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How to Pick the Perfect Patio Furniture

Not all products are created equal, know what you need

By Kristine Archer

Your backyard, no matter how big or small, is your refuge from the outside world—and, in those hot summer months, it can be the hub of your social and family life. Perfecting your own personal oasis will take time, but this article will help you get started by tackling one of the backyard basics—patio furniture.

Before you spend a dime, take the time to really evaluate your backyard living space. Take measurements, decide what furniture and accessories you want to include and, most importantly, determine your budget.

When it comes to patio furniture, the options are nearly limitless. Aside from the traditional patio dining sets (one table with four matching chairs), consumers also have an assortment of benches, lounge chairs, ottomans, swings, side tables, chaise lounges and even sofas (among other things) to create the perfect oasis for any backyard. The biggest decision you'll have to make—one that depends on both personal preference and budget—is the type of material you want to feature.

Aluminum

The most obvious advantage of aluminum patio furniture is its resistance to rust. Have you ever rushed out into a sudden summer storm to drag in your patio chairs? With aluminum furniture, you won't have to. This material also weathers the sun very well and requires little in the way of maintenance. Aluminum is also relatively lightweight compared to other common material, so rearranging the layout of your tables and chairs is quick and easy.

While many people are turned off by the apparent lack of colour choices in aluminum furniture, they needn't be. A powder coating allows aluminum to go from its standard silvery hue to a wide range of colours (though the colour may chip or fade over time).

Plastic

Plastic patio furniture is the best bet for homeowners on a budget. It's lightweight, inexpensive and easily stored in the winter months; a lot of plastic patio furniture can even be folded up for long-term storage. In terms of maintenance, all that's required is an occasional hose-down to remove any dirt or grime. Plastic is also available in a wide variety of colours and textures, some of which resemble more expensive materials such as wood or stone. It's also durable enough to be left out in the rain or overnight in the backyard.

Wood

Within this category are several different materials; here, we'll take a look at two of the most popular, cedar and teak.

Cedar is strong, lightweight and dimensionally stable, meaning it retains its shape despite changes in temperature and humidity. It also dries out faster than some other woods, making it less susceptible to moisture rot and bacterial and fungal development. Cedar also gives off a distinctive scent, which is pleasant to people but a deterrent to wood pests, moths and other insects. To preserve its natural beauty and strength, cedar furniture should be treated before being exposed to the elements.

Teak, which is native to southeast Asia (primarily Indonesia and Myanmar), has many characteristics that make it ideal for summer patio furniture. First and foremost, it does not absorb heat, making it more comfortable to sit in on hot August days. Additionally, teak is not susceptible to rot or mildew, and it will not warp from exposure to moisture, even if it is left untreated. As such, it can be left outside almost indefinitely—even during fall and winter months. The only common drawback of teak is its tendency to change colour over the years; many people, however, admire that trait as part of the wood's unique appeal. There have also been concerns about the depletion of teak as a natural resource, though some manufacturers are taking steps to ensure sustainable development in the future.

Wicker

Wicker furniture is very lightweight and surprisingly sturdy. Unfortunately, it doesn't weather the elements very well—it's best to bring wicker furniture indoors overnight and whenever it rains. If you choose this material, you'll want to invest in some good quality cushions, which can make a decorative statement all their own. Wicker is also easily painted to match any colour scheme.

Wrought iron

Furniture designers hammer traditional wrought iron furniture by hand; most modern variations use molds to create a similar effect with the same material. Wrought iron furniture is quite heavy and durable enough to be left out over the course of an entire summer (though some owners cover the furniture during inclement weather. If it is cared for properly, it can last for decades, which helps offset the expense. Wrought iron furniture is typically available in a wide variety of designs, from the ornate and complex to more modern, minimalist motifs.

If you're choosing wrought iron pieces, look at them as a long-term investment; it is best to select a design that you can enjoy for years to come. The thicker the material, the more durable the furniture will likely be.

Caring for wrought iron furniture is fairly straightforward—a quick rinse with soapy water should be enough to keep it looking great (protective wax can also be applied to protect the pieces between cleanings). If minor chipping or scratches occur, they can be easily repaired by lightly sanding the effected area and adding a little matching touch-up paint.

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