THINKING ABOUT FURNISHING THE OUTDOORS?
Do it right the first time.
But, what is right?
That question will be answered as you research the information contained in this guide.
This article is provided as a guide in planning and selecting the best patio furnishings for your lifestyle, as well as the size of your outdoor living space.
First, let us test your furnishing style:
How did you furnish your house?
- Did you go into a room, like the dining room, and say we need some furniture in here and then go out to buy a dining set with little regard to the size, color, and comfort level, how it was made, or how it coordinated with other colors and furniture within your house?
- Or did you just put the handed down set into the dining room?
The key point - there is a significant difference between just furnishing versus planning,
designing and decorating. If you are not interested in your interior design, then you are
not interested in doing the patio right the first time. Unless you are one of the few that
realize outdoor furnishings will be seen a lot more than inside not to mention it is a reflection of your taste, style and decorating abilities.
If you are interested in design and decorating, then this guide will help you, if you have the time. If you don't have the time, send us an email including:
- answers to the key questions below
- pictures of your patio area as well as a few of your interior
We will give you a free design recommendation.
A few key questions to help develop your plan:
1. What do you want to accomplish with your furniture and accessories?
- Improved leisure time & lifestyle?
- Increased entertaining area?
- Exterior decorating?
2. How often will you be enjoying your furniture?
- Special occasions only?
3. How will you use your outdoor spaces?
- Conversational seating?
- Sunbathing? Relaxing? Reading? Other?
4. How many people will be sharing your outdoor furniture?
- Normal family use?
- While entertaining?
- 5. Is your patio furniture visible from inside?
- If so, what colors are you using in the interior? (we want to harmonize the color scheme from one side of the window to the other.)
6. Is the area for the furniture exposed to:
- Strong wind?
- Full sun?
7. Describe the type of surface on which the furniture will be placed.
8. Will the furniture be used near a pool or spa?
9. The dimensions of the spaces. Covered or partially covered?
10. Maximum dollar amount you plan to spend on patio furnishings?
11. Should I do this in stages? or all at once?
12. What are the important selection factors?
The above questions are very basic, but most shoppers have not properly answered them. Many have only thought about a few, if any. Why not? One reason is, most have very little experience in buying patio furniture and very limited knowledge. Without a plan and product knowledge, how are you going to make good buying decisions? You must know your objectives! You must have a plan if you are going to do it right the first time. Once you have a plan, then you can start reviewing product options.
PRODUCT OPTIONS Today the focus is on "Outdoor Living Spaces" with many families turning their backyards into
"resorts." . Manufacturers have provided us with a huge array of products and styles ranging from
traditional to contemporary. W hat do you want to put on your patio?
CAST ALUMINUM This product is very popular now - some of the chair designs are very intricate - the frames are
heavy, thus good in windy areas. The color selection is limited, and most of pieces are more
comfortable only with cushions. The collections are quite extensive so that you can coordinate
dining, deep seating, bar stools and more. We don't advise using this furniture on the beachfront
if you cannot wash it down weekly. Cast Aluminum is somewhat brittle - it does not bend, but it
does break; therefore shipping cast is more demanding than most other materials
EXTRUDED ALUMINUM Lighter weight aluminum which is hollow and can be extruded in different shapes such as round,
oval and squared. This process gives us a greater variety in designs from contemporary to
traditional, with some of the more traditional pieces having a combination of cast aluminum for the
arms and back decoration. Most of the high end extruded aluminum is made domestically and
these factories offer a large color palette and quick delivery. High quality powder coated extruded
aluminum is fine for beachfront but requires consistent maintenance to remove the salt residue.
WROUGHT IRON Frames from reputable manufacturers are made from galvanized steel, undercoated like a car
body and then powder coated in a variety of colors. Wrought iron provides strength and weight,
and the "mesh" table top of the past has been replaced with real or faux stone tops - a great
looking combination. Experience real comfort by sitting in a wrought iron spring club chair!
