The night we finished (or nearly finished) work on our new patio, Brian hauled a card table and a couple of folding chairs out there so that we could use our new space right away. However, it was clear that this makeshift furniture wasn't really going to work for us over the long term; to enjoy our patio properly, we'd need some real outdoor furniture. And as I observed last year, this stuff doesn't tend to come cheap. A quick Google search just now on "patio furniture" popped up a sponsored list of hits ranging from $500 to $2500 in price, and even the sets we saw on sale on our last trip to Home Depot were marked down to between $300 and $600.
Fortunately, there's always IKEA.
Within a day of completing the patio, we had already checked out the patio sets on IKEA's website and narrowed our choices down to two favorites. The 4-piece Äpplarö set, priced at $220, was solid acacia wood with a nice dark-brown finish, and all the individual pieces could be folded up for storage. The Askholmen set was also solid acacia, had a lighter finish, and was even cheaper—only $120 for four pieces—but it wouldn't fold up. We were leaning toward the Äpplarö, thinking that folding pieces might be worth an extra $100 because we could store them inside during the winter, but we figured it would be best to see them at the store and try them out in person before making our decision.
This turned out to be a good idea, as we found to our surprise that the cheaper Askholmen set (a name that Brian promptly changed to "afikomen") actually felt sturdier and more comfortable to sit on. The table was also wider and shorter than the Äpplarö table, making it a slightly more convenient size for dining. And the Askholmen furniture, though it didn't fold up, was still lightweight enough that we figured it wouldn't be too much trouble to carry it inside if a hurricane was forecast or something. In fact, there was only one problem with it: it was out of stock at our local store. So looking at it one way, we'd just made a decision that would save us $100 on our patio furniture; but looking at it another way, we'd just spent 10 bucks on gas and tolls for a wasted trip, since we'd have to come back a second time to get the furniture once it was in stock again. (Actually, we spent a bit more than that, since we ended up buying a few odds and ends while we were there—a drying rack, a pair of scissors, a couple of jars of lingonberries, and some coffee and chocolate bars—but we figured we would have bought those things anyway, even if we'd made only one trip.)
Fortunately, the furniture was back in stock within a few days, and since we took the 25th off for our anniversary, we took the opportunity to go back and get it. (The trip was just as expensive on a weekday, but the traffic conditions, both on the Turnpike and in the store itself, were much better.) It was a few days before we could get around to assembling the pieces, but once we did, they went together very easily with just a screwdriver and an Allen wrench, which was thoughtfully included in the box (we've now assembled a fairly large collection of these, since for some reason we can never bring ourselves to throw one out). We were also grateful that IKEA provided instructions in an easy-to-follow pictorial form, rather than a set of inscrutable directions translated from Swedish.
So here, at last, you can see our new patio in its more-or-less final state. Along with the furniture, there's been one other addition that you can see at left in the picture: a new rack to hold our garden hose. This used to hang from a hook suspended on a metal post stuck into the ground, but the post had to come out when we started to dig the patio, so we picked up a simple $10 hose hanger at Home Depot to take its place. It only came in green, which I thought might look odd against our blue house, so Brian gave it a quick coat of black spray paint before attaching it to the foundation with a couple of masonry screws. And there you have it, folks: a finished, furnished patio. Just for the sake of completeness, I'll throw in a cost breakdown for the project like they do at "Young House Love":
Demolition: $0 (thanks to the generous loan of a jackhammer from our awesome neighbor)
Wheelbarrow: $37.43 (this will probably be used for other projects as well, but we bought it for this, so we'll count it for this)
Gravel, stone dust, ground cloth, and staples: $278.68 (including delivery)
Pavers: $0 (thanks to a great find on Freecycle, which was what started this whole project off in the first place)
Tamper tool: $32.08
Two-by-four for screeding: $3
Furniture: $123.16 (with tax, which is only half the usual rate because the Elizabeth IKEA store is in one of New Jersey's special "development zones")
Hose hanger: $10.69 (no charge for the spray paint, since we had some left over)
Spending a whole week together, covered in dirt and sweat, building this thing with our own hands: priceless.