How to Choose Outdoor Patio Furniture
If you spend much time out of doors, or if you do a lot of backyard entertaining, your outdoor décor is very important. Whether you like the look of complete furniture sets or prefer a more mix-and-match bohemian collection, your outdoor furniture reflects your decorating style.
When brainstorming outdoor furniture ideas, you’ll want to consider all the different areas of your property, from the poolside deck to the patio to the outdoor dining space.
Location, Location, Location
When investing in new outdoor furniture, think about where you’ll be using it. For relaxation by the side of the pool? For a shaded patio area in your garden? For formal outdoor dining under the stars?
Pro tip: Don’t be fooled by the nomenclature. Even “outdoor furniture” is susceptible to harsh conditions over time. Mother Nature packs a pretty punch, and if your outdoor décor isn’t appropriate for your surroundings, she will do some serious damage.
- Poolside. Durability is key in your poolscape. All outdoor lounge furniture must withstand the elements, but your pool furniture also must handle the added punch of chlorine – from the occasional splashes that glance off their surfaces to the drenched swimmers who sit directly on them.
- Patio. If you don’t have the protection of an overhead shelter, your patio table and chairs may have an abridged lifespan in extreme weather. Whether you face lots of rain, lots of heat, lots of cold, or lots of fluctuation and a combination of extremes, you can substantially extend the usefulness of your patio table and chairs by protecting them when not in use. Try to avoid metal as it may create problematic stains on your deck or patio.
- Dining. Your outdoor dining table needs to stand up to more than spilled soup. Be sure that your guests will enjoy their meal by creating an appropriate dining room that is welcoming and comfortable. Even a covered outdoor dining area is susceptible to the elements, but you can shade the dining table with a patio umbrella or protect it from rain with a tent-like pergola.
Equally important, consider your climate when deciding on the material. You’ll want furniture that’s appropriate for your surroundings. Sure, outdoor furniture is designed to withstand the elements – but some materials just do better in certain climates.
Is your weather hot and dry? Arid heat can make even the toughest hardwoods splinter and crack.
Does it rain often? Humidity causes wood and wicker to expand and warp or buckle.
Do you live near the coast? Saltwater in the air will prematurely rust wrought iron and other metals.
Are sustained freezing or below-zero temperatures normal? Snow and ice – just like water – will damage your furniture if it’s not properly covered and protected during the winter months.
Is your area particularly windy? Lightweight aluminum and plastic or acrylic furniture can become projectiles in windy areas.
Choosing Natural Materials
For a classic look, many people choose natural options for their pool deck loungers or patio dining sets.
- Natural Fiber Wicker. Traditional wicker is resilient and relatively strong. But the woven fibers become brittle in very cold weather, elastic in very hot weather, and mildew-ridden in excessive humidity or precipitation. These extremes can lead to premature wear.
Fun Fact: Traditional wicker furniture is made from cane, rattan, and other plant-based materials, but the term “wicker” actually refers to the weave – not the material used.
- Rattan. This vine has a strong core with flexibility that lends itself well to furniture making. But the natural fibers are susceptible to mold and mildew growth, especially if they have been outdoors. They wear out and get saggy over time, and they experience excessive fading from the sun, especially if the pieces are stationary.
Wood. Teak, eucalyptus, cypress, and cedar are a few popular wood choices that hold up to the elements for years to come, thanks to their strength and durability.
Regular applications of hardwood oil will help maintain the health of your outdoor wooden furniture. But keep in mind that the natural color of hardwood garden furniture will weather to a soft grey in the first year. Any natural imperfections of the wood will become pronounced. As the wood expands and contracts with the change in the weather, the grain will also rise. This is a normal weathering process for outdoor wood furniture, but if that bothers you, stick with a metal or synthetic material that won’t change as it ages.
Opting for Synthetics
A synthetic wood or fiber alternative is the way to go if you’re looking for solid pieces that look a lot like natural materials and are easy to maintain.
- Resin Wicker. A weather-resistant synthetic fiber – usually thin strands of PVC, nylon, polyethylene, or high-density polyethylene – is woven and wrapped over a metal frame. Woven resin mimics the look and feel of natural fibers: You get the traditional homey look of wicker, plus durability and UV resistance that holds up to the elements (and the chlorine).