OUTDOOR WICKER This furniture is made from either colored resin or vinyl woven over an extruded aluminum or steel
frame which has been powder coated..The style is determined by the shape of the frame and can
look like traditional wicker or sleek contemporary furniture. Wicker seating with cushions has a
great comfort level and can be combined with cast or extruded aluminum for dining although there
are very attractive wicker dining sets on the market.
WOOD Wood such as teak and other dense oily wood gives you weighty frames that are suitable for
windy areas and also beachfront. The frames are definitely more comfortable with cushions.
Regular maintenance is required to keep the frames in their original condition..If left alone teak will
age to silver grey - eventually!
RESIN/PVC Extruded and injection molded plastic, most commonly seen as stacking chairs in big box stores.
High quality resin furniture is made in Europe, with many of the chairs having the ability to recline
and fold. PVC has evolved from the "pipe" look to very attractive rattan - authentic looking in color
and form. Excellent for beachfront.
All of the above categories, with the exception of resin, have across the board selection of product
for your outdoor enjoyment.
- DINING TABLES - there are dining tables available from 30" - 63" round, 60" -120",oval, some square, and rectangular up to 130"in length! The tops range from glass, cast aluminum, punched aluminum, faux stone to real stone..
- DINING CHAIRS & SWIVEL ROCKERS - available in strap, sling, cast aluminum, extruded
cushioned aluminum, wrought iron and outdoor wicker. Most resin and wood dining chairs do not
- BAR STOOLS - bar stools are now being made in differing heights to accommodate built-in BBQ islands and bars. A barstool's height is measured from the ground to the top of the seat and are usually 30" (bar ht.) and 26" (counter ht.) There is a factory that will customize your stool up to 34" high..When building your bar it is important to keep the measurement from the ground to the top of the bar to 42" (bar ht) or 38" (counter ht) as this will assure you of a large selection in
stools. When shopping for bar stools you also need to know the depth of the "lip" around the
counter as this will determine the correct height for the arm on the stool. Sometimes it is wise to
shop for bar stools before constructing the bar!
- DEEP SEATING - sofas, love seats, club chairs, ottomans. We now have club chairs that rock,swivel, glide or a combination of two or more motions - the selection is amazing! Also, the outdoor sectional has arrived, giving flexibility in outdoor seating arrangements - these work well in front of a fireplace or around a fire pit.
- CHAISE LOUNGES - available in single and double sizes - even round - some with canopies - all very comfortable, especially the cushioned ones - offered in all the product options.
- SLINGS - a sling made from domestic fabric should last 6 - 8 years depending on the sun level. Usually the chaise lounges go first, as they are normally in the full sun. Slings can be replaced.
- CUSHIONS - cushions are low maintenance and long lasting when made with solution dyed acrylic fabric. This fabric is widely used in the boating and awning industries in a heavier weight
and is made to live outdoors 365 days of the year! This miracle fabric used in the outdoor
furniture business is soft to the touch, comes in many colors as stripes, plain colors, textures, and
woven designs, can withstand the elements (especially full sun) and can be cleaned with a variety
of products including diluted bleach! After heavy, soaking rains the cushions should be set on
their sides so that the water will drain - you can see it run out!
- DRAPES - outdoor curtains, made from solution dyed acrylic of course, are useful to block sun, provide privacy and soften the look of an outdoor structures. There are sheer and semi-sheer solution dyed acrylics loomed especially for curtains.
- UMBRELLAS - come in all sizes and shapes these days from 6' square and round (used in bistro sets) 9' used in 48" & 54" tables and in between a couple of chaises and 11' and 13' square or
round to use over seating groups and large dining sets. W e also have side arm umbrellas that
provide shade without an intrusive pole - these umbrellas require heavy 36" - 42" square bases,
so you have to plan a space for the base! Most umbrella frames are made from aluminum these
days, but the traditional wooden market umbrellas are still available in certain sizes. Bar height
bottom poles (45" long instead of the normal 36") can be purchased separately.
