ONCE UPON A TIME A HOUSE had one living room and it was inside the home. That’s when your choice of outdoor furnishings included a wooden picnic table, scratchy, plastic woven slatted folding chairs, back-breaking cast iron or heat-absorbing metal seats.
Today with advances in technology and a continuing desire to spend more time enjoying the outdoors, every backyard, balcony or patio has the potential to be transformed – with options such as full-sized sectionals to petite bistro sets, it’s the new living room.
Materially speaking Like indoor furnishings, much of what you select depends on your taste and budget but durability, scale, maintenance and storage are also important factors to consider.
With advancements, most outdoor furniture is now made to last. Materials such as rustproof aluminum offer a lightweight option especially if you need to move dining chairs in and out at the table. Aluminum can also take a lot of weight and is mid-priced in all the options.
Durable, stainless steel is the heavier, stronger option. It can withstand extreme temperatures, (although it can get hot without cushions) but it can also rust if not properly coated. Steel is probably the most expensive of all the materials and can be difficult to move but will look beautiful in a contemporary setting.
Synthetic resin wicker is a longer-lasting, synthetic weave wrapped over an aluminum frame. “Wicker” refers to the weave pattern not the material used and is much more durable than traditional rattan. It will resist moisture and shouldn’t crack or fade especially if it’s High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) as opposed to PVC wickers.
Teak is the best wood option for outdoor furniture. Teak produces its own natural oil and with care can last for years outside. It’s strong, not as heavy as steel but not as light as the synthetic or aluminum options. Some people prefer to let it age naturally to a silvery patina however it can absorb moisture, inviting mould, mildew and rot if you’re not careful.
Take a seat for a test drive With all options always test-drive the pieces for comfort and ease of movement. Well-made pieces will have caps covering nuts, bolts and screws to protect them from moisture, which can lead to rust. Also look out for sharp unfinished edges that can catch and ruin clothing.
The cushions are just as important as the frames when it comes to durability. Make sure the fabric is water-resistant. Most are fi lled with some form of polyester fibre and foam and some are treated to resist stains and mildew.
For optimum performance from fading and wear, store the cushions in a deck container or indoors during rainy weather or when you’re not using them. Most can be cleaned with soap and water.
Undercover fun Canopies, arbors, umbrellas, gazebos and awnings can provide shade and some protection in the summer months. From wood and steel to canvas and sail cloth, the materials used determine whether it’s a seasonal shelter or a permanent one. Whether you’re trying to evoke a bit of Tuscany in your outdoor dining room, a sleek Miami lounge or a chic Bohemian oasis, treating yourself to a vacation in your backyard is easier than ever.
Release your muse Although you may prefer a calm neutral setting, don’t be afraid to let your fun, summer muse out by considering bright colours and vivid patterns for your cushions. From nautical to tropical, beach motif to florals and stripes, with the outdoors as the backdrop anything goes.
Homework first Before you shop, be sure to measure the space you want to furnish. That balcony or long porch may be best suited for a cozy love seat and a couple of scaled down armchairs rather than a bulky sectional. If you have a large space consider making outdoor “rooms” by separating dining from lounging, etc.
Embrace it! Outdoor summer living should be embraced to the fullest because before long we’ll be wondering where we’re going to store the furnishings off -season. Shed? Garage? Basement? Plan ahead and know before you buy. But try not to dwell on that part, after all you want to feel like the living is easy for as long as possible.
Jane Lockhart is founder and principal designer of Jane Lockhart Interior Design. She was creative director and host of W Network’s top-ranked show, Colour Confi dential, and has a Canadian-built furniture collection, Jane by Jane Lockhart, by Statum Designs. Visit online at janelockhart.com