The Ins and Outs of Outdoor Furniture

Wednesday Jul 14th, 2021

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As the mercury climbs, taking advantage of sunny days becomes paramount. Patios, backyards, and balconies become natural extensions of our living rooms in the summer months. It’s a far cry from the 1970s and 1980s when a couple of foldable lawn chairs were more or less the extent of your patio furniture (and hopefully guests brought their own). If the space permitted, maybe there was a picnic table or a hammock slung between two trees—but only if you were lucky!

Today, homeowners are opting to invest in their outdoor spaces, kitting out areas of all sizes with propane heaters, pizza ovens, and projector screens for movies under the stars. The furniture rivals what you have indoors, both in comfort and in style. 

Choosing resilient, comfortable, and weather-resistant outdoor furniture involves several considerations. While the possibilities are endless, finding the best, cohesive pieces for your home goes beyond the price tag. Here are some key factors to think about before heading to your local store or clicking “proceed to check-out” on your online shopping cart.

Image via Fiona McKay

Dollars and sense

Establishing a budget is a responsible way to begin. You’re going to see lots of pricey options—which isn’t always a bad thing—but you need to decide on what makes sense for you. If you spend most of your summer days and evenings outside, spending a bit more on your patio furniture might be worth it for you. However, if you’re just a casual entertainer (we’re talking once-a-month dinner parties), just keep that in mind before dropping hundreds (or thousands) on your choices. 

There are also several DIY designs online if you want to put a little sweat equity into a resort-style cabana or Boho day-bed. With elevated lumber prices, consider reclaimed pallet wood for benches and chairs. Burlap coffee bags make for cheap and sustainable throw cushions. 

Size matters

Storage is critical! You’ll need adequate space like a deck box or shed to store space-hog cushions and throw pillows in the event of rain (and possibly overnight if you want to extend the longevity of your purchase). Come fall, do you have a rodent-proof place to store your furniture? Otherwise, you may have some happy mice and squirrels enjoying your cushions in the off-season.

Some patio furniture sets will come with their own tarps or coverings—similar to a BBQ cover—which will be great for evenings when a storm is passing through. You’ll still want something more substantial for the winter, though. If your furniture is small enough, you may even be able to take it indoors for the snowy weather. Be sure to measure in advance! 

Image via James Wheeler from Pexels

Future forecast 

Will your patio set be sheltered? Is it in full sun? Umbrellas will provide shade and protect your cushions from fading. Make sure your chairs aren’t sitting under a tree that drops sticky sap or blossoms that could stain the cushion fabric. Choosing polyester, UV-resistant fabric, or cushions treated with protective water and stain shields will make outdoor entertaining a lot more carefree. If your furniture will be in a typically windy area, choose Adirondack chairs, wrought iron, or composite pieces. If you have difficulty moving them, the wind will too! 

Image via Flickr @TexasCustomPatios

Know your audience

Similar to how you want to choose materials that won’t fade or be stained by sap, consider who will be using this furniture the most. Do you have kids who love grape popsicles and neon orange drinks? Do you have a dog who prefers to be wet and muddy-pawed? Are you planning on hosting any book clubs that feature red wine and lots of laughter? Opt for those stain-shield cushions if that’s the case, or choose patterned fabrics so any messes won’t be as noticeable.

Functionality and style, baby

Who are you creating the space for? What do you plan to do? “Bistro patios” are characterized by a small table with two chairs while a “dining patio” is designed with al fresco meals in mind. Outdoor kitchens are usually incorporated into the layout. “Living room patios” are multi-purpose with a mix of sun, shade and a fire pit or fireplace to entertain after sunset.

Maybe you’re looking for a “sundeck patio” with loungers, lazy lemonades, and catnaps? They encourage a healthy dose of vitamin D and SPF and are usually found poolside. Your biggest decision will be whether you want your lounge chairs to fully recline or not!

When choosing chairs in general, ensure the seat-depth is agreeable to most, not just the tallest person you know.

Image via Marianne from Pexels

Wicker, wood, or plastic?

Each material comes with its own unique pros and cons. While wicker and rattan are popular, they can also leave patterned indents on bare arms and legs after a period of time. Plastic is stackable and colourful but can be sticky on humid days. If you’re choosing portable items, make sure your deck area is protected from scratching as pieces are randomly dragged into new positions by guests. An outdoor carpet can reduce this damage and help create a defined ‘room.’

Chairs and end tables made out of teak are solid and timeless but can be more expensive. Wrought iron is paintable and like steel will require rust protection. PVC is lightweight and low maintenance if your priority is on enjoying your patio set and yard, not maintaining it.

A clean break

Depending on the material for cushions and furniture, mild dish soap and a sponge are usually the magical equation. Diluted laundry detergent can revive hard woods while the application of teak oil can actually encourage mildew. Environmentally friendly white vinegar (diluted) can help combat mildew while several sources swear by shaving cream to clean plastic furniture and applying car wax as a protectant. Some cushion covers are machine washable which makes year-end maintenance less daunting. 

Image via Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Decision time

Before making the patio plunge, virtually revisit your favourite patios, whether it was a hotel, restaurant, or best friend’s backyard. What elements appealed most to you? Do you prefer matching pieces or a mix? How often do you plan on being out there?

Patio furniture will help you establish a vibe—will it be vintage? CoastalFarmhouse? Add colour with flowers, cocktails, and conversation. Whether you choose wicker or wood, plastic or iron, the patio is synonymous with everything casual. Oh, and don’t forget to relax.

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