Patio Furniture Buying Guide
Living Large Outdoors
Comfortable and attractive furniture makes a huge difference in how much you enjoy your outdoor living experience. There are four main types of furniture to consider: wood, metal, wicker, and resin. This guide describes the advantages of each and what to look for.
Wood furniture fits your style if you love all things natural. The best-quality wood furniture is made from center-cut heartwood lumber with consistent grain. Look for furniture built with zinc-plated or stainless-steel screws -- that way you can tighten them if they get loose.
Cedar and pine are light-color softwoods that age to silvery gray unless you paint or seal them. Both cedar and pressure-treated pine last for years outdoors. Cedar is typically more expensive than pressure-treated lumber.
Teak, which is harvested from tropical tree plantations, is one of the most durable -- and priciest -- choices for outdoor furniture. Even when exposed to elements year-round, it will last at least 50 years. Like many wood types, untreated teak fades to silvery gray. Apply teak oil once or twice a year to maintain its reddish-brown color.
Jarrah, like teak, is an extremely durable tropical hardwood that will last decades. Its deep, delicious reddish tones bring warmth to outdoor seating areas. Use a treatment specifically designed for jarrah to preserve its natural color.
Metal, one of the best-selling materials for outdoor furniture, is prized for its durability, comfort, and versatility. The two primary types of metal furniture are wrought iron and aluminum.
Wrought-iron furniture has its roots in the Victorian Era, evident in its elaborate curves. Its heaviness makes it a great pick for windy sites, but iron furniture can be difficult to move with ease. You'll need cushions to soften the hard seats and to add a splash of color to the finish, which is usually black, white, or green. Many manufacturers include a finish that protects the iron from rust. Cost depends on the intricacy of the ironwork.
Extruded aluminum furniture frames are tubular and usually feature strap or sling seats. They're lightweight, so they're easy to move, and their simple designs often make them suitable for stacking. Prices range from inexpensive at mass merchants to moderately expensive at specialty stores.
Cast aluminum offers more intricate design options and heftier weight than extruded aluminum, although it's far lighter than wrought iron. Expect to pay slightly more for cast aluminum than extruded. Both types require little maintenance thanks to powder-coated finishes applied by manufacturers.
The woven look of wicker comes in two forms -- regular and all-weather wicker. Both look similar, but their uses and care requirements are quite different. Regular wicker is suitable for use only in covered areas outdoors. Use a vacuum, soft brush, or damp cloth to clean it. All-weather wicker can be exposed to rain with no ill effects. Clean it by hosing it off every few weeks.
Common wicker is made from rattan vine, cane, or bamboo. Its natural fibers are suitable for use outdoors under a covered area such as a porch. Apply a coat of paint to the weave to refresh aging pieces. It's best not to sit on wet wicker; you might stretch the weave.
All-weather or outdoor wicker is made from twisted-paper or synthetic fibers, which are woven around a frame and coated with a weather-resistant finish. It stands up to the elements and poolside use, although most manufacturers recommend the furniture be protected from prolonged exposure to full sun.
Resin or plastic furniture has many advantages including durability, low cost, ease of maintenance, and portability. Besides a tendency to blow across the yard during a storm, resin's major drawback is its cookie-cutter styling -- one white molded chair tends to look like another.
Demand for stylish outdoor furniture has sparked a new crop of resin products that sport chic contemporary lines and bold colors. Best of all, resin products offer designer looks at affordable prices.