What Shape Outdoor Umbrella Should I Choose?

26 August 2021
Deciding between an octagonal umbrella and a square umbrella can be bewildering. "Is a round umbrella better than a square umbrella" is a common question. This article offers insights and tips to help you choose.

Knowing that a Shade7 outdoor umbrella will transform your outdoor space is the start of a wonderful journey to fabulous outdoor living you can enjoy year-round. Strong and beautiful, Shade7 outdoor umbrellas elevate any location with their stunning appearance, as well as making it possible for you and your family and friends to truly enjoy those sun-drenched spaces instead of hiding away inside. Another wonderful aspect of these statuesque yet versatile umbrellas is that you can shelter under them on drizzly wet days, close them to let the sun in on cold winter days, or tilt and rotate them as the hot sun moves across the sky.

Pistachio Riviera

But realising that a Shade7 umbrella will dramatically improve use of your outdoor space is just the beginning. Shade7’s friendly and experienced team are very aware that the decision to get a Shade7 umbrella is quickly followed by a few other questions:

  • Which umbrella is best for me – cantilever or centre pole?
  • What size should I get – what size would be too big, or too small?
  • And – what shape umbrella is best? Or in other words, is a round umbrella better than a square umbrella?

These questions are discussed in the article What cantilever umbrella should I get?  How to decide between an octagonal umbrella and a square umbrella can be bewildering, so this article will explore the pros and cons of square vs octagonal umbrellas more fully.

The most common, and most popular shape, is octagonal. With its eight even arms, it is essentially round. This classic shape goes back in history, for example, parasols in Imperial China and Victorian England.  Although walking with parasols isn’t as common as it once was, we are all familiar with the wet-weather equivalent.

The second shape, a contemporary offering in the world of outdoor umbrellas, is square. Stunningly architectural and stylish, this umbrella makes a bold statement and offers generous amounts of shade.

So how do you decide if yours is the right setting for a square umbrella? Or Octagonal? Which? Here are some of the main features and aspects of both these shapes.

The most striking thing about square umbrellas is their visual impact. Long straight edges give square umbrellas an undeniably architectural flavour. They look especially striking lined up in rows, a very popular layout with cafes and bistros, such as Columbus Coffee Sylvia Park. And a square umbrella aligned with the straight lines of modern residential architecture is sleek and stunning.

Black & white Riviera

But style is not the only benefit of the square umbrella.  Square umbrellas fill out corners that circles (octagonal) obviously can’t.  For example, considering umbrellas of the same width, a 3m octagonal gives 6.4m2 of shade, while a 3m square umbrella gives 9m2 of shade.  Definitely something to consider if shelter from sun (and also rain if the umbrella is a Shade7 outdoor umbrella) is the premium outcome.

With these undeniable benefits, is there any reason apart from personal preference why a square umbrella might not be the right umbrella? Yes, there is.

One of the biggest considerations with a square umbrella is how near the ground the arms close. With all outdoor umbrellas, it is important to close them when not in use, no matter how strong they might be.  All of the Riviera umbrellas, and the Milan and Venice outdoor umbrella have the added strength of fibreglass arms.  As tempting as it is to leave them open day after day, week after week, the fact is, they are an umbrella, not a house, and catch capricious and violent wind gusts in the way a sail would. With no way to move with the wind like a boat would, sometimes the outcome could be damage to the umbrella. It is better to close outdoor umbrellas when not in use.

With square umbrellas, the length of the corner arms can make it difficult to close in some situations. For example, the arms of a centre pole umbrella that has been installed through an outdoor table must close higher than 75cms from the ground in order not to hit the table, staying partially open.  Any closer to the ground, and the umbrella must be physically removed from the table in order to close, something no one wants to constantly do, especially in windy conditions.  If the umbrella is a Shade7 cantilever, you could rotate the canopy away from outdoor furniture before closing it. If there is no clear space in which to close, then the best shape for your space may not be octagonal rather than square.

The 3.0 Square Riviera umbrella closes 65cms above the ground, whereas a 3.5 octagonal Riviera closes just over a metre above the ground. A 3.5m square Riviera closes just 35cms above the ground, and absolutely must have clear space to rotate the umbrella to if there is furniture directly underneath it, compared to a 4m octagonal Riviera which closes 80cms above the ground, high enough to clear a table without needing to be rotated away from it. All of the clearance measurements for Shade7 umbrellas, both cantilever and centre pole, are given on the Shade7 website in the ‘specs’ section of each umbrella’s page, as this is an important measurement when deciding on the perfect umbrella for any outdoor space.


So what are the benefits and features of octagonal umbrellas? The classic octagonal shape has traditional charm and elegance. The most familiar shape, it has the widest appeal. And when rotating an octagonal cantilever, those missing corners, while costing you some shade, can make rotation easier in a confined space. And this leads us to another important but aesthetic consideration: symmetry.

Put an octagonal umbrella into any situation and it will look exactly right. In design terms there is an important advantage an octagonal rotating cantilever umbrella has over a square rotating cantilever umbrella. Where a square umbrella looks perfect exactly lined up with the straight lines of the architecture around it, rotated away from exactly lined up it can look skewed, throwing out the intended line of sight. The straight lines are still stunning, and this alignment doesn’t bother everyone. But if you suspect that straight lines not lined up perfectly against the lines of a house, deck or pool will be an irritation and you intend to rotate your cantilever umbrella at less than 90⁰ angles, an octagonal shape might suit your needs better. A rotating circle won’t alter in the way the shape interacts with the lines of the space.

Another consideration for exposed areas is strength. Shade7 umbrellas cantilever umbrellas are strong, especially the Riviera which is designed and engineered for New Zealand coastal conditions. But with shorter arms, all of which support the canopy equally, the octagonal umbrella has a higher wind rating than a square umbrella of the same width. For example, a 3.5 octagonal Riviera is wind-rated to 60kph, and a 3.0m square is wind-rated to 50kph.

When choosing the right shape for your outdoor area, in addition to personal preference, consider the quantity of shade needed, the lines of the setting, the space in which to close and rotate, and exposure to wind. If you choose a cantilever umbrella, this article Where should I install my cantilever umbrella? can help with identifying the best location.

For advice on any of these aspects in your unique outdoor space, please contact the experienced staff at Shade7. Comprehensive data on relevant measurements, wind rating and area of cast shade for all Shade7 outdoor umbrellas can be found at Shade7.co.nz.

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