Select your suite materialsThe first step in selecting your new outdoor furniture suite is to decide on a style, and the first step in deciding on a style is choosing the material you prefer, whether that’s wood, wicker, aluminum or another material.
If you’re seeking the classic wood patio set, consider two types that are hot on the market right now: teak and ipe (pronounced “e-pay”) wood. Teak is a tropical wood that has been renowned for ages for its abilities to resist rotting, insect infestation and rusting, even when joined with metal. “Teak is the de facto outdoor wood,” says Eric Brenner, co-owner of AuthenTEAK furniture store. “People choose it because the product is tested, tried and true with a history of being around for more than a century.”
Frank Boschman, co-founder of Royal Botania, agrees, saying that, “Teak’s renowned durability is due to its content of natural oils. The limited moisture absorption protects it from warping and gives the wood stability,” he says. “Also, it is highly resistant to pests.”
Beware, however, because constant exposure to the sun will turn your teak to a silver-gray shade. Some buyers enjoy the change in color; those who don’t should consider keeping their furniture in shaded areas. (Read the sidebar on the left for tips on how to maintain the wood’s natural color.)
If you prefer a less-expensive alternative to teak but still want to stick with wood, Joel Jackson of Rocky Mountain Patio suggests South American-grown ipe wood. This dark wood is extremely durable, hard and also insect-resistant. Its deep-colored finish creates a rich, luxurious look that many buyers are seeking.
For individuals with more modern tastes, Brenner notes that stainless steel is gaining popularity after much success in Europe, where he says outdoor furniture trends have always been more progressive. And right up there with stainless steel—surprising to some—is aluminum. According to Karen Heroux of Casusal Image, tubular aluminum achieves a modern look for owners with a contemporary sense of style. And, the open and airy sling furniture doesn’t require cushions, so it’s lower maintenance.
Another low-maintenance material is the age-old sturdy standby: plastic. But a newer variety is making waves on the outdoor furniture scene. It’s called polyethylene, and it’s a versatile plastic material that is both durable and attractive. “It’s highly resistant,” says Carrie Sinclair, manager of Deeco Consumer products, which manufactures the eco-friendly Art-Deck-Oh! line of outdoor furniture. “It won’t break when subjected to harsh use and requires no treatment to withstand difficult conditions. Polyethylene will not become weaker from sunlight due to its UV resistance.”
What material you select depends on your living area and your lifestyle. As with most products, there isn’t a one-product-pleases-all solution. “Some people prefer the natural honey-brown color of teak, or the dove-gray it turns when exposed to sunlight,” Brenner says. “Or they recognize that metal furniture gets hot in the sun. As for wicker, some pet-owners have concerns about their pets picking the weave.” The key is to purchase the pieces that will offer you the most use and comfort.
① teak ② ipe wood ③ stainless steel ④ wicker
Caring for your outdoor oasisWith Atlanta’s temperate climate, patio pieces are a solid investment that are used year-round, so it’s no surprise that proper maintenance is crucial if you want to extend your furniture’s lifespan.
Brenner recommends splurging on cushions because “typically, more expensive cushions dry faster and hold their shape,” he says. If you do travel the cushion route, Brenner recommends choosing fabrics that are 100-percent solution-dyed acrylic, as they can withstand outside elements. The fabric can be easily cleaned with water and mild soap. During off-seasons, Sinclair recommends storing cushions in a dry place and using a rain cover to protect furniture.
To keep furniture frames shiny and squeaky clean, Brenner recommends a good scrub twice a year—once after pollen season and once in the fall. Simply hose off furniture with a car-wash attachment (not a pressure washer) and use soapy water to loosen any dirt or debris.
To remove surface stains from wood, Jackson suggests mixing 1/4 cup of bleach with 2/3 cup of laundry detergent and a gallon of warm water. Using a soft-bristle brush, scrub the mixture onto the furniture and rinse thoroughly.
“Taking care of outdoor furniture shouldn’t be a hobby,” Brenner says. “Brief cleanings are a time investment to ensure the furniture stays looking good and lasts. Who wants to sit on dirty furniture?”
Don’t be deterred if your outdoor space is limited—plenty of options still exist. Your primary concern when furnishing smaller spaces should be functionality. Rotating chairs provide easier access when getting in and out of tight spaces, and round tables are typically best for maneuverability. Pieces with multiple functions, such as upright chairs that also recline, are also wise choices.
Sizing up small spaces
Small-space dwellers should look for compact pieces that stow away easily when not in use. Stackable chairs and tables that fold up and out of the way are smart options when space is an issue. Modular furniture, such as sectional sofas and armchairs, is also an optimal choice, as it can be arranged in a variety of ways depending on available space. Art-Deck-Oh! offers interlocking furniture that stacks when not in use to create an entirely different piece of furniture (see bottom right photo on page 49). For example, one of the line’s suites transforms four chairs and a table into shelves with a storage cabinet during off seasons.
