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Your First Outdoor Furniture: 5 Mistakes to Avoid


Your First Outdoor Furniture: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

May 21, 2020

Buying your first outdoor furniture is almost as exciting as buying your first house with a garden.  Before you rush out to shop, take the time to figure out the best all-weather pieces for your patio, deck, or porch. I wish had (instead of ending up with outdoor furniture that underwhelms). Learn from my mistakes and avoid making expensive errors when shopping for outdoor furniture.

Here are five things to know before you choose the best outdoor furniture for your home:

1. Cheap furniture may end up costing you more.

Above: A decidedly not-cheap option for outdoor furniture is the well-made Serene line of sustainable teak pieces from Henry Hall Designs. Photograph by Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture, from Favorite Furniture: Sustainable Teak from an Italian Designer.

When you start shopping around on the internet for outdoor furniture, you’ll notice that there’s a huge range in prices. On the high end are retailers including Design Within Reach and Restoration Hardware (both of which sell single lounge chairs that go for upwards of $1,000) and on the low end are sites such as Overstock and Walmart (where entire sectionals can be had for under $700).

Guess where I ended up buying our outdoor furniture? Yep, enticed by the price tag, I went for a faux wicker sectional I spotted on a discount website during a late-night web crawl. It was cheap and not ugly: What more could I ask for?

Well, for starters, I should have asked that our seating wouldn’t slide around every time we sat down. Our sectional was so lightweight that, unless you sat down very gingerly, the seats would slide and the cushions would skate. Our dog, who is not the most graceful animal to begin with, became so wary of the unstable seating that he now nervously paces our deck for several minutes before he gathers the courage to hop up.

The Lesson: Though it may be tempting, don’t automatically go for the cheapest price you can get on outdoor furniture. The really cheap stuff tends to be lightweight and flimsy. That said, we also have this from Ikea, a lightweight but totally well-made lounge chair that I love, so this is by no means a blanket recommendation.

2. Some chair legs are too skinny for decks.

Above: The thin legs on the wrought-iron chairs pose no problems on this patio with pavers. Photograph by Hufton & Crow for Gundry & Ducker, from Steal This Look: A House With Slate Shingle Siding.

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.

The Lesson: 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.

3. Some outdoor furniture materials may be wrong for your space.

Above: Rattan furniture does best in a covered area, but it’s also fine in mild, dry climates. Photograph from Garden Visit: At Home with Jeweler Kathleen Whitaker in LA.

Here’s a very incomplete list of the types of materials you’ll find when shopping for outdoor furniture: teak, eucalyptus, stainless steel, aluminum, wrought iron, wicker, synthetic resin. Each material has pros and cons that make it ideal for certain climates and outdoor situations and not for others. Consider the various metals, for instance. Aluminum is lightweight, which means it’s not great for areas that can experience high winds. Stainless steel is heavy and low-maintenance, but it can get super-hot when placed under the sun, so it’s not ideal if you are planning to leave it exposed.

If you live in a particularly wet climate, you may want to skip wood furniture; even teak, a durable and “all-weather” hardwood, will need to be treated every year to protect against cracking and warping. As for natural wicker pieces, they’re intended for covered outdoor spaces as they can’t really stand up to the elements. Synthetic resin wicker furniture is a better option if you like the style and want to use it outdoors.

The Lesson: 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?).

4. You’ll need a rainy-day plan for … rainy days.

Above: Loll’s Adirondack chairs, made of recycled HDPE plastic (mostly single-use milk jugs discarded by consumers), are perfect for rainy climates and require little maintenance. Here they are around a backyard fire pit in the San Juan Islands of Washington state. Photograph by Sean Airhart courtesy of Heliotrope Architects, from Outdoor Furniture Spotlight: Colorful, Recycled Designs from Loll.

It’s outdoor furniture, so it should be fine in the rain, right? Not if you’re dealing with cushions. I had assumed that the cushions on our sectional would be weather-proof and that the fabric would simply repel rain. To a degree, that is what happens, but when it’s truly raining, as opposed to misting, you’ll want to protect your cushions. We didn’t—a rookie mistake that led in the short term to soggy, heavy cushions that took forever to dry, and in the long term to mildew. Yuck.

A few protective tactics, from best practice to at-the-very-least: Bring them indoors, put them in an outdoor storage box (see 10 Easy Pieces: Deck Boxes for some great ideas), stand them up vertically but at an angle so that they repel water. As for the base and cushion-less pieces, consider buying protective covers—particularly for wood furniture.

The Lesson: Outdoor fabrics are durable and water-repellent, but not waterproof. Be sure you protect cushions during downpours.

5. Place outdoor furniture out of the line of fire.

If you have white cushions, make sure they&#8\2\17;re not under bird-heavy trees. Photograph via The Surfrider, from Trending on Remodelista: 5 Design Ideas to Steal from the California Coast.
Above: If you have white cushions, make sure they’re not under bird-heavy trees. Photograph via The Surfrider, from Trending on Remodelista: 5 Design Ideas to Steal from the California Coast.

So far, I’ve talked about how that cheap outdoor sectional I bought was flimsy, uncomfortable, and mildewy. It gets worse. The sectional rested under a large tree. A couple months into its life on our deck, I noticed a few blobs of bird poop on it. Gross, I thought, I’ll deal with it later. Within a week, the sectional was littered (pun intended) with droppings, all purple from the berries the birds ingested. I dutifully scraped off what I could and put the covers in the washing machine. Despite two cycles, the stains did not disappear. (I wish I had read this article: Hardscaping 101: Outdoor Fabric Care.)

The Lesson: Look up, and consider what may fall onto your outdoor furniture. Does your spot get a lot of birds overhead? Is there a tree that sheds berries that may stain? If yes, you’ll definitely need to plan to protect your furniture. Or find another spot to put it.

For more on outdoor furniture care, see:

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