Patios, decks, and other outdoor spaces naturally beckon to us, especially when the weather gets warmer. And, when properly appointed, they add to your home's living space and set the backdrop for fun and relaxation. So, when shopping for outdoor furniture, it's important to consider several factors, such as functionality, comfort, and materials, in addition to basics like cost and size. Buying outdoor furniture involves a similar process to buying indoor furniture, but the outdoor environment comes with some special considerations.
1. Make a List of Patio Furniture Needs
Begin by thinking about how you would like your outdoor space to function. Do you want it to serve as a dining area on warm summer nights? Do you plan to host your next dinner party or your child's birthday party in space? Or do you envision a peaceful reading nook tucked into your outdoor room?
Make a list of the activities you would like to do in the space and use it as a guide to determine what type of patio furniture is necessary. If the primary function of your 12x16-foot patio is to host casual evening cocktails, for example, there is no need for a dining table. Instead, opt for ample comfortable seating, several side tables, and a fire pit.
2. Know Your Materials
Outdoor furniture manufacturers use a wide range of durable materials, most of which fall into two groups: those that are meant to be impervious to the elements, maintaining their original appearance for many years, and those that will weather or develop a patina over time.
Based on your use, location, and weather, some materials are going to be better than others for frames, upholstery, and tabletops. Extreme heat can cause untreated woods to splinter while plastic can become brittle and crack in the cold. Rain and salt air can cause the uncoated metal to rust and humidity plays havoc with natural wicker. Lightweight aluminum or acrylic furniture may blow over in high winds and many fabrics will fade under the harsh sun. Our Outdoor Furniture Materials Guide provides an in-depth look at many materials and their ability to withstand various conditions. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but it’s important that you understand the tradeoffs from the outset.
Just because you find it in the outdoor furniture section doesn’t mean it’s right for your outdoor situation or climate. Do your homework and make sure the material you choose suits the weather in your region and the level of exposure to the elements (will the furniture be in the shade or protected under a roof or in direct sun?)
3. Consider Storage for Your Patio Furniture
Add years to the life of your patio furniture by storing it in a protected location during the off-season. A garage, basement, or shed will shield pieces from the elements to prevent damage or additional wear. Even the toughest patio furniture, such as teak chairs or a wrought-iron settee, will last longer if it is placed in storage when not in use. If your storage space is limited, look for patio furniture that folds or can be easily taken apart for compact storage. Stackable chairs can also help maximize storage space when patio season ends.
4. Invest in Quality Patio Furniture
The old adage "you get what you pay for" is generally true for patio furniture. Plastic resin chairs or side tables, for example, might look great on the shelf and will keep their good looks for a year or two out in the sun, but in time they will become brittle and lose their vibrant coloring. The same is true for some wood products and wicker pieces. Shop with care, checking consumer reports and reviews, before making a big purchase. If you're sticking to a budget, plan to splurge on items that will be used most often, such as a comfortable patio chair or a durable dining table. You can save on smaller accessories such as pillows and accent tables.
5. Some chair legs are too skinny for decks
Before we bought a house with a yard, we lived in a small rental that had a wood deck. It was our first bit of outdoor space and we loved it, dressing it up with planters, a Weber grill, a lounge chair, and a vintage dining set that we scored at a garage sale. The set was charming and well-made, but the legs on the chairs were skinny, which meant they could easily sink into the gaps between the deck’s wooden planks. We had to be vigilant about placing the chairs just so and constantly had to remind guests to do the same—not exactly the best setup for spontaneity and fun.
If you’re shopping for an outdoor dining set for a wood deck, consider the chair legs and make sure they won’t get trapped in a gap when you pull the chair out.
At the end of the day, spending time outdoors should be enjoyable and stress-free. The furnishings that you surround yourself with should add to and not detract from the experience. Sure, there may be freak tornados or random raccoon migrations through your property, but for the most part, you know what to expect. Taking this knowledge and arming yourself with a little insight from this guide can help you choose the right kind of outdoor furniture for your home.
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