Garden Furniture Buying Guide
Buying the best garden furniture can tie you up in knots. You need it during summer to enjoy the warmer weather, but over winter you probably won’t even look at it. This makes shelling out the cash pretty painful in my experience!
The trick is to look for well-made quality garden furniture that’ll go the distance.
When garden sets are a pleasure to use and admire, they create that ‘extra room in the house’ that designers are always talking about. Then it feels like they are worth the money.
So, let’s take a look at what makes the best garden furniture set for your garden and lifestyle.
Do You Like The Design?
You might have some solid opinions on how garden furniture should look, but if you are fed up with maintaining wooden furniture take a look at the newer plastic rattan wicker designs.
Plastic rattan is comfortable and still looks stylish, shiny and new even after a few years of use.
There are lots of designs out there including chairs, tables, sofas, and simple bistro sets – so think about how you will use garden furniture to avoid disappointment.
If you want to eat outside look for dining tables and chairs, if lounging is your priority then a thickly padded sofa might be the best garden furniture for you, and if you want to sip cocktails then try chairs with a low ‘coffee’ table.
The quirky among you should take a look at pretty bistro sets made from aluminium, and egg chairs that beat dodgy hammocks hands down. They are full of character in smaller gardens where everything counts.
Modernists can buy sleek wood or plastic rattan furniture with smooth lines and rounded corners.
Design is all about what you like to look at, after all, a garden furniture set will sit in your field of vision for the whole summer, and probably the whole winter too if you choose a weatherproof version. You’ve got to like it more than just a little bit.
What Size Should I Choose?
Size does matter when it comes to garden furniture. You need to move around it easily without banging your toes or having to squeeze out from the French doors.
If garden space is limited think about several smaller sets. A table and two chairs for the patio, a bistro set in the sun trap, and a hanging egg chair beneath a tree might suit you better.
On the other hand, if you entertain a lot and have a big family, a large table with chairs may suit better.
Whatever your available space, think creatively.
A table that is round, or has rounded edges, is a more efficient way of seating because no-one ends up on the pointed section.
Look for folding seats that fit beneath the table, or chairs that fold away. Then you won’t need to pull out emergency seats from the attic or put a rug on the damp grass.
I recommend you take a tape measure and find out exactly how much room you have to play with before you buy.
Take into account how close you’ll be to the BBQ so everyone stays safe and smoke-free. Allow enough walking room on the patio, and last but not least, check how the furniture will get into your garden.
If it’s not flat pack can you actually fit it through your patio door? And if you want to pack it away over winter, will it fit in the shed?
Big gardens mean you can choose the best garden furniture you like, but smaller spaces need multi-functioning garden furniture.
If saving space is a priority then look for stacking chairs, folding chairs, and furniture sets where chairs tuck beneath a table. Side tables and ice boxes can double up as seating and they are easily stored away when there are no extra guests.
Storage furniture is a godsend in compact gardens. Garden furniture sets that have integral storage can keep the clutter under control. Tables and chairs that can stash away toys or garden tools are high on the list for those of us with smaller outdoor spaces.
Care And Maintenance
How much effort are you willing to put into maintenance? If it’s plenty, then knock yourself out with wood, metal and paintwork.
But if caring for outdoor furniture is up there with dental appointments, minimal care sets are going to improve your life.
- Wooden garden furniture that’s left outside will need rubbing down, sanding and varnishing each year. It’s a time-consuming job but ultimately satisfying if you have the time and inclination. If you don’t do this, the wood will rot and eventually break down.
- Metal furniture will rust, but it needs less work than wood. Rubbing down rust spots and painting on anti-rust paint is a yearly job. Avoiding any maintenance work on metal such as iron means rust will eat away at the joints, eventually causing irreparable damage.
- Most people with busy lives go for plastic rattan. It’s garden furniture you can leave outside all year round and hose down at the beginning of spring. UV protection means it doesn’t split, snap or fade.
- Plastic is a budget choice that requires a simple hose and scrub. Plastic will become brittle in sunlight and snap eventually, but it’s so cheap that many people just buy another set. Recycle them where you can, the world needs less plastic.
Whatever level of care you choose, it’s a good idea to invest in a garden furniture cover if you’re not able to bring it inside. Tarpaulin keeps off the majority of rain. Even weatherproof rattan benefits from a cover, if only to keep bird mess and dead leaves off.
Is It Weatherproof?
Weatherproof garden furniture is essential in our UK climate unless you’re willing to buy it yearly or store it over the wet months.
The main problem that affects garden furniture is rain. Water is a powerful force, it seeps into wood causing rot and rusting metal. Our cold winter winds don’t do a great job of drying furniture out, so it often remains wet and damp for months on end.
Buying a cover will help as we’ve discussed above, but it doesn’t stop our persistent rain from rotting and rusting garden furniture.
Even teak, one of the most weather resistant woods, will eventually succumb. Wooden furniture is in essence just dead wood, and nature is the world’s best recycler. She will eventually claim it.
But rain isn’t the only issue when it comes to weather. Garden furniture is susceptible to fading. Plastic and wood are especially prone to fade out.
Bleached wood can look good, but bleached plastic just looks old and tired. Sun-brittle plastic will snap and no-one wants Auntie Pauline deposited in the hedge.
To fight the weather your options are to either move your furniture indoors over winter, cover it, or buy plastic rattan wrapped over aluminium which is weatherproof in every sense.
You can’t beat the weather, so I’d recommend considering weatherproof sets if you’ve no-where, or no inclination, to store it over winter.
Is Lightweight Better Than Heavy Weight?
