It's never too late to create a 'room outside' by perking up your patio, as Gabrielle Fagan reveals three top looks for garden lounging...
In a triumph of hope over experience, we plucky Brits persist in defying our unpredictable weather, eating, socialising and relaxing al fresco as soon as there's a glimmer of sunlight. But while we can't guarantee good weather, it is at least possible to make a stylish and comfortable setting a dead cert, by lavishing some love on your outdoor space.
As well as the advantage of creating another 'room' - always welcome in our space-starved times, investing in a patio could also literally help you 'grow' money.
A garden can increase the value of a property by up to 20 per cent, according to research by RatedPeople.com, the UK's largest online trade recommendation service, which also found that the majority of buyers (66 per cent) say outdoor space would be a key deciding factor when it comes to buying.
"People can always tell the difference between a house and a home, and it works the same way with a garden," says Rated People ambassador and Location, Location, Location presenter Phil Spencer.
"Don't be afraid to add personality to your outdoor decor and accessories - this is your space and says as much about you as your interior. Wall decorations, interesting plant pots and special features will make your garden eye-catching and, just as important, more enjoyable for you to spend time in."
A simple test can tell you if that space is fit for purpose: plant yourself down on your outdoor furniture and decide whether you're as comfortable as you would be indoors, and could linger there as long over a meal or drinks. If the answer's a resounding 'no', it's time for revamp.
Choose from one of this year's top outdoor trends...
Natural materials - wood and stone - are always a sound choice for a patio, as they look more beautiful as they weather and their colour tones blend into the surroundings.
"The blurring of the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces means that entertaining is no longer confined to one area of the home, and now commonly involves using kitchen, dining and outdoor spaces to create a flow through the home," says Nicola Gidlow, buyer for outdoor living at John Lewis.
"Furnish this space as you would an indoor room and, ideally, choose colours and prints that echo your indoor scheme. This will unify all the spaces. If you haven't got green fingers, a collection of faux trees and plants in pots grouped around the boundary of the patio could delineate the space."
Phil's Tip: "Consider the amount of time and care you want to give to your garden when you create it," advises Spencer. "Shrubs and conifers add stature and texture, and can be virtually left to their own devices once you've prepared the soil. Similarly, weather-proof furniture, which can be left outside, is ideal if you don't want to get involved in yearly maintenance and haven't any winter storage."
Patio Picks: Marks & Spencer's Dahlia collection, in grey-painted eucalyptus wood, is a winner, combining both style and comfort. Sofa, £599; Armchair, £349; Coffee Table, £179; Lounger, £259, and that absolute summer essential, a funky deckchair; Tropical Floral Deck Chair, £69.
Italian company Manutti is synonymous with style, and the teak Livorno Garden Table, £4,025, teamed with Malibu Chairs, £480 each, is patio perfection and available from Go Modern. Turn to stone for a traditional, stately-home effect and plunder the innovative range at Neptune. A Portland 10 Seater Table, £1,445, comes in a composite stone mimicking the effect of expensive limestone, and would pair well with an all-weather willow Tuscany Armchair, £265.
Candlelight evenings are so romantic, and Artisanti's Corinthia Smoked Glass Candle Lantern (above), currently reduced to £120 from £142, is so much smarter than a tea-light holder.
Whatever the weather, your patio will have a tropical twist with furniture in neon hues and playful accessories.
"This season's tropical trend has found its way into our gardens, with bold and bright accessories leading the way. From jewel-hued cushions to colour-pop parasols, these fun additions are a great way to add character and style to al fresco spaces. They can also be mixed and matched with ease," says Kate Watson, interior designer for furniture specialists, Fishpools.
"Choose two 'key' colours - and don't be afraid to be bold - then complement with small splashes of accent colours to add interest."
Phil's Tip: "Remember it's not the size that matters, it's what you do with it, when it comes to patios," says Spencer. "If you're working with a small area, don't fill it with too many features, as it can look busy and cluttered. Consider a mirror or water feature to add depth, while lining the edges of a larger garden with shrubs, such as laurel bushes, will make it look more cosy and enclosing."
Patio Picks: Habitat's a reliable source for funky, colourful pieces, and it doesn't disappoint with a new Minaji range in easy-care polypropylene. Their two Seater Garden Bench, in orange or black, is £395; Garden Armchair, in green or black, £195.
Fishpools' colourful Savona Lounger Chairs, £25 each, would jazz up a space, as would Oliver Bonas' Paloma Egg Hanging Chair £350. Splash the colour but not the cash with Dunelm's Tropical Fan furniture: Table, £6.99, and Chair, £19.99.
Pineapples are this year's must-have accessory, and Tesco's Metal Pineapple Tealight Holder (pictured left), £8, available in store, is a steal. Revamp a patio by painting or tiling outdoor walls and decking. Valspar's 40 paint shades, in a mid-sheen finish for garden and decking, start from £32 for 2.5l at B&Q stores.
Lighten up and look beyond dark brown and black furniture (so yesterday!), and give a more spacious feel to even the most compact space.
"Neutral shades - white, taupe, varying shades of grey - are a strong trend this year," says Tina Mahony, director of garden furniture company, Go Modern. "These are natural partners with sleek, streamlined furniture, which truly turn a patio into an outdoor room. This is a contemporary, chic interpretation and can look spectacular on a light stone floor, and makes a cool contrast to the colour and interest of the garden beyond."
Phil's Tip: "Keep it light, is the watchword for modern garden. Nowadays, they can easily be transformed with lighting, which will make a space intriguing with spotlight areas and, crucially, more usable at night," says Spencer. "Use uplighters or spots to highlight features, and you'll draw attention away from an unattractive outlook or corner."
Patio Picks: Bring Spanish style to a space with the Arc Garden collection from Go Modern, with its soft, curved lines and white weather-resistant rattan. Round Table; £1,200, and Club Armchairs, from £560 each. Create a lounging area with a Milan five Seater Conversation Set, £399.99, available in white rattan, Dunelm.
Shelter from the sun (hopefully), or even a light shower, in colonial style under a Suntime Polenza Gazebo With Net (pictured below), £199, John Lewis. Add the illusion of space and light with two clever accessories - a Cream Metal Garden Mirror, £42.95, Melody Maison, and a Shining Pot Lamp, from £215, Out There Interiors.