Your backyard is an oasis. It’s a perfect escape for basking in the sun on your glamorous oyster shell pool float, or adding new cocktail mixer to your outdoor bar cart. The key element to enjoying your outdoor space, however, is through the furniture. (What’s a backyard without a great space to recline!?) From finding the best fabric for your outdoor sofa to sleuthing out a perfect cabana, we know outdoor furniture is an investment that takes serious consideration and focus. There’s so much to know about creating your own personal slice of outdoor heaven, whether you love to host fabulous dinner parties or crave a self-care day from the comfort of your home.
So behold! Our guide to buying outdoor furniture is a round-up for making the best investment you and your guests will enjoy from summer and beyond.
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What Are Durable Materials for Outdoor Furniture?
To make sure your outdoor furniture is strong enough to weather actual storms and stand the test of time, looking into the quality of the is key.
Metal is of the most durable materials you can choose for outdoor furniture. It’s strong, obviously, and can be easily manipulated to shape elaborate and intricate designs. Manufacturers can work with a lot of different metals, creating thin frames or sturdy beams for a pergola. Whether you opt for stainless steel (to prevent rusting), iron, or aluminum (as it’s affordable and is coated in furniture-saving protective paint or powder).
When considering how to deck out your space, wood is another classic choice to consider. If cared for properly, teak wood specifically will be resistant to rotting due to its high level of natural oils. It also prevents sneaky insects and warping. A fashionable option is rattan furniture, but if you’re concerned about weak you might opt for hardier all-resin wicker.
Maintenance of the Classic Materials
Perry Solomon, Senior Vice President of Residential Sales at Woodard, tells House Beautiful what to know when maintaining outdoor materials.
- Wood furniture requires a lot of TLC. “Wood provides a ‘natural look,’ but requires much more maintenance than steel or aluminum,” Solomon explains. “Many types of wood materials require sealing every three to six months or they will dry and start to crack. Natural wood such as teak will also age and turn gray after a few months of sun exposure.” And if you want it to look new again? Get out your sander.
- Most metals need a protective coating. “Iron is typically heavier than aluminum and is more suitable for high-wind and rooftop installations. However, steel and iron will rust in humid or wet conditions. A quality pre-coat treatment can delay the rusting,” says Solomon. He recommends tending to scratches and dents in the finish of the material as s00n as possible or the rust will continue to spread underneath. And do not place either iron or aluminum furniture in either chlorine or salt water pools, as it will damage the finish. (On the upside, cleaning metal with soap or a mild detergent is all that is required in terms of upkeep. A fine automotive wax may be applied to maintain the appearance of a gloss finish.)
- Powder-coated aluminum is the most worry-free option. This lightweight metal can be moved around in your backyard and easily cleaned. Solomon advises, “In coastal and high salt areas, salt from the air should be wiped off with a damp cloth regularly making sure the underside of the surfaces are cleaned as well or the finish will oxidize causing blistering. In most regions, only cleaning with soap or a mild detergent is required.”
- Resin wicker lasts longer than plant-based wicker. Though it suits a wide range of aesthetics, plant-based (i.e., “real”) wicker can fade over time due to sun exposure and rain. It’s better to keep these pieces indoors and covered when the weather is stormy—so at the very least, on a covered porch if outdoors. On the flip side, high-quality synthetic resin wicker is resistant to bad weather and UV rays, and is super easy to clean.
When Should You Replace Your Outdoor Furniture?
While outdoor entertaining allows for countless summers (and falls, and springs—at least!) of fun, your furniture can’t be the life of the party forever. Outdoor furniture doesn’t have an “expiration date,” per se, but when signs of wear and tear, or, worse, odors, cling to your daybed, it’s time to let the good times go. According to Solomon, the lifespan of any piece of outdoor furniture is based on its:
(So if you don’t take care of your teak furniture, even if it’s super high-quality and you live in a moderate climate, eventually it’ll go!) Case study: After months of waiting for your outdoor furniture. it finally arrived—hurray! But those brand-new cushions should be cleaned on a regular basis, Solomon says: “Cushions and slings should be cleaned regularly to remove dust particles causing mildew, and dried out quickly when wet. Standing them on end after a rain will allow them to drain more rapidly.” On the other hand, if your outdoor sofa is creaking and the cushions are clumped from years of intense washing machine cycles, switch it out for something new!
“Inexpensive brands will typically last one to two years,” Soloman explains. “High-quality furniture can last for decades, although it may require refinishing and cushion replacement. Environment and use also determine the longevity of your furniture. However, a typical rule of thumb is 5–10 years for better product.” Quality and care buy you time, but eventually, the elements will take their toll. Factor this in when you purchase.