- Recycled Plastic. Made of old milk jugs and single-use plastic containers, recycled plastic is extremely strong and durable. This plastic can be molded into countless shapes and designed to resemble wood or many other kinds of materials. The material resists moisture, withstands extreme temperatures, and is impervious to saltwater. It also resists fading because the color is suffused into the material itself. There’s almost no maintenance except occasional cleaning. It is lightweight, which makes it easy to move – but it can also get tossed around in a windstorm.
Deciding on Metals
For less maintenance-intensive furniture care, metal options are unique and visually stunning. However, when combined with water metal furniture can stain patios and decks, so be strategic when placing metal furniture.
- Aluminum. Strong yet lightweight, aluminum resists rust and moisture damage better than other metals. Outdoor furniture made from aluminum is usually powder-coated for added protection against the elements. It’s easy to move around, stack, and store, and it’s easy to clean and maintain. But it’s a softer metal that can dent relatively easily.
- Wrought Iron. Wrought iron is strong, sturdy, and wind resistant. (Unlike aluminum, your wrought iron pieces won’t get pushed around in a gust.) Today’s wrought iron patio furniture is specially powder-coated with a weather-resistant finish to seal out moisture. But its heft makes it a bit cumbersome to stack or move.
- Steel. Steel is lighter than wrought iron but heavier than aluminum. Its strength and stability endure in extreme temperatures, while powder-coating helps prevent rust. Its durability provides a sturdy, long-lasting construction for zero-gravity loungers, patio tables and chairs, and outdoor furniture sets.
Embellish Your Outdoor Décor
Go ahead and outfit your backyard just as you do in your living room! Add a finished look to your outdoor living room with a larger furniture set – complete with sectional couches, end tables, reading lamps, etc. Virtually all your indoor staples have evolved into outside options, from rugs to throw pillow to drapes.
Meanwhile, patio dining sets enjoy a wide range of available pillows and cushions in every imaginable design. Patio chairs aren’t limited to hard metal or plastic seats. And weather-resistant tablecloths bring color – and even protection – to your patio table.
Pro tip: Nothing says, “Relax!” like a backyard hammock. Suspend from two sturdy trees or get a freestanding frame that you can place anywhere.
By choosing all-weather mesh fabric, you’ll have cozy yet weather-resistant upholstery that beckons you to relax. Sure, if you have a covered or protected outdoor living space, you might have more options. But even wide-open spaces can be welcoming for a cozy retreat if you have the right furniture covers or storage for cushions and other textiles.
For a splash of whimsy, consider personal touches you can add to your outdoor décor:
- Fountains. Create a tranquil setting by adding the meditative sounds of water trickling over a fountain. Or opt for a recirculating backyard waterfall for ambiance.
- Wind chimes. Add peaceful notes to the air with a wind chime. Smaller pipes will create higher pitches, while longer pipes will create deep tones.
- Outdoor lighting. Lighting completely transforms the look of your backyard. Lanterns, path lighting, and subtle spotlights can turn the mundane into the mystical.
- Shells and Treasures. Enhance backyard fences with shells and treasures from your adventures. Consider driftwood, branches, dried flowers and other findings to decorate your space.
A Shelter from the Storm (or Sun)
You’ve planned an entire backyard extravaganza, and now the meteorologist is calling for a heat wave. How will you keep your guests comfortable under the blazing sun?
Enter the patio umbrella.
Umbrellas are not just for rain. They’re the ideal complement to backyard entertaining, provide shade exactly where you need it and adding a touch of flair to your landscape. Today’s patio umbrellas come in a variety of UV-protected fabrics for lasting durability. With proper care and storage, yours will keep providing protection for many years.
Outdoor umbrellas come in a variety of sizes and styles:
- Sunshade. This is intended to shade one person, typically for an individual chaise lounge.
- Market. This is the higher-end larger residential umbrella, with an octagonal shape and a vented top.
- Pagoda. This Asian-inspired parasol-style umbrella has a more architectural design.
- Cantilever. This free-standing type affixes into a base that is offset away from the area to be shaded and can be adjusted as the sun moves.
- Commercial-Grade. This heavy-duty sun cover will also withstand other elements.
For more ideas on how to outfit your outdoor living room, check out our blog, "How to Design an Outdoor Living Space Based on Your Personal Style."
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