Your Season in the Sun


Okay, the first part is pretty easy. Take a look at your patio. Think about how you'll be using it. Decide what's most important - looks, comfort, or price. Then at least tentatively decide what pieces you'd like to have, and how much you're willing to pay for them. If you haven't shopped for patio furniture lately, you might be pleasantly surprised at all the different shapes, styles, and colors available. From sectionals, sofas, and gliders to dining sets, swings and firepits. Make some visits online or instore to see what's out there before you make up your mind.

That done, take note of the do's, don'ts, hints, and how-to's in this modest but informative little piece. Then put a copy in your pocket or purse and go shopping.

Forever or flyaway? First of all, let's make an important decision. The truth is, just about everyone sells patio furniture, from ebay to Big Lots to Mathis Brothers Furniture to the corner gas station. The question is do you really want to buy uncomfortable flyaway furniture every year or two just to have something to sit on, or are you willing to invest in something that will look and feel as good in ten years as it will the day you put it on your patio?

For example, you can buy patio chairs lots of places for about fifty bucks. You know, with the webbed seats and painted frames, or made of molded plastic? The ones you don't really like sitting in, don't want your guests to see, and the ones you find in your neighbor's yard every time a little wind comes up. Or you can buy a comfortable chair you'll be proud to sit in and show off for ten years or longer. Which one is really the better value?

We recommend biting the bullet and buying as much quality as you can afford. Whatever you decide, however, these shopping tips will help you get the most for your money.

Next decision: what's it made of?

Wrought iron. Not too long ago, wrought iron was the only quality choice. That's not true anymore. While it looks good new, and is heavy enough to stand against the wind, wrought iron has some drawbacks. Number one, it's really heavy. Which means you won't be re-arranging your patio much. Although that may not be a problem if you have an enclosed patio. Number two, it rusts. Which is unsightly and not good for the furniture. So to keep it looking good you need to store your wrought iron patio furniture inside during the off season. A big chore.

Aluminum. This is the overwhelming choice for outdoor furniture today. Light enough to move around, looks good, and will never rust. It's also taken the favorite's spot away from wrought iron because of a coloring technique called powder coating. Just as the name indicates, the coating is applied electrostatically as a powder, then heated so it flows and forms a "skin" on the piece being coated. It's an attractive look that's much more durable than paint, and can mimic wrought iron. There are basically two types of aluminum frames: tubular and cast. Tubular frames are very light; you can lift the chairs with one finger (thus the nickname "flyaway.") Solid cast aluminum frames like those from Agio and Castelle are much heavier and much more durable. Still easy to move, but won't go airborne in a breeze.

Wicker. It's been around since the pyramids: a plant fiber hand woven into a certain shape, like a chair or sofa. Pretty, durable, hard to find, heavy, and very expensive. However, modern technology has come to the rescue, with wicker made from manmade materials like polyethylene resin or aluminum. It's also pretty and durable, in fact it can be hard to tell from wicker, plus it's a manageable weight, easy to find and affordable. It's also very easy to clean and care for.

Synthetic - PVC or Polyethylene. Synthetic materials are a great way to get patio furniture that is good looking and durable. However, not all synthetics are made equal. The current trend is that synthetic patio furniture is made up of two types of material - PVC or polyethylene. While PVC is far less expensive, it does break down faster and is toxic to the environment. Polyethylene patio furniture, however, is much higher quality and is considered bio friendly, safe for the environment and recyclable. Like anything else, the more quality you want, the more you're going to pay. You can find a plastic "lawn chair" for as little as twenty bucks, and buy cushions to try and make it more comfortable. Not pretty, not comfortable, not very durable, just something to sit on. On the other hand, there's a relatively new plastic blend sometimes called "Polywood," which has the appearance of wood and is available in a number of different colors. It's weighty and durable, but there's not much choice in the way of style; mostly this is used to make the big, traditional "Adirondack" arm chairs.

Fabrics. There's a wide variety out there, from basically untreated cloth to weather and sun-resistant brands like Sunbrella. Untreated or mildly treated cloth will fade quickly under the sun, meaning you'll have to replace it, which with some brands means you'll also have to replace the pillows and cushions, too. That can get expensive. Sunbrella, for example, has a 5-year warranty, but should last much longer.

The final solution. We'll say it again. Think about what you want from your patio. If you and your SO just want a place for the two of you to relax and enjoy the outdoors, you don't need much more than a place to sit and a table or two. And maybe a firepit to give the evening a romantic glow. If you have kids, or are planning on entertaining, obviously you'll need much more. Maybe a sectional, a bistro set, or a full-fledged dining table and chairs. If looks are as important to you as comfort, you'll want to step into the world of modern patio furniture and choose something that fits your eye and your lifestyle.

Our recommendation again: choose quality. Buy less if you must, but buy better. Make your patio one of the best parts of your home - a place you can enjoy without wishing you'd bought something more comfortable, more stylish, and more durable.