With patio furniture, you can extend your indoor style to your landscape or try something completely different. You can mix and match for an eclectic feel. One important consideration, no matter your style, is how well your furniture will hold up to your weather conditions, including moisture, hot sun and strong winds.
More expensive pieces tend to be of better quality and longer-lasting, but don’t use that as your only guide. Check out how well each piece is made and educate yourself on the pros and cons, as well as the care issues, for different materials. If you’re finding secondhand pieces, which can be great bargains, evaluate them with the same eye.
Wood has long been the go-to option for outdoor furniture. It’s long-lasting, it can handle different weather conditions and it’s wonderfully versatile when it comes to style. You’ll find everything from traditional wood benches and tables to contemporary wood pieces.
Sturdy, long-lasting and readily available. It doesn’t absorb heat like many other outdoor options. It adapts to any design style. Many options are resistant to mold, decay and rot and repel water and insects. Teak is a good choice for seaside locations.
Good-quality pieces can be expensive. It requires some yearly upkeep, especially if you don’t want the pieces to weather. May succumb to rot and decay earlier than expected if placed on soft ground or grass without protection. Can splinter and crack in harsh weather.
What To Look For
Wood that is naturally resistant to mold, decay and rot and, ideally, is water and insect repellant. Teak, cedar, old-growth cypress and redwood are the most familiar of these woods, but other options include acacia, eucalyptus and the tropical shorea woods.
Test For Solid Construction
Check for dowels or mortise and tenon construction or hardware made from stainless steel or brass, or that has been treated to be rustproof.
Oil or stain the wood and seal it yearly if you don’t want it to weather to a silvery gray. If you’re painting your wood, use a paint with UV filters to protect from the sun. If possible, cover pieces or bring them inside in winter.
Wicker and Rattan
Wicker and rattan outdoor furniture give your outdoor space a classic country or beach-style look — as long as you keep it under a cover. These natural materials, along with similar options like bamboo and natural grasses, can’t handle prolonged exposure to sun and rain.
If you want to move your furniture to a more exposed outdoor location in summer, seal the wicker with wood furniture sealer or marine varnish (test first in an inconspicuous spot to be sure you like the results) or with tung oil to help preserve it. Painting is another option; finish with marine varnish to help seal the surface.
The good news is that new synthetic options, often called “all-weather wicker,” look like the real thing but will easily handle outdoor conditions.
Inexpensive, lightweight and easy to care for. Style options range from traditional to contemporary. Natural materials can also be painted. Wicker look-alikes made from resin are a good choice for seaside locations.
The natural materials will deteriorate with exposure to weather. Strong winds may topple or move lighter pieces.
What To Look For
Solid construction, thick weaving and no fraying or gaps, especially on used pieces. Check how comfortable it is and if you will want cushions.
Vacuum up crumbs and dirt periodically. Wipe surfaces with a cloth or soft brush dampened in a mixture of water and dishwashing detergent. Rinse with cold water. Check periodically for how well the material is holding up. If you seal your furniture, reapply once a year. Cover or store indoors in winter.
When it comes to easy-care furniture, aluminum is at the top of the list. It’s tough enough to stand up to almost anything Mother Nature can throw at it and requires almost no maintenance. It’s also less expensive than many other options. Hollow or tubular aluminum furniture is lighter and less expensive than cast aluminum and generally offers more style options. Cast aluminum, which is sturdier and more expensive, is also usually more traditional in style.
Inexpensive, lightweight, naturally rustproof and highly durable, especially when coated with a finish. Pieces are available in a wide range of styles and finishes. Cast aluminum is very durable. A good choice for seaside locations if wind isn’t a problem.
Hollow aluminum is not a good choice for windy areas. It can retain heat from the sun. You also may need to add cushions for comfort.
What To Look For
Strong construction and a minimum of welds or joints in longer sections; stainless steel or other rustproof hardware. Powder-coated finishes are the most durable.
Clean periodically with a mild soap and water. Cover during winter for added protection, or bring indoors.
Stainless Steel, Steel and Metal
Stainless steel and galvanized steel furniture bridges the gap between aluminum and wrought iron. It’s a good compromise between the two when it comes to its weight, being heavier and less prone to being bounced around than lightweight aluminum pieces but not as massive as wrought iron. Styles range from retro metal chairs to modern design in a wide range of colors.
Sturdy, durable and easy to care for. You’ll find pieces available in a wide range of styles.
Steel conducts heat and can become hot to touch. You may need cushions to offset this, or just for general comfort. You will need to apply a protective finish every year or two to galvanized steel furniture if it hasn’t been treated.
What To Look For
Tight construction and smooth joints. Non-stainless steel pieces should be powder-coated to prevent rust.
Clean with a mild soap and water, and rinse with water. Add a protective finish every year to steel to protect against rust.
Wrought Iron and Cast Iron
If you want furniture that can stand up to strong winds, then iron is the way to go. Both wrought iron and cast iron are remarkably solid and also add a sense of historic graciousness and beauty to your space.
Wrought iron, in particular, is known for its ornate, decorative designs. Wrought iron is best used where it can be sheltered from the elements, but you can find rustproof pieces or add a protective finish.
Solid construction and classic styling. Very long-lasting. Powder-coated pieces are rustproof, although you will need to touch up any scratches.
Heavy. Will need periodical rust prevention and possible touch-up paint to stave off rust. May need cushions for added comfort.
What To Look For
Choose welded pieces that are solid with smooth finishes. Powder-coated pieces with UV resistance provide the best durability. Test any springs or moving parts to be sure they function well. Check the weight to be sure you can move the pieces.
Wash with a mild soap and water, and rinse to clean. Let it dry thoroughly. You can also apply a wax finish to smooth surfaces and baby oil or mineral oil to other surfaces for added protection. Oil moving parts and springs once a year. Apply rust protection and any needed touch-up paint periodically. Bring inside or under shelter in winter.
Modern Man-Made Materials
Plastics, polyethylene, resin and fiberglass — whatever they’re made from, synthetic options have come into their own as outdoor furniture. They can hold up to almost any weather conditions, although strong winds may be a challenge for lightweight options.
Available colors are almost limitless. When it comes to looks, some choices are unabashedly synthetic; others mimic other materials almost exactly, from Adirondack chairs to futuristic lounges. Many are also made of recycled materials, making them eco-friendly. If you’re at the seaside, look for furniture made of HDPE (High Density Polyethylene).
Extremely low-cost options make it easy to “furnish” your patio or garden without spending much. Materials are extremely durable and style options seem endless. Synthetic replicas of natural materials may be almost indistinguishable from the real product and hold up better to wear and tear. High-end options may be individualized.
Plastic resin and PVC aren’t as long-lasting. The lower-end products can be flimsy and colors can fade.
What To Look For
Pieces that don’t wobble or look poorly made. Options with UV protection will last longer, as will higher-end furniture. Check fit to be sure they are comfortable.
Check with manufacturer’s directions, but you can wipe down most pieces with a mild soap and water, and rinse. Store to protect from harsh winter weather and to minimize fading.