Nothing revives the soul like the fresh air, sunshine and just spending time drinking in the best part of life—which is the company of those we love and the sounds of nature in all of its exuberant “joie de vivre.” A good dose of backyard serenity can do wonders for your perspective and your life. So whether by choice or by necessity, our hearts have turned back home as the place we most like to be for entertaining, relaxation, celebrations and family time. What better way to spend a leisurely weekend than by enjoying a splendid brunch, afternoon cookout or elegant soireé with family and friends.
The elements for relaxing outdoor living and entertaining can be as budget conscious or as elaborate as one wants to go. There are a myriad of options available for every pocketbook and at every price point. Most of us are cutting corners these days with regard to vacations and are opting instead for outdoor home improvements and outdoor living areas for quiet times, celebrations and “stay-cations.” The most important element in a well-defined and well-enjoyed outdoor living space is outdoor furniture that fits our personal style and our particular budget. With that being said, there are a limitless number of choices available for those purchasing outdoor furnishings.
Without further-or-do let us consider some of the most available and popular types of outdoor furniture on the market today:
Wood Outdoor Furniture
There are a myriad of choice on the market when it comes to wood patio and garden furniture. For wood furniture to stand up to the elements, week after week and year after year, it must be a variety that has an innate resistance to rot and decay-causing insects and organisms. Most woods are not suitable for outdoor furniture; however there are two main categories of woods that do hold up to the demands of the outdoor environment—they the tropical species and the “sleepers,” which are some of our own domestic woods.
The “sleepers” include white oak, black cherry, black walnut and black locust. These woods have physical barriers to rot built into the pores of the wood, called tyloses. They actually fill the pores of these fine woods, blocking out moisture and decay causing organisms. They are generally not used for outdoor furniture due to their cost and because we most often utilize them for fine interior furniture. Other domestic varieties such as redwood, cypress and the many cedar varieties also contain chemical compounds that repel insects, bacteria and other rotting agents.
The tropical hardwood species, most notably associated with wooden outdoor furniture include tropical teak and mahogany woods. These hardwoods have been significantly over-harvested in South America and Southeast Asia. As a result, many manufacturers are now utilizing only plantation grown teak and other plantation grown hardwoods such as Eucalyptus, Balau, Ipe, Iroko, Jarra and Kempas. These types of tropical hardwoods are not as familiar to most of us, as the gold standard teak wood, but they are warp resistant, rot resistant, finely grained and very hard. More and more manufacturers are resorting to these woods in lieu of teakwood.
The price of sustainably grown tropical outdoor furniture is becoming more and more affordable as the industry utilizes other varieties of sustainably grown tropical hardwoods, such as the following:
• Eucalyptus is a sustainably harvested plantation grown hardwood that possesses a smooth finish, lovely grain and a rich honey-red color that weathers beautifully due to the high oil content of its wood, and it smells good to boot. If allowed to weather naturally, the wood will take on a pleasing soft gray patina. It can be stained to retain the rich golden red color of the wood, however most people prefer the soft gray patina. Eucalyptus is less expensive and much easier to maintain than some of the other woods used for outdoor furniture.
• Balau is also one of the hardest of all tropical hardwoods. It is much more dense than teak and is in abundant supply. Like eucalyptus, it is more affordable than teak and will also withstand years and years of exposure to the elements. You will want to treat the wood occasionally with good wood oil if you wish to preserve the natural color, however this is a very low maintenance outdoor wood.
• Teak for good reason has become one of the most sought after of all the tropical hardwoods. Although it was at one time the preferred hardwood, along with mahogany, for ship building and decking, it is now grown on teak plantations due to its scarcity. The demand for teak is still high among those who are able to make the investment in furniture made from this beautiful top quality wood. Teak outdoor furniture is one of the more expensive options for outdoor furniture.
If you prefer the look of teak on a budget, opt for hardwood furniture made from one of the other equally beautiful but less expensive tropical hardwoods. In keeping with our “green” theme, you will want to make sure that any wooden outdoor furniture purchased carries the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) seal. This certifies that the wood used to make your furniture was sustainably grown and harvested wood.
Caring for your wooden outdoor furniture
Unfinished woods will usually turn a soft silvery gray. You will want to sand these woods once a year, ever so slightly, with a 150 or 180 grit sandpaper. This is solely for the purpose of “knocking down” any uneven fuzzy grain that might naturally occur as a result of exposure to the elements. It will also eliminate any larger fibers that separate out and can cause splinters. It also gives the wooden furniture a smooth and even look. Do not sand through the silver to expose the natural color of the wood. The intent is not to remove the silver patina but to merely keep it smooth and looking grand!
Wooden furniture that has been treated with an oil finish to preserve its natural coloring should be sanded in the same way, once a year, and given a light top coat of the oil recommended by the retailer or manufacturer. As you can see, allowing the furniture to keep its natural good looks is much less labor intensive than painted furniture.
Aluminum Outdoor Furniture
Outdoor furniture made from aluminum is long-lasting and resistant to corrosion. Because it is light in weight it is also easy to move. It is very common in today’s outdoor furniture market and comes in a variety of styles from retro and post modern to the lovely styles that we associate with charming and old-fashioned cast iron furniture found in English gardens and in fine plantation gardens. It is available at all price points and is also very easy to maintain, unlike cast iron furniture.
