When it rains, it pours, but summer sunshine has its own set of drawbacks. Whether you have a tiny balcony or a sprawling backyard with multiple terraces, a great outdoor umbrella can lower the temperature when it’s hotter than a fire emoji outside. Adding some shady cover is also a foolproof way to turn your outdoor eyesore into a resort-worthy extension of your indoor oasis. But looks can only get you so far.
“Splurging on quality umbrellas is always a yes for me,” says Abbe Fenimore, founder and principal designer of Studio Ten 25 in Dallas. She suggests choosing one that’s well designed and easy to adjust to get the most out of an item that eats up considerable space and budget. “The intention is to add shade without the challenge of moving the umbrella around while you are out enjoying the space,” she adds. You also want to pay attention to the technical stuff: the sun-protection factor and durability for starters, but also the size. Read on for pro tips on how to choose the best patio umbrella for your shade needs and design style, plus a roundup of the best canopies to instantly make any alfresco area look and feel cooler.
The Short List
- Best overall: Ballard Designs Auto-Tilt Umbrella
- Best value: Blissun Aluminum Patio Umbrella
- Best with built-in lighting: Sunnyglade Solar 24 LED Lighted Patio Umbrella
- Best cantilever: Crate & Barrel Round Cantilever Umbrella With Base
- Best extra-large: Phi Villa Patio Umbrella
- Best small scale: Basil Bangs Go Large Serge Umbrella
- Best rectangular: Pottery Barn Premium Rectangular Outdoor Umbrella
- Best scalloped: Target Opalhouse Round Fringe Patio Umbrella
- Best pagoda style: Serena & Lily Eastport Umbrella
Fabric: An umbrella is only as good as its canopy, and material largely dictates overall quality. Usually found on pricier models, Sunbrella is a top choice among experts because the brand’s durable performance fabrics resist the elements and provide true sun protection. They are “designed with innovative technology that dyes them at the fiber level to be UV- and fadeproof, allowing them to retain their beauty even when exposed to direct sunlight,” says Kirk Fitzsimmons, director of industrial sales at Sunbrella. “They are also easy to clean and resistant to mold and mildew.” To further size up the sun-protection factor of a canopy fabric, he suggests looking for third-party accreditation vetting, like Sunbrella’s Seal of Recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation for UV protection.
Mechanism: There are various mechanisms to lift and tilt the canopy on an outdoor umbrella, and certain ones make more sense depending on typical use and the type of setting. “Consider the size of the umbrella and how often you are putting it up and down,” says Fitzsimmons. “A pulley might be the right choice if you’re adjusting your shade frequently throughout the day, whereas a crank is a great option for an umbrella that sits near the pool and is opened just once or twice per day.”
Patio decor: Fortune favors the bold. “If you have a very neutral design, I say go for an umbrella that will add contrast,” suggests Dabito, founder of Old Brand New, a Los Angeles–based creative studio. “I also like to mix cool and warm colors or opt for monochromatic, which you can never go wrong with.”
Size: “There is no one-size-fits-all solution for shade,” says Fitzsimmons. But you can use this simple trick for choosing the right canopy dimensions: “As a general rule of thumb, consider extending the shade 2 feet beyond the size of what you are covering, like a dining table,” he suggests. Roxy Te Owens, founder and creative director of Society Social, has a similar sizing M.O. for umbrellas. “Measure the area or table you want to shade, then add 2 to 2.5 feet to each side to figure out the diameter,” she says.
Best Overall: Ballard Designs Auto-Tilt Umbrella
It’s easy to throw constant shade from every angle thanks to the simple crank mechanism on this classic umbrella by Ballard Designs. But its impenetrable Sunbrella canopy has a trick up its sleeve: The UV-shielding, fade- and mildew-resistant fabric features a single vent to make way for bracing breezes. Available in 27 color options and 9- and 11-foot diameters, it’s designed to fit a variety of alfresco setups to create the ultimate beach vacation atmosphere in any backyard. “I love striped patio umbrellas because they have such a summery vibe that makes me feel like I’m at a resort,” says Dabito.
Best Value: Blissun Aluminum Patio Umbrella
Best With Built-in Lighting: Sunnyglade Solar 24 LED Lighted Umbrella
Best Cantilever: Crate & Barrel Round Cantilever Umbrella With Base
Best Extra-Large: Phi Villa Patio Umbrella
Best Small Scale: Basil Bangs Go Large Serge Umbrella
Best Rectangular: Pottery Barn Premium Rectangular Umbrella
Best Scalloped: Opalhouse Round Fringe Patio Umbrella
Best Pagoda Style: Serena & Lily Eastport Umbrellashowstopping canopy sets the scene for Aperol Spritzes at sunset and lively brunches with friends. With its scalloped edging and contrasting trim, the fun pagoda-style stunner is more than just a pretty shade: Our chief creative officer swears by its windproof construction, and the Sunbrella canopy and no-fuss push-opening mechanism makes quick location changes a breeze.
Pro Tips for Styling a Patio Umbrella
“If you’re starting from scratch, choosing an umbrella first can be a great way to dictate the vibe of your space,” says Owens. “For example, if you’re going for a fun colored umbrella with tassels, you’ll likely want to carry that maximalist style throughout the rest of your patio.” Looking for something more subdued yet with a bit of personality? “I love seeing bold color on patios or by the pool, but a classic stripe is a great way to add a little pattern and whimsy,” says Fenimore.
How We Vetted These Products
Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria:
- They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use.
- They’re expert approved. In addition to our team of editors, we tap a range of designers, makers, renovators, and all-around knowledgeable people to share their intel.
- They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews from both our creative community and third-party websites to know that they pass the test IRL.
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