How to Care for Outdoor Fabrics Year-Round
Outdoor and performance fabrics (there’s a difference!) are available in countless textures, patterns, and colorways. The goal is to find the ones that won’t fade or wear in your climate. You will know when you struck gold with a performance fabric if it features three superstar components: UV-resistance, water-repellent qualities, and overall durability.
“Any outdoor performance fabric should be durable enough to be used year round, they are not seasonally specific,” explains Greg Thomas, Bella-Dura’s CEO. “Cold temperatures or snow would not affect the fabric and even extreme heat should be okay. For example, Bella Dura’s outdoors fibers can withstand temperatures up to 200 degrees.”
When the Weather’s Hot
There’s nothing worse than sitting on a scorching hot cushion. If this is one of your pet peeves, heed the advice of Millie Hammond, Fabricut’s design director: “Outdoor fabric should be able to withstand the summer temperatures, but darker colors will absorb more heat. Lighter colored fabric will stay cooler to the touch.”
It’s also important to choose a breathable fabric that can withstand varying weather conditions. Many performance and outdoor fabrics qualify; don’t be tempted to use an ordinary fabric outdoors just because it’s less likely to retain heat. It’ll fade and get mildew-y outdoors!
When the Weather’s Wet
In the winter, cover and store your outdoor furniture. (And yes, even when it’s raining!)
“We always recommend to cover or take your cushions [inside during a storm,] as this will increase longevity,” Hammond explains. “But if you plan to leave your cushions outside in the rain, and want them to dry quickly, you may want to choose something with a flatter surface—this will allow the rain to “bead up” and roll right off the fabric. A pile fabric (like chenille or bouclé) or something with a lot of texture might trap more water and be slower to dry.” The thinner the weave, the more quickly it’ll dry.
Mildew can rain on your parade quicker than you think. Any pool water-soaked fabrics and even just rainy fabrics are susceptible. “Mildew will grow on dirt particles on the cushion, rather than on the fabric itself,” Hammond explains. “[That’s] Another reason to choose a fabric with a flatter surface, making it easy to keep clean and therefore not mildew in the rain.”
Now “if you properly care for the fabric/cushion,” Hammond says, more plush weaves should not mildew. (Just take them inside during a storm, keep them dry, etc.) . “It is also important that the right foam is used in outdoor furniture so the cushion inside will not hold water,” says Hammond. Hire an upholsterer who has experience with outdoor cushions so you know they know the drill.
Covering and Storing Your Pieces
Maggie Gienger, Arhaus director of interior design puts it this way: “Storing outdoor furniture is like parking your car in a garage! Your car will be fine parked outdoors, but it will look shiny and new longer if it’s stored properly when you’re not using it.” Don’t have a massive shed reserved for off-season outdoor furniture storage? Not to worry: “When you’re investing in outdoor furniture,” Gienger adds, “check to see if the retailer offers custom covers to fit the pieces for maximum protection (Arhaus offers custom covers for nearly all our outdoor furniture!).”
Store smaller decorative accessories and cushions in an outdoor storage trunk, or indoors in cooler seasons when you’re not enjoying your outdoor space. This will protect them from the sun and rain and keep them in top condition.
How to Budget for Outdoor Furniture
Before buying or commissioning any pieces, it’s important to take inventory on what you have, what you need, and the amount of space you’re working with. Then spend where it counts. “Splurge on the larger foundation pieces, like dining tables and lounge seating, that will remain outdoors for throughout the year,” Geinger says.
When buying expensive pieces, pay close attention to ensure they are designed with quality materials that will withstand weather elements. (For example, teak is pretty expensive but will weather nicely and stand the test of time, if you care for it, so you can have those pieces for many seasons to come.) Save on smaller items such as side tables, decorative accessories, and throw pillows that can be brought indoors or placed in an outdoor storage trunk. If you leave one throw pillow out and it gets moldy, it’s not a huge deal to replace it. Choosing some smaller-price-point items gives you the flexibility to swap them out seasonally, annually, or whenever you’d like to freshen up your outdoor space!
Where to Begin
Preparing to build your dream outdoor experience? When it comes to finding the best outdoor furniture, begin the process by mapping out the amount of space you have. Before getting whisked away in the joy of entertaining guests outside, though, Gienger suggests starting your search with the table and chairs. “A dining table setup is the best place to start when outfitting your backyard space—and arguably the most important [component]—because it serves as a multi-functional space for eating, hosting, and gathering. From there, you can look to bring in lounge furniture for additional seating, and gathering spaces in your backyard,” she says.
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