- UMBRELLA BASES - bases range from cement to steel and aluminum - there are also some made from granite. It is imperative to have a heavy enough base to hold your umbrella, 11' and
13' regular pole umbrellas should have 150lb bases with extended necks 15" - 18" tall to support a
free standing one. Please remember to tighten the set screws to prevent the umbrella from flying
- OUTDOOR ACCESSORIES - throw pillows - square and rectangular can personalize your
outdoor seating. Have fun with them! You can get fringe and cording made from solution dyed
acrylic to trim them - also double sided place mats - maybe a stripe on one side and a solid on the
other to give two different looks - washable and fade resistant - or table runners on long tables
used in conjunction with place mats to give you an elegant outdoor look!
WHICH PRODUCTS ARE BEST FOR YOU?
That depends on style, color, weight, comfort, price, selection, location and more, However, it is not that difficult once you have answered the key questions in the beginning and have developed a plan. For example, if your plan is to add outdoor dining then style is usually a continuation of your interior designs, If you like traditional styling then go with it on your patio. Do the same with color. Select colors that compliment both your interior and exterior colors - especially if the patio is off a major room like a family room as you want to make the patio an extension of that room by flowing colors and styling. In most cases, we prefer that colors blend in than dominating and taking away from the beauty of the outdoor landscape and hardscape. However, a dull and boring patio setting may require more dramatic colors to make the furniture the focal point. The type of furniture will be in part determined by style, color and price.
- DO A LAY OUT- Buy some graph paper, measure your patio areas, mark door and walk ways.
Visualize your options of how the furniture could be placed. Pencil in some pieces. A dining set
with a 48" table will require the width of the table plus approx 2' on each side for chairs resulting in
a 48" table set requiring 8 feet of space. Easy chairs average approximately 2.5' wide.
- WHERE SHOULD I BUY? - Here is a basic listing of the possibilities. All have some positive and negatives.
- The box and club stores: These stores are mostly price driven focusing on what they conceive will be popular price points such a $599 for a dining group. Even with their buying power, it is difficult to manufacture and sell a group of furniture that both looks good and has lasting durability at a low price. When shopping these stores, you must read and understand the details. For example, one store advertises a group with rust resistant powder coat paint on steel frames. What these words really mean is "it will rust quickly". And rust can really miss up a patio. Also, what is the warranty? 1 year manufactures warrant excluding fading, cushions glass and purchased parts. What does this mean? The cushions are made out polyester - one of the cheapest fabric and with very low durability - you will be lucky to have these cushions look good for a few month - especially in full sun. What are purchased parts? They are parts that are not made by the manufacturer which could be glides, swivel mechanisms, fabrics. Why does it state manufactures warranty? Because the warranty is provided by the manufacturer, not the store; therefore if you have a problem even within the warranty, you will likely have to deal with the manufacturer not the store. And what if that manufacturer is in China or out of business? Another possible negative is that "what you see is what you get" meaning there are few if any options in color, additional or coordinated pieces. Basically, your furnishing is limited to what they have this year as long as they have it and it will not be there next year if you want to add to or replace. Also, be aware that some of the products have to be assembled at home.
- Specialty Stores: These stores feature patio furniture and are more product driven than price. They normally have extensive selections, custom options, more quality and durability, design assistance and service. Such obviously comes at a higher front end price, but often at a better value. What is a better value: Let's say that you buy the $599 set mentioned above. Within 1 year it starts rusting, the cushions start fading and falling apart - what looked pretty good when new now is a sore thumb - so you throw it out and go buy another similar group and then another one over a 10 year period. On the other hand, you could have purchased a better quality, more durable group that maintained finish, didn't rust, the cushions retain their color and comfort. Which one is the better value. Over the same 10 years, you could have spent several hundred dollars more if your buying decision was just price and for approximately half of that time your patio furniture looked bad and not conducive to relaxing on and enjoying your patio. Obviously, the better quality set provided the best VALUE.
- Catalogs and Internet Sites: There are several catalog/internet companies plus a huge number of web sites selling patio furnishings over the internet. These sites range from small importers to the large big box retail store sites. Most all sellers of products have a web site which offers their products for direct sale to the public. Most of these sites are price driven. Should I buy patio furniture and furnishings over the internet? That's depends on what you want and willing to accept. An important selection factor in choosing furniture is comfort and there is a range of comfort levels in furniture from uncomfortable to very comfortable. The comfort factor is determined by the design and details devoted to comfort. Price driven products obviously spend less on the comfort factors. When buying out of a catalog or over the internet, the comfort factor becomes just a guess unless you have been able to find the identical product in a store that you can test out.
