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Patio furniture 101: Everything you need to know before buying a new set

Whether your living space is an apartment with a balcony or a house in the suburbs, most people enjoy relaxing outdoors after work when the weather is comfortable. Porches, decks, a patio, and even a yard with a fire pit can become a personal oasis with a few chairs and a table or two.

So how do you choose the right patio furniture for your outdoor space? There are several considerations, including your budget, living space, size, durability, materials, and design. We’re here to help you wade through the crowd of criteria and help you make the best choice for your enjoyment.

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As with most significant purchases, you know how much you are willing to spend. Remember that the cost of quality only hurts once, no matter what you purchase, so buy high-quality items that come between you and the ground. Shoes, beds, and furniture fall into that category. And there’s also not a thing wrong with grabbing two plastic Adirondack chairs at the grocery store and enjoying your yard or deck on them.

But if you are looking to buy a set of furniture that will decorate your outdoor space and last you for a long time, quality is key. Proper construction, suitable fabrics, and weatherproof materials all combine to create quality outdoor furniture.


When you begin shopping for patio furniture, you ought to have decided how you will use it. Do you want to have dinner outdoors? Do you want to be able to sit and read with your pet? Do you want a rocker feature? These uses all come into play when choosing your outdoor pieces.


In tandem with usefulness is the question of space, says The Spruce. You don’t want your furniture to overwhelm your outdoor space: You want it to be functional and well-proportioned. With the advent of people choosing apartments with balconies over single-family homes, furniture makers have kept up with the trends and come up with some very clever ways to maximize terrace living. Compact dining sets and fold-down patio tables allow for dining in small spaces, and there’s even a patio table that stylishly doubles as a cooler.

For larger outdoor spaces, you can opt for complete sets of tables and chairs, and even sofas and loveseats.


The following is a guide to the most-common materials used in the manufacture of outdoor furniture, including durability, expense, advantages, and care. Remember that different climates have different effects on these materials, so consider that when researching your purchase, says Better Homes & Gardens.

Recycled plastic

Recycled plastic is an extremely popular material for use in outdoor furniture. It is heavy, durable, easy to care for, and resembles wood. Excellent for use in areas of extreme weather, high humidity, salt spray, and high temperatures, this composite material is also eco-friendly and zero-maintenance.

Outdoor furniture sets made from recycled plastic are not inexpensive. Remember when we mentioned the cost of quality? That applies here. A set of recycled plastic patio furniture will last you until you don’t want it anymore, and beyond. It doesn’t rust, rot, or mildew, and is fade resistant and waterproof. It’s no wonder that it is a popular, if a bit pricey, choice.


Steel is also a popular material used for outdoor furniture. It is durable, attractive, and when properly coated and painted, resistant to outdoor elements and harsh weather. Steel looks contemporary and sleek, and lends itself to the construction of the frames of chairs and tables.

Steel is also a heavy material to help keep it in place in heavy winds, and when paired with comfortable cushions, makes for a long-lasting patio set. Maintenance-wise, steel requires immediate attention to scrapes and chips to prevent rust. Steel outdoor furniture lands in the mid-range of pricing.


Lightweight and manageable, aluminum is the most popular of all the metals used in outdoor-furniture manufacturing. It is rust-resistant, low-maintenance, and withstands damage from rain, sun, and extreme temperatures.

Aluminum is very budget-friendly, and manufacturers employ a range of design choices, from antebellum cast-iron mimics to ultra-contemporary, urban-inspired looks.


Wood outdoor furniture looks beautiful. Maintenance or not, it lends a warm and homey feeling to outdoor living spaces. Some types of wood are more weather resistant than others, and all require varnish or sealant to withstand the elements. Furniture makers have discovered some attractive and sustainable tree wood in the past decade. If you’re eco-conscious, you can look for FSC-certified patio furniture, which means that it is made from a responsibly managed and sustained forest.

Known for its beauty and durability, teak is used in furniture that will last forever and is resistant to damage from harsh weather and other elements. It is also expensive. You can choose from some less-expensive materials like cedar and acacia, which are both lightweight, durable, and sell at a more modest price point.


We need to mention two others: Wrought iron and wicker. Wrought iron is for people with a mid-range budget, but its weight is attractive for resisting wind, and its classic good looks add beauty to outdoor spaces. Modern wrought iron is treated with weather-resistant sealants to help it withstand rain and moisture. It requires minimal maintenance and is relatively easy to clean.

Modern wicker furniture looks homey and traditional, and is nearly always made from resin over aluminum. Resin wicker is durable, UV resistant, and can handle sunlight and humidity without any issues.

We could write a separate post about outdoor fabrics, but here are a few pointers: Acrylic fabrics are the best bet for patio cushions. They resist fading, they breathe on hot summer days, and they retain their color even when exposed to full sun. In covered areas, other fabrics including duck cloth and cotton are more forgiving and less prone to the elements.

Terraces, balconies, and other outdoor living areas feel like an expansion of your living space. They are there to be enjoyed, so go forth with your new knowledge and have fun choosing how you’ll enjoy yours.

In addition, you may want to check out the most attractive mid-century modern patio furniture available now.

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Deb Goncalves
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Deb's work has appeared on Moms, Babygaga, and WorldAtlas. When she's not working (that's hard to say about a Capricorn), she…
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