Unfortunately, every home I've ever owned or rented in Australia has come with a west-facing back yard or deck.
When when you live in a country with the highest risk of skin cancer and in which the summers are unforgiving, you have to think about shade in the same way you have to think about sun in the northern hemisphere.
Luckily, most Australians have the sense to think ahead about shade when buying a property. They understand the importance of cover for their deck, balcony or other outdoor areas, and if there is none, they budget for it. But those choices may be limited when you are renting.
The one house that we did own here had every Australian man's dream of a deck. It was what real estate agents would describe as an "entertainer's delight" - a massive space that took up half the garden. But because it was only semi-covered and west-facing, it was unbearable to sit on by 2pm each afternoon.
In my quest to protect my white, English skin, I've been forced to come up with a myriad of cost-effective, DIY solutions over the years to provide me with shade. I've designed my own sail shades and I've tacked an
interesting array of Moroccan-style canopies to the rafters, but the sad truth is nothing is quite as effective or as stylish as a blind or a decent umbrella.
Few renters want to spend the money to invest in blinds (and they're not always allowed on the front of apartment blocks anyway), but an umbrella can move with you, from rental to rental. What is more, umbrella design has come on in leaps and bounds since the ones I grew up with, which had one position and generally blew over with the slightest gust of wind. There are now compact, half-size umbrellas for small balconies that tilt and swing, and some of them even have LED lights. Surely, there must be one out there with an Esky for its base? And if not - why not?
But good umbrellas aren't cheap and with price tags anywhere between $300 and $4000, it's important to find one that meets your needs. Here's what you need to consider:
1. Position - Check out where the sun rises and sets on your property. Watch its progress over several days to determine the size and functional requirements of your umbrella. A cantilever umbrella, with its 360 degree coverage will give you the most flexibility - because it allows you to follow the track of the sun - but they may prove too large for some spaces. And personally, I would never buy the old-fashioned type of brolly that sits in the middle of the dining table and offers no flexibility as the sun moves over.
2. The shade/protection it offers - This will depend on the the size of the canopy and the fabric it is made from. Ideally you want an umbrella with a canopy that blocks at least 90% of UV radiation, but don't opt for too large an umbrella if it is to sit on the edge of an apartment balcony - it is likely to get swept away by the wind.
3. Durability - The warranty is important, especially if you live in a harsh climate, ie., close to the beach, where you may need to consider the grade of the aluminium and cloth more seriously. Timber poles snap easily in strong winds and you need to know how resistant your umbrella is to rain, mould, and fading, so spend as much as your budget allows. Do invest in a cover or cable ties.
4. Weight - Most umbrellas are costed separately to the base, and if you live by the beach with its unpredictable winds, I would select the heaviest base you can afford - although, sadly, even that might not be enough. Our concrete base has been known to fall over in high winds.
5. Functions - Like most things in life, you get what you pay for to a degree and if you want a tilting, mould-proof, cantilever umbrella with an air vent, it will cost more than a bog-standard one. For me, the most important function is the ability to tilt. The sun shifts during the day, so that flexibility can be worth its weight in gold for the sake of a few extra dollars.
For local and online stockists at the more economical end of the range, try Bunnings and Ikea, both of which stock a range of outdoor umbrellas over the summer months. Instant Shade Umbrellas offer the Paraflex wall umbrella, Shade Australia have an extensive range, as do Barbeques Galore and Shelta.
Photos: 1. Photo by Valentin B. Kremer on Unsplash 2. St Tropez umbrella from Outdoor Living Direct. Paraflex wall mounted umbrella from Outdoor Elegance.
stylish as an all-singing, all-dancing umbrella.