that’s “maintenance-free,” as she puts it, and a unique, curving base made from powder-coated steel. The set, shown in turquoise, comes in a three-piece (one table, two chairs) or a five-piece (one table, four chairs) style, and in yellow and gray colors too. You can buy the stools separately (in sets of two, and in yellow and gray) as well.
This table and armchair from Terrain’s Oxbow collection are sold separately, but meant to be used as a set. Azzarito told us that she “loves the shapes” of both, describing them as “classic and modern at the same time.” The table is made from steel and finished in colors that won’t fade, while the armchair features a steel frame, a wickerlike seat, and a cushion.
If you’re looking for something that’s bar-height, which can add variety and dimension to a space that needs to be multifunctional, here’s one that Walker recommends. She calls it an elegant setup that’s great for afternoon tea and notes that the steel-and-plastic-wicker chairs come with cushions that have removable covers (for easy washing). The set is also weather- and UV-resistant.
Another bar-height dining set, this trades traditional chairs for stools and comes recommended by Decorist designer Rita Schulz. The West Elm set of a table and two stools is made from durable kiln-dried acacia wood, which lends it a relaxed, picnicky feel, according to Schulz. “It lends a casual vibe to an outdoor space,” she says.
Yes, the price for this set is more than triple the price of many that have come before it. But a big reason for that is because, in addition to its two chairs and table, the set comes with a bar cart that could also double as a side table (it has wheels for easy mobility, built-in wineglass storage, and a lift-out tray). Ramirez recommends it, calling the set a “modern update to the classic bistro dining table.” The pieces are made from a “soft gray-washed wood” and the chairs feature fabric backs and seats cut from a “bright white canvas.” The terrazzolike table top is made from sea-glass chips and is way more design-y than any others on this list — Ramirez says it has “a sophisticated California-casual feel.” And if you want more seating, you can buy more of the chairs individually or in sets of two.
Best large outdoor dining sets
For something that can accommodate more than two diners, Strategist contributor Laura Fenton, the author of The Little Book of Living Small, says you can’t go wrong with a classic picnic table like this affordable model. “It’s sturdy, easy to assemble yourself, and will last forever,” she promises. Plus, it won’t go out of style. Once you assemble the table (the pieces, made of pine, come with predrilled holes), you can customize it with paint or a stain. Fenton adds that, to prolong its life, you should seal the top with a weather-protectant coat.
MartinDelCampo recommends this picnic table that comes with moveable benches (as opposed to ones that are attached, like the above table’s). It’s available in a UV-protected, unfinished wood or a cedar-stained finish. Another feature she likes about it: The set is made in the U.S.
A round picnic table, like this one that Azzarito recommends, can be a little more comfortable than a traditional rectangular one because it “eliminates that awkward straddle as you climb over an attached picnic bench,” according to her. “Also, that slight curvature of the benches will make it much more comfortable for a leisurely meal.” Made of weather-resistant cedarwood, this table includes four attached benches that comfortably seat eight, which is why Azzarito calls it the “perfect size” for a barbecue or “an alfresco game of cards.”
This beer-garden-style dining table comes recommended by Fenton, who told us it is very similar to another one from World Market that she has used on photo shoots (but is currently sold out). A big thing that differentiates it from the larger picnic-style dining sets above is that its table and benches, which are made of wood with an iron frame, can fold up for convenient and compact storage.
Fenton, who’s partial to the look of these Tolix-style metal chairs, pointed us to this set that happens to be from the same brand that makes contributor Eric Margulies’s dining table. The set shown comes with a table and six chairs, and is also available in white. But you can buy the table and chairs separately in a slew of other colors, in case you want a different look or to mix and match complementary hues.
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