• Casual or Tubular Aluminum is hollow, whereas cast aluminum is a bit heavier. The tubular aluminum is generally cut and bent to create frame elements that are either welded or bolted together to create patio chairs and tables. As tubular aluminum is fairly lightweight, it may not be suitable for areas receiving high winds. It is very durable and rustproof but not as solid or sturdy as cast or wrought aluminum. If any joints are bolted on aluminum furniture the hardware should always be either stainless steel or aluminum to prevent corrosion.
• Wrought Aluminum is forged, thus enabling it to be used to create simple and elegant designs. Furniture made from forged aluminum is not only beautiful, it is substantial while still being easier to move than cast or wrought iron furniture and is reminiscent of the fine English wrought iron furniture without the liabilities.
• Cast aluminum is drastically different from wrought aluminum because of the amazing detailing that is facilitated by the casting process. Intricately hand-carved molds are made for each piece. Molten aluminum is then poured into the molds and allowed to cool; yielding furniture that is rich with elegance and loads of character. The end result is a very strong, weather resistant, corrosion resistant, durable, lightweight piece of outdoor furniture with intricate patterns and detailing. Many wonderful “period designs” can be wonderfully reproduced today utilizing cast aluminum instead of the age-old cast iron.
** It is important to note that all quality aluminum outdoor furniture will have a “powder-coated” finish that gives the metal its color and makes it impervious to fading and to the elements.
Many fine outdoor furniture retailers also carry outdoor benches and furniture made of wrought or cast steel. This furniture is equally as beautiful as the traditional English cast iron furniture or the many wrought and cast aluminum lines available today. The steel also features a powder coated finish and is no different from aluminum outdoor furniture except that it is heavier and better suited to high wind areas.
Care and Maintenance of Aluminum and Steel Outdoor Furniture
Steel and aluminum outdoor furniture on the market today is easy to clean and maintain. All it requires is an occasional washing with mild soap and water.
Concrete and Cast Stone Benches
Concrete and cast stone benches are durable, indestructible and often beautiful. They will last indefinitely and make a wonderful focal point in the garden, at the edge of the wood or shrub border or in a contemplative location. They require no maintenance and only become more beautiful with age.
Wicker furniture rated for outdoor use today is a combination of real wicker and poly resin materials that hold up to the rigors of outdoor use and unpredictable weather conditions. Wicker evokes the summers of days gone by, the elegance of seaside summers, or the charm of cottage style. It is known to last for years and is among the most comfortable of all outdoor furniture. For the pleasures of the porch, you just can’t beat a seating area with a wicker sofa and chair that includes cushions made from one of the thousands of outdoor fabrics available today. Outdoor comfort just doesn’t get any better than an all-weather wicker outdoor living room, complete with side and coffee tables, chairs, sofa and other fun accessories. Wicker comes in a variety of price points. It is strong, lightweight, and comfortable and comes in a wide variety of styles of colors as well. The all weather varieties can be left outdoors.
The distinction between indoors and out continues to fade as consumers continue to seek durable and sophisticated outdoor fabrics for their outdoor living spaces. There are a myriad of outdoor fabric manufacturers today producing glorious acrylic fabrics that are weather, fade, chemical, and mildew resistant. Acrylic outdoor fabrics are very breathable, allowing the interior of the cushion, which is polyester, to dry quickly. These fabrics are easily cleaned and remain fresh and new looking for years.
Quality of life accoutrements such as comfortable outdoor living and dining areas have ensured that the marketplace will continue to heed the call of consumers. Now, more than ever, there are so many wonderful choices available for stock and customized outdoor cushions. Manufacturers such as Sunbrella, the Richloom Fabric Group, Jewels of Java and others, have produced not only durable, fade resistant products but also some of the most beautiful fabrics imaginable—indoors or out.
Neutral and spa colors still reign for outdoor seating groups, but shades of terra-cotta, coral, celery and chocolate are gaining in popularity. Botanicals and various shades of green are showing strong sales, as are woven looks, bamboo motifs and transitional patterns. Eye-catching color combinations and classic nautical brights like navy and white are always popular as well.
• Outdoor fabrics provide the ultimate in comfort and ease of maintenance in colors for every outdoor palate.
Some companies use re-cycled plastics and milk containers in making their furniture which offers the ultimate in Adirondack chic for the bay, river, creek or pond side locations. Of course you can use them anywhere but they are most often associated with the water. They are fade resistant as the color is part of the poly-wood. For leisurely casual comfort they are unequalled.
• Umbrellas are an essential element in outdoor seating areas that do not have the benefit of shade from nearby trees. Any of the outdoor fabrics today will make a fantastic and colorful umbrella. They can also be made from the same fabrics as outdoor cushions. This year umbrellas are showing up in bright graphic prints, retro patterns and the standby-by weatherproof canvas.
• Outdoor rugs are important to complete the outdoor living and dining areas. They are inexpensive, durable and available in almost any motif or color imaginable. There is something for everyone with regards to outdoor area rugs.
In Closing …
There are a host of options available to those wishing to create a desirable and relaxing outdoor space. It is an undeniable fact that outdoor furniture and living brings people together! The outdoor room is an extension of our home that will give us back ten-fold whatever we invest in pure enjoyment and soul refreshment—which is PRICELESS! Here in our own back yards we are kings, queens, princes and princesses! Revive your joy for living and spend a little time outdoors. You’ll be glad you did!