Just saying ‘al fresco’ conjures images of informal gatherings and leisurely meals enjoyed outdoors, but it’s all about the setting.

A dull space furnished with wobbly, uncomfortable furniture won’t encourage family and guests to linger, so it’s important to create a special ‘outdoor room’ where you can socialise and eat in style.

There’s no excuse for a poor patio these days as the design and quality of outdoor furniture improves year on year, with an ever more versatile range including day beds and coffee tables as well as traditional dining sets and weather-resistant loungers.

Sail-away style

A home by the shore may be out of reach but a crisp blue and white theme will quickly conjure a carefree, coastal style.

A chunky sofa and armchair in pale wood with plump sky blue cushions and a matching coffee table with built-in storage space could be irresistible: the Blooma Cavallo coffee table set, £699 from B&Q.

Pull the look together with blue accessories from Matalan which has blue picnic ware, from £4.50 a set, a blue and white boathouse-style birdhouse, £8 (currently only available in stores), and lantern, £6.

BUDGET BUY: A blue Toronto four-seater outdoor dining set in white powder coated steel and mesh, including blue seat pads and parasol, £299, and bench, £99, both from John Lewis.

Exotic rattan

Rattan furniture, with its woven appearance and rich dark shades, is evocative of verandas and sultry settings.

A generous-sized curved single sofa with footrest is currently reduced online from £999 to £699 at Homebase. Alternatively, make a statement with a weather-resistant high-backed rattan chair, £325 from Next.

Home bars are enjoying a big revival, so follow the cocktail crowd and invest in a waterproof Sicilia set, black rattan bar and four stools, £795 from Alexander Francis.

BUDGET BUY: A synthetic rattan Havana collection, including seat pads, sofa, £499, armchair, £249, coffee table, £149, and side table, £99, all from Marks & Spencer.

Naturally elegant

Celebrate the beauty of natural materials for a patio scheme which will blend with its outdoor surroundings. Capture upmarket designer style with Conran’s excellent range of garden furniture for Marks & Spencer which focuses on comfort and elegance.

Its high-back Faulks sofa, in teak interlaced with pewter-coloured tape, includes seat pads, and is £999. The matching armchair is £699, and footstool, £399. Sunbathe (weather permitting) on a lounger, the Peru Deck Chair, £99.99 from Homebase, or daydream and laze on a Leckford outdoor rocking chair, £299 from John Lewis.

BUDGET BUY: Director’s chair, £30 and wooden table, £40, both from Sainsbury’s. One of this summer’s winning products will definitely be a cool bar, £59.99 from Lakeland - a drinks cooler, cocktail table and coffee table all in one.

Urban chic

Sleek, contemporary outdoor furniture transforms a patio into a sophisticated sanctuary. A Blooma Wake black metal garden day bed, with grey cushions, £499 from B&Q, is a stunner. For divine dining it’s hard to beat a handsome Palma six-seater dining set, with a cappuccino-coloured glass table top, which is on offer online at £499 (formerly £699) from Homebase.

Shade from the sun is a must: overhanging parasol in cream, £79.99. Add occasional seating - a barrel seat, in galvanised steel, £145 from Garden Trading, would be in keeping with this style.

BUDGET BUY: Cannes patio collection features white coated aluminium pieces combined with fine outdoor mesh fabric. Double deck chair, £299, glass dining table, £299, dining chair, £129, all from Dwell.