Think about weight when you looking for the best garden furniture. Wood and metal are sturdy and stable, but they are heavy.
If your garden furniture is going to stay in one position all year round then the weight isn’t a pressing consideration, but if you’re like me you’ll want lightweight options.
The obvious choice for lightweight furniture is plastic or plastic rattan, but aluminium can be light too.
Plastic rattan and aluminium both look stylish, they weigh almost nothing, and they are comfortable to sit on without cushions that soak up ketchup, rain and bird poo. This is a major plus point for me.
Here’s why I always choose lightweight garden furniture.
- I don’t like a mess in the garden. If it not used, furniture is stacked or folded down. If it’s heavy then that’s a hard job.
- Unexpected guests keep turning up so I constantly need to get another seat. See point one.
- The sun moves around my garden and I chase it with my furniture.
- I have trees that contain many birds. They poop on the furniture so I have to hose them down. Tilted chairs and tables dry off much faster.
- The birds also poop on the patio so I have to move the furniture to scrub it down.
No doubt you have your own considerations such as lack of mobility, or you live alone and can’t always find another person to help shift heavy stuff.
Lightweight furniture isn’t always good quality though, and you should check for durable build-work. Moving furniture can loosen joints for example, so screws rather than glued joints are better.
Lightweight can also mean flyaway. If your furniture is staying outside during windy days make sure it’s weighed down or put somewhere it can’t cause any damage.
A lightweight rattan chair can easily break a greenhouse pane or crush a treasured plant.
Is It Possible To Buy Long Lasting Garden Furniture?
The best garden furniture to leave outside that’s capable of lasting for years is always going to cost more than cheaper sets. In general, it’s a ‘spend to save’ situation that may require some investment, but it will work out cost effective in the long run.
Garden furniture does need some care to live a long and happy life. Even the technological advance of plastic rattan needs cleaning down to keep it going in the long term.
The UK’s weather is unrelenting and garden furniture will inevitably give up the ghost faster than your indoor seats, but with some care, it can last for years.
Take a look at the FAQs below for specific care that can extend the life of your garden furniture.
How To Protect And Care For Your Garden Furniture?
Looking after garden furniture is a boring but essential life task. How much effort you put in depends on the material.
There are four main types:
Wood furniture looks rustic and lovely but it needs care.
Sun and rain do their best to destroy wood so it’ll fade, warp and rot over time.
Frequent maintenance is required! If you love wood, choose teak which is more weatherproof than other types, and bring it inside over winter.
Each spring you’ll need to wash and scrub down wooden furniture making sure you remove all the debris, mould, algae and lichens. You may need a scrubbing brush or wire brush to get it all off.
Let it dry for 24 hours before applying a wood preserver. Pay attention to horizontal surfaces that rain tends to collect on.
Plastic is easy to take care of. Scrub it down with soapy water and leave it to dry. If possible, cover plastic furniture because strong sunlight can lead to fading, brittleness and degradation which can’t be restored.
Aluminium is a rust-free option that’s long-lasting and only needs a scrub down in the spring. Steel is a more expensive version of aluminium which also needs little attention.
Other metals, such as iron, need cleaning down with soapy water. Allow them to dry and then check all over for rust.
When you find rust spots rub them down with sandpaper to remove all the loose bits before painting it over with rust-preventing metal paint.
Rattan is probably the best garden furniture to leave outside. It’s weatherproof and easy to clean especially if it’s attached to a rust-proof aluminium frame.
Hose rattan garden furniture down with soapy water and allow it to dry – that’s it!
How Do I Store Garden Furniture?
There’s no argument that it’s best to put garden furniture away in a shed or garage over winter no matter what it’s made from.
But storing garden furniture isn’t always possible.
Perhaps you’ve no shed and your car takes up the garage. Smaller homes often mean there’s little storage space. If you can’t put furniture away over winter there are three ways to deal with it.
- Leave it outside. Weatherproof furniture can withstand years of UK winters. Leaving garden furniture outside over winter means you can take advantage of those rare but glorious sunny winter days. What better way to perk up a cold and flu-filled you than sitting outside wrapped up in warming winter sun? You aren’t going to pull chairs out of the shed, but if there’s one already waiting for you, get in there and beat winter blues with powerful December sunshine.
- Cover it with a large and heavy tarpaulin and weigh the edges down with bricks or push tent pegs into the grass. Watch out for windy days that may cause it to take off.
- Bring it indoors! Some garden furniture is classy enough to live in the home, conservatories are especially good places for wicker or wooden garden furniture.
What Is Plastic Wicker Rattan?
It’s got many names including resin wicker, synthetic wicker, plastic rattan, and all-weather wicker but they all refer to a manufactured synthetic material called polyethylene (PE).
Polyethylene strips are woven into what we know as wicker, but wicker is the weaving process rather than the material. It comes from the Scandinavian word ‘vika’ meaning ‘to bend’.
In the past, wicker furniture was made from willow or other natural fibres such as rattan but these materials rot and don’t withstand weather.
Plastic wicker ‘polyethylene’ is highly durable. It’s resistant to rain and UV rays which makes it a perfect outdoor material for garden furniture of all types.
If it’s woven over an aluminium frame the result is weatherproof and lightweight garden furniture that’ll last for years.
I hope this guide has helped you choose the best garden furniture to leave outside. I’d always recommend weatherproof lightweight furniture, especially if you’ve nowhere to store for the winter.
Check out my recommendations and see what style suits your lifestyle the best.
Enjoy those warm and sunny days on your stylish, hassle-free garden furniture!