It's springtime! There's nothing Southerners enjoy more than spending time in the great outdoors. Because of this, patios, decks, and porches are often transformed into exterior rooms with comfortable, practical furnishings. So whether you're dusting off your old porch furniture or shopping for something new, now's a great time to get your outdoor room ready for the glorious months to come.
As you are shopping for outdoor furniture, here are some important facts that you should keep in mind.
- Function: Consider the practical uses of an intended piece, along with your space requirements. For instance, is there room for a conversation seating area? Will you need a table and chairs for dining? Or do you have just the right amount of room for a chaise longue and potted plants? Could your outdoor space serve more than one purpose, providing a place for entertainment as well as a solitary retreat? Would the furniture be a permanent fixture, or should you consider lighter weight options for flexibility, storage, and easier movement?
- Design: Quality design and craftsmanship continue to characterize the diverse furniture choices available. You can find simple or ornate options that blend well with historic, rustic, or contemporary settings--from the timelessness of wrought iron to the charm of wicker, from the sturdiness of teak to the lightweight durability of aluminum.
- Materials: Yes, beauty counts, but from a practical standpoint, you need furnishings built to withstand heavy wear and tear. From the foundation to the frame to the decorative cushions, the best choices are weather-resistant or weather friendly. Furniture pieces made of strong materials with long-lasting finishes are best, including hardwoods, wrought iron, aluminum, and all-weather wicker.
- Finishes: Many finishes--including oil-based paints (best because they work to repel water), lead patina, and powder-coated treatments--provide a beautiful presentation and varying degrees of protection from the elements.
- Weight: Consider whether the furniture will be permanently placed in a specific location or continuously moved and adjusted. The weight of a piece makes all the difference. When choosing a chair, for example, be sure to sit in it for a while and, if possible, pick it up to see how heavy it is. Dining chairs and other furniture that will likely be moved regularly should be solid but not too heavy.
- Fabric: Decorative cushions and pillows may have the appearance of heavy canvas, but they should be fashioned from vinyl or acrylic fabric that dries quickly and resists mildew. Even the most water-resistant fabrics will break down when they sit outside for too long without use. No matter which fabric you choose, store cushions in a dry place if your patio or deck will not be used for some time.
Popular Material Choices
- Wood--In tune with the environment, furniture made of naturally rot- and disease-resistant woods, such as teak, redwood, cedar, and cypress, are longer lasting and don't require paint or other protective coatings. Costs range from the more expensive teak to less pricey cedar and redwood. Left to age naturally, these pieces will gradually turn a shade of silvery gray. For woods such as pine, fir, and oak, it's best to add annual applications of stain or paint. It's time to reseal when water doesn't bead on the surface.
- Wrought iron--Usually found in styles reminiscent of the Victorian age, wrought iron is heavy and durable. Prone to rust, it requires periodic touch-ups and painting when exposed to the elements. Wrought iron's heaviness makes it best for windy climates. Though prices vary, this material can be less costly than other types.
- Aluminum--This popular style is generally lightweight and rust resistant. Either cast in a mold or welded, it is often finished in a durable paint. Characteristics include smooth lines with welded joints or hollow, tubular frames.
- Wicker and rattan--This group is comprised of strips of pliable natural or synthetic material woven around a frame. The authentic wood versions will not withstand outdoor exposure for long periods and must be painted. All-weather wicker, made of moisture-proof polyester resins and aluminum framing, can be placed outside year-round.
To read about mixing and matching dining room chairs, see "Chair Appeal" on page 124 of the April 2003 issue of Southern Living.