THE WASHINGTON POST – After a long pandemic, Americans are ready to get outside.
“We’re seeing tremendous growth and demand for outdoor furniture earlier in the year,” said Chief merchandising and operations officer at Overstock Ron Hilton. Traditionally, the company gets a spike in demand “in the late spring and early summer, but we saw that happen 45 days sooner this year”, he said.
If you’re thinking about buying new outdoor furniture, it’s time to move. The production delays of the past year are still a reality, said founder Tracy Morris of Tracy Morris Design in McLean, Virginia. You might have to wait double the usual time to receive your items. But if you choose the right type of furniture – and treat it well – you won’t have to shop again for a long time.
FINDING THE RIGHT MATCH FOR YOUR SPACE
The main culprit of wear and tear, experts say, is exposure to the elements. Water can seep into wood and fabrics and cause mould. Wind can blow furniture around and damage it (or your house or deck), and sun can alter its colour.
Marnie Custom Homes President Marnie Oursler builds custom beach houses in Delaware, and she recommends taking stock of the environment the furniture will be in before making any purchases. Porous materials, such as wood, aren’t the best choice for spots that see a lot of humidity or rain, and painted pieces won’t last in sunny locations, where the paint can peel or crack. More delicate pieces made of raffia or wicker are better suited for a protected space, such as a screened-in or covered porch.
The best protection is an appropriately sized cover – or, if possible, bring your furniture inside if it goes unused for a long period of time.
Wood: Wood generally requires more maintenance than other materials, because periodic treatment is necessary to maintain its colour and finish. However, it can last a long time if properly cared for. Many outdoor wood products come treated with sealant; check how often it needs to be treated.
“I wouldn’t do anything but teak. . . . Teak is really your main outdoor wood,” Morris said. Teak requires regular oiling to maintain its caramel colour or it will weather to grey. Oursler loves that weathered look for the beach, but warns that buyers who don’t perform the required treatment could be disappointed.
A set of aged teak furniture is a major investment that will last “forever” with proper care, Morris said. Teak is graded from A to C based on the wood’s age and quality; A-grade woods come from the heart of the tree and have a closer grain, more protective oil and richer colour and will be much pricier and more durable than C-grade, which comes from the tree’s younger, outer part. Inquire about the wood’s grade when buying.
Acacia and eucalyptus are more budget-friendly hardwoods that work well outdoors, said co-founder Amy Wall of custom furniture company BuilderChicks. Eucalyptus is naturally resistant to moisture and pests but doesn’t handle extreme cold well because of its high moisture content. Wall said well-cared-for acacia pieces could last for 10 years, and eucalyptus for 20.
Cedar is another strong option, but Wall warns that it’s softer than teak, acacia and eucalyptus, so it’s easy to scratch or dent.
Oursler and lead interior designer at Anthony Wilder Design/Build Keira St Claire don’t recommend pine pieces, which are usually less expensive and pressure-treated, unless the furniture is in a covered area, because pine is prone to splintering. Customers after a wood look without the cost or maintenance should look into wood-grain furniture made of plastic composite, Morris and St Claire said, which requires little care.
Metals: Metal furniture is popular and comes in numerous options, from inexpensive and lightweight aluminium to sturdier and more expensive stainless steel or wrought iron.
“Most of your inexpensive outdoor furniture is going to be made of aluminium, which won’t last as long,” St Claire said. Aluminium is hollow, so it’s lightweight and easy to move – though that also means it could be more easily thrown by heavy winds. Oursler uses stainless steel by the beach, because it’s most resistant to rust. Wrought iron is extremely durable and heavy.
Metals generally don’t require regular care, but they can rust over time if they aren’t kept dry and covered. For durability, look for powder-coated finishes; the colour and finish have been repeatedly sprayed and baked during production, so the surface won’t chip or fade.
Plastic: Plastic furniture doesn’t have to be unattractive and cheaply made. High-density polyethylene plastic is sturdy and easy to clean and comes in numerous colours and finishes that can convincingly mimic other more expensive or finicky materials, such as raffia, wicker or wood, and it won’t fade in the sun like paint. Morris likes the Lollygagger lounge chair from Loll Designs and Room & Board’s Emmet lounge chair, which are made out of recycled materials; Oursler likes the selection of composite Adirondack chairs at Lowe’s, including the Seaport classic white plastic frame stationary Adirondack chair by Trex.
Fabrics: Fabrics add comfort and offer endless customisation options, but they won’t last unless they’re made for outdoor use. “If you don’t invest in cushions, you’re replacing them every year, or every time it rains you’re running out trying to cover your furniture,” Morris said. Look for cushions made of reticulated foam, which wicks away moisture instead of absorbing it. PVC mesh, marine-grade vinyl or solution-dyed acrylic covers are durable options that are protected from moisture and ultraviolet damage.
Outdoor rugs should be made of solution-dyed acrylics or plastic fibres to wash easily and avoid mould. Morris likes Sutherland’s Perennials collection, which is sold at Restoration Hardware and Williams Sonoma; Oursler and St Claire like fabrics from Sunbrella, which can be found at stores such as Ballard Designs, Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. For outdoor rugs, Oursler recommends Dash & Albert, including the watermelon striped handmade flatweave indoor/outdoor area rug.