Jeffery Gardener, owner of Cornerstone Furniture, is also a fan of modular pieces. “Depending on the manufacturer and collection, you have a lot of flexibility to achieve desired seating without taking up too much space,” he says. “Most manufacturers offer [modular pieces]—a good example is the Lagos sectional from Summer Classics. It has clean lines and is small scaled.”
Brian Patrick Flynn, an interior designer and creator of the design site www.decordemon.com, suggests that individuals who have small spaces create a cozy area by using large floor pillows with a lively print. “Oversized pillows create seating, or you can bunch them all together and for a space to lie down and relax,” he says.
Flynn also says a must-have on any size patio or porch is draperies. “Outdoor draperies are inexpensive, but create a great look,” he says. They also add character and privacy to condo and apartment balconies so you don’t feel like your patio is right beside your neighbor’s.”
Experts agree that splurging on quality, high-end furnishings is usually a sound investment, since they tend to last longer. But there are easy, budget-friendly ways to update any outdoor space.
When to splurge and when to save
Instead of buying brand new furniture, Brenner recommends updating cushions on existing furniture. It’s an easy way to extend the life-span of pieces and stay current with the newest trends.
Meanwhile, Heroux suggests adding inexpensive accents to liven up tired furniture. “A few great accessories really brighten up an outdoor space,” she says. “Think about great outdoor lanterns, or some fabulous throw pillows.” Along the lines of adding some extra outdoor accoutrements, Jaime Jones, owner of J Designs, suggests adding an area rug. “Outdoor rugs are a cost-effective way to spruce up an area, and most are fairly inexpensive,” he says. “You can get an 8-by-10 outdoor rug for less than $100, and it adds a personal touch.”
Flynn suggests using porch and floor paint for a cost-effective way to add character to a dull space. “Stencil a pattern on the floor or just paint a stripe,” he suggests.” It makes the space feel more like a room and adds life to the area.”
For individuals who have larger budgets (and especially for those with an affinity for outdoor entertaining), consider splurging on a full outdoor kitchen or furniture pieces that would usually be found indoors but can act as one-of-a-kind pieces to your backyard.
“[Currently], we are seeing the daybed and the double-chaise as the top splurge items,” Brenner says. “People are looking for single pieces that hold at least two people.” Another popular splurge-worthy item Brennan notes is a retractable canopy. “Canopies allow sunlight when needed and also cover furniture when the weather isn’t so great,” he says. “To really splurge, people are getting motorized canopies since they’re easier to operate.”
If you don’t have the luxury of a yard, or if you want to simply add a little more greenery to your porch, patio or deck, Flynn suggests splurging on faux grass to cozy up cold, concrete surfaces. Many brands look and feel like the real thing, and it softens up the space and feels great on bare feet.
Always remember, however, that when it comes to price, you don’t have to stick solely to one end of the spectrum. When choosing your outdoor pieces, Heroux says, “There is an art to mixing high-end items with value-priced items to achieve decorating goals while maintaining your budget.”
The gray area: How to keep your teak from turning
When exposed to UV rays, teak weathers to a silver-gray color. While some customers prefer this weathered look, maintaining the wood’s brand-new appearance is easy. Eric Brenner, co-owner of AuthenTEAK furniture store, offers the following tips:
1. Leave new furniture outside for 3 weeks, allowing the grain to soften and rise. Then, apply teak protector to clean, dry furniture. Teak protector is similar to sunscreen in that it blocks UV rays. Applied annually, it helps maintain the honey-brown color. (Teak protector is pigmented and may be a slightly different hue from the furniture. Apply a small amount to an inconspicuous area to ensure that you like the color.)
2. If teak has already weathered, lightly sand and apply teak cleaner to remove the top layer of gray wood, revealing the wood’s natural color. Then, apply teak protector.
3. Apply teak shield to prevent the penetration of food stains, water rings, etc.
4. Do not use teak oil on your furniture, as it does not block UV rays. It’s also sticky and can act as a magnet, attracting dirt to the surface of the furniture.
What to Expect in a Warranty
Wondering how long you can expect your outdoor furniture and accessories to stay covered under warranty? Jeffery Gardener, owner of Cornerstone Furniture, suggests using the following as a gauge:
Frame Construction–5 years or longer
Frame finishes–3 to 5 yearsFabrics–Around 1 year
Frame construction–5 or more years
Tips to try before you buy
Before shopping for your outdoor room, follow these tips from Karen Heroux of Casual Image:
• Measure the space. You’ll need to know if the furniture you choose will fit.
• Take pictures with you to help the salesperson see what the space looks like.
• Think about how the space will be used. For entertaining? Outdoor dining? Do you want a sofa for napping or a comfortable chair for reading?
• Have fun! Never have there been more choices for furnishing an outdoor space.