7 Best Materials for Outdoor Spaces
Temperatures are warming up! Summer is at our doorsteps. And soon we will have our longest day of the year. It is time to move our activities outdoors and enjoy the warm days and long summer evenings. Gather family and friends to have dinner together, or organize a barbecue. Get reacquainted with your neighbours after an isolating and brutal winter.
For most of us in the Northern Hemisphere activities move from indoors to outdoors in the summertime. We spend time tending our gardens, reading a book under a tree, watching the kids play on the grass or having dinner under some mood lighting. We escape the heat in the house to the soft breezes outside.
For those of us who do not have a garden but a balcony or two, even that balcony can become a refuge after a long day at work. We don’t need a large garden to feel a connection with the outdoors, to feel the sun on our face, the wind through our hair. This is the time of the year when boundaries between indoor and outdoor living become blurred.
Choosing the right furniture and materials for outdoor living becomes important since all these purchases are investments you want to enjoy for years to come. How to decide what to get? Should you get a wicker set of lounge chairs or a synthetic one? Should you get a dining set made from wood or steel? There are many options so lets discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each one. Plus, what type of furniture are you going to invest in? This, of course, depends on the activities you plan to do and the amount of space you have.
Things You Plan To Do Outside
Unless you have an acreage or two, most people will be limited in what they can do in and with their patios or gardens. Urban living either dictates enjoying a balcony or a postage size backyard. Choosing the right type of furniture as well as the the right scale of the furniture pieces is important. First decide what you plan to do outside: is it mainly reading a book or magazine? Is it catching some sun? Is it having breakfast or dinner? Are you planning to entertain friends and family? Do the kids need space for their toys?
Any of these activities requires different kind of furniture. For reading or lounging you will need a chair or chaise, collapsable or not. For dining, a table and side chairs are necessary. Kids require perhaps a swing or some climbing equipment. If you keep your purchases in line with the main activities you plan to do, you will not regret your purchases.
Size of Your Outdoor Space
Not only does the type of activity determine the type of furniture we need, the size of space we have available also dictates our choices. Let’s say your main goal is to lounge in the sun, yet your outdoor space is a small backyard behind your townhouse. You know that getting a large scale lounge chair will take up far too much room. Your purchase will need to be a much smaller chaise perhaps even one that you can collapse. If you have a nice sized balcony you will also need to consider the size of chaise you want to purchase. A narrow chair which makes into a chaise may well be a better choice than a full on chaise. And, if you want to add a side table or some plants, you will even further limit your options. You may have to be clever and build in some furniture, like a bench or table top. Luckily, with so many people living in an urban environment, there is lots to choose from in small scale furniture.
A freestanding family dwelling with a good size yard will allow for multiple seating areas. A conversation group, a dining area, a lounge chair or two could all fit. A pergola could provide shade when necessary. A pool gives heat relief and a place for kids to play. Larger yards definitely give you easier and lots of options. Small spaces force you to become creative which can be super exciting.
Weather Conditions & Maintenance
Outdoor furniture is not inexpensive. Good quality outdoor furniture can cost as much as indoor furniture. It stands to reason then that you want to enjoy it for years to come. Taking good care of it becomes important. The materials you choose will play a big factor in how long you will be able to enjoy your furniture. You want to make sure that any hinges, screws or fasteners are rust proof; that any fabrics are made for outdoor exposure and they are fade resistant.
Sun and rain will impact any kind of material. The sun dries it out and discolour it, the rain can soak it. Materials become brittle over time when not taken care of. The quality of your outdoor furniture will need to withstand the shifting weather conditions. If you intend to leave your furniture out all the time, you may want to think about covering it when not in use. Make sure air can circulate under the cover for preservation though. If you have a shed, garage or basement, store the furniture indoors to avoid extreme weather conditions.
Wood furniture requires regular cleaning and oiling to keep the wood in optimum condition. Metal furnitures needs to be kept clean to voice rusting and dirt accumulating to the point where cleaning becomes impossible. Even man made materials like synthetics need to be kept clean regularly: simply wipe the pieces with a soft cloth and water and soap. Like everything else: if you take good care of your belongings you can enjoy them for a long time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions!
The 7 Best Outdoor Materials
Here are the benefits and some drawbacks of the seven best materials.
Synthetics or Plastics - This man-made material will last for a long time. It can be outside all year long. An occasional cleaning will make it ready for use. A drawback is that the sun can discolour plastic furniture. White can turn yellow, whereas black can fade. Bright colours loose their luster over time if left out year round.
Wicker - Today’s outdoor wicker furniture is made from synthetic fibers, braided to look like real wicker. This furniture looks great and elegant. It is resistant to all weather conditions. The odd cleaning with water and soap will keep the furniture is good shape. One thing to think about is that in winter time the braided fibers can harden to the point of breaking. You will want to protect the furniture by bringing it indoors. Once the fibers break, they can not be repaired.
Steel - While steel is a good outdoor material, it is the finish of it that is critical in how it performs outdoors. The right finish will allow steel to be exposed to the elements for a long time. Vigiliance is the operating word here: inspect your furniture regularly for rust spots. As soon as you see spots, remove them thoroughly and treat them with an anti-rust finish and a lick of paint! You can protect your steel pieces by adding a coat of car wax once a year.
Aluminum - Easy to take care of, a minimum of maintenance and rust proof. Just clean it with water and soap occasionally and leave it outside year round. Not necessary to bring it indoors!
Natural materials like bamboo, cane or rattan - I love the look of this type of furniture. Unfortunately though they are not fully weather resistant. The sun can dry the material while the rain will soak it. This type of furniture really benefits from a coat of protection which you can purchase in a hardware store. This layer of protection needs to be applied yearly. I would not leave furniture made from natural materials outdoors year round. Bring them into the basement or garage and cover them to protect them from dirt and dust. Some of this type of furniture is so attractive that it can do double duty by being used indoors in the wintertime!
Concrete - Super durable. You can leave it for decades. Other than cleaning occasionally and perhaps sandblasting after a few years, there is not much to be done in terms of maintenance. This material is used typically for built-in furniture such as benches. Concrete weighs a lot, therefore placement is permanent until you get rid of it altogether. Since the material is hard and unforgiving, loads of cushions are required to make it comfortable but this gives us the opportunity to add visual interest.
Wood - Teak wood has been used throughout the centuries for boat and yacht building. The wood contains a lot of natural oils and withstand moisture penetration really well. It makes sense that it is a great wood to be used for outdoor furniture. Teak wood can give two distinct looks. The rich orangy brown tone typically associated with teak furniture speaks for itself. To keep this beautiful colour outdoors you will have to treat it with teak oil every year. If you would rather let nature take its course forget about the yearly teak oil treatment and let the wood turn gray. Some people like this natural look of teak.
Wood used for scaffolding is an untreated wood from spruce or fir (Douglas Fir for istance). This type of wood lends itself really well for outdoor furniture as well. By applying a wood stain or a wax you can make the wood water repellant and make it more durable. You can also paint this wood. Painted wood furniture requires a fresh coat every two or three years though. Since ground moisture can easily rise up any wooden leg over time manufacturers recommend adding rubber or plastic protection to the bottom of the legs. These little caps are readily available in hardware stores.
Now that you have the details, go out and get yourself the outdoor furniture of your dreams. Don’t forget to measure your space and take your measuring tape with you to make sure it all fits. See you next week when we’ll discuss tips and ideas for styling your balcony, patio, deck or garden.