There are three things you have to consider when buying anything for your home: aesthetics, budget and lifestyle. Buying outdoor furniture is no exception. You want your outdoor furniture to fit your style and budget, and you need it to stand up to the elements and your family’s activities. Before you rush out on the next sunny Saturday to outfit your patio, back yard, deck or pool, here are some things to take into consideration.
● Buy outdoor furniture that is a natural extension of your indoor look and your house’s architectural style. If your house is modern, buy modern-style outdoor tables, chairs and chaises; if your house is like an English cottage, choose similar-styled outdoor furniture. Fortunately, there are myriad options that vary in color, shape, style and care. Whatever you do, always try out furniture before buying it: Comfort should be at the top of your criteria.
● Consider your budget. It is possible to find very inexpensive outdoor furniture, but realize that less-expensive furniture often does not wear as well. You will be better off buying the best-quality pieces you can afford. Like the major pieces inside your home, outdoor furniture is an investment.
● Buy enough furniture to accommodate your family and guests. Also, supply enough shade for all, which might mean purchasing a few umbrellas with sturdy stands. (Look for weighted bases of at least 50 pounds.)
● Get cushions and pillows that are made with polyurethane foam, which, unlike polyester-filled cushions, allow water to literally flow through them. (Check out foamorder.com.) Also make sure cushions and pillows are covered in solution-dyed acrylic fabrics. These fabrics come in a huge variety of colors and patterns and are moisture-, mildew- and UV-protected so they won’t fade (outdoorfabrics.com).
● If you don’t have room to store your outdoor furniture in a garage or basement, buy proper covers now from either your furniture manufacturer or a company such as KoverRoos (koverroos.com). You will be happy to have them once the weather turns.
● Make smart material decisions. Outdoor furniture tends to be made from three main materials: wood, synthetics and metal. The style of furniture you choose will partly determine the material you choose, but your lifestyle will as well. The different materials require varying degrees of maintenance and care. They also have ranging levels of mobility — some are quite heavy while others are dainty and easily moved. Read on to pick the best material for you.
Wood: If you are the busy type who likes low-maintenance home purchases, choose teak furniture. Historically used in boat building, teak, a rain-forest wood, is hardy and resilient. Left outside, it weathers from brown to silvery gray and can last for up to 100 years. (To maintain teak’s original brown color, apply a teak protector such as Golden Care’s Teak Protector once or twice a year.) When buying teak furniture, look for a Forest Stewardship Council stamp, which lets you know that it was responsibly harvested.
Alternatively, look for eucalyptus or cedar furniture. Eucalyptus is less expensive than teak and can last almost as long, but it needs to be treated several times a year with a water-based acrylic sealant. Cedar (think classic picnic table) is the least expensive, but it will last only about 20 years. Cedar should be coated annually with protective oil.
When buying any wood furniture, look for mortise-and-tenon construction, stainless-steel screws (they don’t rust), and dowels and pegs. Never buy furniture that has been glued or stapled.
Synthetics: Plastic furniture is the least expensive, but it’s usually not as attractive or comfortable as other materials. An exception is all-weather wicker, which is made of synthetic fibers that are woven around an aluminum frame. Whereas real wicker is not immune to moisture or sun damage, all-weather wicker can basically stay outdoors all year long. And it is easy to care for: Just hose it down with water and a mild soap. Look for pieces that are tightly woven — you should not be able to see through the weave.
Metal: The most common types of metal furniture are made from aluminum, wrought iron, stainless steel or powder-coated steel. There are varying qualities of aluminum furniture that determine weight, price and durability — tubular aluminum is the least expensive and lightest because it’s hollow; cast aluminum is the most expensive and heaviest. Either, however, is a good pick because aluminum is rustproof. Look for furniture that has rustproof hardware, seamless welds and a powder-coated finish to prevent oxidation.
Wrought iron, like cast aluminum, can be expensive and very heavy. Make sure that sets are powder-coated to prevent rusting, but watch out for scratches on the surface — they will rust. (If this happens, immediately sand the area and apply touch-up paint. ) Stainless or powder-coated steel sets are durable, moderately priced and easy to care for. One thing to remember: A glass top on any metal table should be tempered glass for safety.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”