What are the positive points for buying out of a catalog or over the internet?
- Convenience. Bypasses the time and hassle of in store shopping.
- Selection: There is a huge assortment of products.
- Savings: The internet should have the lowest prices as the overhead costs are less than retail stores.
What are some of the negatives?
- Surprises & disappointments - unknown quality and comfort.
- Delays - Some companies do not stock the product and rely on others to ship for them.
- Shipping costs - may not be clearly identified
- Damages - Expect some - especially if you are buying cast aluminum.
- Drop off deliveries - in carton at your drive way.
- Assembling required
- Disposal of cardboard cartons
- Additional delivery charges for white glove service
- Unknown customer service and support
- Warranty problems.
- What are some key points and guide lines that should be followed when buying over the internet?
- Do some research by visiting the web sites of quality manufactures of patio furniture. Most of these companies do not sell direct on the internet and even try to refrain their dealers for selling products on the internet. But, these sites will provide good insight as to the what is available in regard to design, colors, accessories. *Please note, there are no prices on these sites.
Review the web sites of some retail stores that carry products from some of the above manufactures:
- http://www.tropitone.com/index.php Tropitone is one of the top aluminum manufacturers with plants on both the east and west coast. They offer many fabric and finishes. Most products have a 15 year structure warranty. Prices are mid. to upper end, but not the highest. Excellent quality and customer support. High visibility of their products at major resorts. Sold primarily on a dealer basis.
- http://owlee.com/ OW Lee is another quality domestic manufacturer located in California. Considered the best wrought iron manufacturer because of their commitment to lasting durability as demonstrated in their 20 year structure warranty. Upper end. Lots of beautiful finishes and fabrics. Sold primarily via retail dealers.
- http://hanamint.com/ Hanamint is a domestic company with China manufacturing. They are one of the largest manufactures of cast aluminum furniture and maintain 2 major warehouse distribution centers in the USA. Large selection. Mid to upper price range. 5 year frame warranty.
- http://www.thepatiosplus.com High end retail store. Designer oriented. No prices.
- http://www.offenbachers.com East coast long established multi store chains. Will sell on line and has pricing.
- http://pcdesigns.info Long established retailer that also manufactures their own cushions. No prices. Very Custom. High quality.
Check out a few of the online sites:
- http://www.frontgate.com. Established catalog and e commerce store. Features quality products. Has large selection - some with fabric options. Frontgate is primarily a reseller wherein the products are manufactured by others and shipped to customers. Excellent photos.
- http://www.patiocushionsplus.com/ Established cushion manufacture that sells direct to the public. Buys in frames and designs their own cushions. No catalog. Has prices. Connected to very knowledgeable, experienced members of the patio furniture industry. Lots of coordinated products so that you can really designs and decorate.
There are thousands of sites selling patio furniture. Before buying, do the following:
If you have questions, please send us a email. We will try to answer as many questions as
- Read all the details about the furniture. If there are limited details or if you have questions, contact the site. This will give you some insight to their customer service and how they can be contacted. Select site with both email and telephone numbers. Pick furniture that has at least a 5 year warranty.
- Make sure you read the terms and return policies. Most custom order sites do not allow returns unless they did not ship to your specifications.
- Make sure you double check your measurements and space before ordering.
- If you are ordering products with cushions, only order cushions made of domestic solution dyed acrylic. The leading manufacture markets under the name Sunbrella. Visit this site before order!
Click on outdoor fabrics – usually takes a little time to load, but show all their fabrics and what the fabric looks like on a cushions. Also provides some coordinating fabrics. This will give you a good vision of how the furniture will look. If you are not sure, request a small swatch from the online store. The sunbrella fabric is super durable so you want to make sure that you are buying a fabric that you will be happy with for a long time. Most sites do not offer the full selections of sunbrella. www.patiocushionsplus.com is an exception.