It seems simple enough – your outdoor space needs some shade, so you add in an umbrella. Sure, you can run to a big box store, buy the first umbrella you find in a color you like, and be ok with the result. But if you truly want your outdoor space to feel like a well-thought-out extension of your indoor living areas, it’s worth putting some attention into the items you choose to bring it all together. After all, you didn’t pick random décor pieces for your interior without some consideration.
A patio umbrella is the perfect finishing touch to provide shade and comfort to guests when you gather outdoors. Warm weather will be upon us before we know it, so now is the time to start shopping around. Follow our tips for buying a patio umbrella to ensure you find the perfect solution that is both functional and stylish.
Before you can start shopping, you need to figure out where you want to place your patio umbrella. Are you using it for your dining table? Does your dining table have a pre-drilled hole or does the umbrella need to be offset? Are you trying to create shade over an outdoor lounge area? How big is the furniture the umbrella will be covering? Are there any overhead obstacles such as a patio cover or roof overhang? Are there any nearby fire features such as a grill or fire pit?
Knowing where you want to use your patio umbrella will help you better decide the type, size, material, pole, and more.
While there can be variations of tilting and materials, there are two basic types of patio umbrellas: market patio umbrellas and offset patio umbrellas.
These are the umbrellas you’ll typically see at outdoor restaurants and markets. A market patio umbrella has a straight pole that is positioned in the center of the umbrella and sits in a base on the ground. You can place the umbrella pole in the center of a patio table or use the umbrella alone.
If you’re looking to shade a conversation set or simply don’t want an umbrella pole in the middle of your space, an offset patio umbrella is the solution for you. These versatile deck umbrellas feature a pole located off to the side, rather than down the middle. Many offset umbrellas have a shade that can pivot side to side and some can even rotate 360°.
There are three popular umbrella shapes: round (sometimes referred to as an octagon), square, and rectangle. The shape of the space you are trying to cover will typically dictate the shape of your patio umbrella. If you are trying to cover a rectangular dining table, a larger, rectangular patio umbrella would provide the best coverage. If you’re trying to cover two side-by-side chaise lounges, a square or round umbrella would be a good choice.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to deciding your umbrella’s shape – as long as the area that needs to be shaded is covered sufficiently. In fact, introducing the opposite shape can create visual balance if one already dominates the space. For example, if you have a lot of rounded elements, a rectangular or square patio umbrella may help break that up.
The size of your canopy determines how much shade it provides, so it’s essential to choose the correct dimensions. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want a canopy that is a minimum of two feet wider on each side than the space you’d like to cover.
If you’re shading a table, start by pulling out the chair as if they were occupied and measure the space around them. Your umbrella needs to be at least two feet wider than this space.
Small canopies work well with compact seating areas, small patios, and tables.
Medium canopies are the most common for standard patios, seating areas, and table sizes. They also work well for small patio tables as they’ll provide more than enough shade.
Large canopies are a must-have for expansive seating areas and sizable tables. If you have the room, they’re a luxurious nice-to-have in small and medium patio settings as they provide an abundance of shade.
Outdoor-rated textiles can have dramatic ranges with quality, durability, price, and their ability to weather the elements over time. You’ll want a fabric that provides complete UV protection and is water-, fade-, dirt-, mold-, mildew-, and weather-resistant.
Acrylic fabric is durable, colorfast, and offered in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Sunbrella is the industry leader in outdoor fabric and offers matching outdoor cushions and accent pillows to ensure you have a cohesive look throughout your outdoor space. It’s a high-quality material that will last for years, but that comes at a more expensive cost.
Also known as Olefin, polypropylene is a budget-friendly option that doesn’t sacrifice quality. It’s made of highly durable synthetic fibers that will last for years to come as long as it is cared for properly. Polypropylene has better fade-resistance than polyester or cotton, without the high cost of acrylic.
Polyester provides an impressive performance at a budget-friendly price. It’ll offer fade-, rot-, and mildew-resistance for years with proper care. Major brands include Pacifica and O’Bravia and you can choose from a wide selection of stylish colors and patterns.
A playful alternative to traditional fabrics, thatch is typically made from polypropylene strips sewn into a spun polyester base cloth. It will not rot, mildew or attract insects and is low maintenance – just hose it down and allow to air dry.
The material you choose will play a major role in your patio umbrella’s strength, weather-resistance, and overall look. There are two primary materials to choose from: woods like teak, eucalypts, or bamboo and metals like aluminum or steel.
Wooden frames have a timeless aesthetic, lending a natural look that works within a lush, green setting. They pair well with other wooden outdoor furniture so you can ensure a cohesive feel in your space. Umbrellas with wood frames often come with higher price points and may require refinishing to prevent decay, insect, and weather damage. They’re also less durable than metal options and can break in extremely high winds.
Aluminum is the most durable and versatile of umbrella pole options as it is rust-resistant and extremely strong. They feature easy-to-operate crank lifts, many have a tilt feature, and come in a wide range of finishes.
Steel umbrellas offer the same strength and feature benefits of aluminum, but at a lower cost. This is because steel doesn’t have the same rust-resistance so they may not look as new for as long. Steel umbrellas tend to be heavier which works well in windier climates.
There are three types of umbrella lift systems from which to choose:
A tilting umbrella can be angled to protect against sunlight from a specific direction. There are three types of tilt mechanisms available:
You don’t want to put all the time and energy into finding the perfect patio umbrella and skimp on the base. You must properly secure it to prevent tipping or blowing away in high winds. Even if your dining table has an umbrella hole, you’ll need a base for stability and reinforcement.
A good way to determine the minimum weight for your umbrella stand is to multiply the width of your canopy by 10. For example, a 7.5’ umbrella would need a minimum of a 75 lb. umbrella stand; a 9’ umbrella would need a minimum of a 90 lb. stand. If you live in a high-wind area, the heavier, the better.
A patio umbrella is an investment in your home and outdoor décor, so you want to keep it in good shape for years to come. Like anything else in your home, this means keeping up on care and maintenance.
Warm, sunny months call us outside to enjoy al fresco dining, lounging, or gathering with friends. Whether you place a patio umbrella on your deck or use it poolside, a nice shady spot is a welcome escape from the sun.
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