I have been buying and selling all types of Garden Furniture for several years, I have supplied many of the large Garden Centres throughout the UK and have seen the trends and fashions change over that time.
When choosing Garden Furniture be honest with yourself as to how much time you are willing to give in its upkeep, if you only want functional no maintenance Garden Furniture then go with a Cast Aluminium or Resin, If you want traditional good looks go for hardwood, but remember this is high maintenance but there are plenty of options in the middle that give great choice in both price and looks.
LOW MAINTENANCE RESINYou can clean it with the power spray, it will never rot, and it will last for years or until its blown away as there is no weight in resin furniture. However over time color will fade and the resin becomes brittle. There are a lot more choices in styles available than a few years ago, some trying to copy the look of wood, or stone but unfortunately fail to carry this off and I personally always hate the feel and touch of resin.
In gardens, there are points to be said against using plastic and points in its favor. Lets start with the negative, because they are the dominant consideration:
the symbolic associations of plastic are altogether unfavorable: plastic makes us think of litter, fast food and the disposable society
plastic furniture tends to be made in garishly unpleasant colors
plastic does not develop a patina with the passing of the years: it often decays as a result of exposure to ultra-violet light
So what can be said in favour of plastic?
plastic is light and cheap
in the shorter term, plastic is durable and does not require painting
the colors used to make plastic do not have to be vile. It is possible to obtain a surprisingly good plastic imitation of a clay, which is less subject to breakage and has better moisture-retention properties.
LOW MAINTENANCE CAST ALUMINIUMAluminum is an ideal material for outdoor furniture. It is strong, non-rusting, and retains its good looks through blistering summer suns, drenching thunderstorms, and vigorously romping children. Quality aluminum furniture is durable and can last for a decade or more. It is lightweight, making it easy to move, and requires minimal maintenance.
Doesn't rust, relatively lightweight (cast and wrought aluminum are solid and weigh more), durable, minimum maintenance.Location: Suitable for use anywhere outside. Wrought and cast aluminum are also used indoors in dining, living, breakfast and sun room areas.
Screws, bolts and nuts should be stainless steel, anodized or properly plated; welds should be smooth. Inferior quality aluminum weighs less.
Maintenance:Low maintenance. Wipe down the furniture frame occasionally with water mixed with liquid detergent.
There are three basic categories of aluminum furniture - tubular, cast, and wrought. With stunning styles to please every taste, and price points to please every purse, it's no surprise that aluminum is the most popular of outdoor furniture materials.
Cast Aluminum Features
Cast aluminum is usually investment furniture. Distinctive and elegant, it features classic designs with roots in the cast-iron styling’s of the 18th century.
This furniture is produced by pouring molten aluminum into molds and then allowing it to cool. The prototype for each casting mould is hand carved, permitting elaborate detailing.
Cast aluminum is undeniably handsome and elegant. While its beauty is striking, its demeanor is classic and understated. There are pieces available for seating, dining and lounging. Furniture of cast aluminum is often so exquisitely detailed that it seems to have come from a museum. But, like tubular aluminum, it is also amazingly durable and easy to maintain.
Quality cast-aluminum furniture can be costly and is not for the family that craves a new look every few seasons. But, if you treat this category as a collector might, acquiring pieces over a number of years, you will end up with exactly what you want - an outdoor room that is second to none. Aluminium is a remarkable material: very strong, very light and very resistant to corrosion. Available as tubular Aluminium or cast Aluminium, it is a genuinely modern material for garden construction. Aluminium was discovered in France, in 1821, but was not available in industrial quantities until electric power became cheap. Manufacturers have been quick to use Aluminium for garden chairs, tables, benches, seats and other items of garden furniture.
Aluminium garden furniture's corrosion resistance is an unmitigated advantage. Aluminium's light weight is an advantage if you want to move the furniture around but a disadvantage is you do not want it to be blown over.
If you do not like the color of 'raw' Aluminium it can be powder coated. This coating adheres to Aluminium better than paint: it is an extremely durable product. Some manufacturers use steel fastenings with Aluminium but even if galvanized, will rust in time. Stainless steel does not have this problem.
Aluminium can be formed to resemble cast iron or it can be used in modern shapes, taking advantage of the properties of the material.
MEDIUM MAINTENANCE TEXTALINE STEEL GLASSThese materials are mostly used for the contemporary new designs for the new garden and not for there long lasting properties, Glass breaks, steel rusts and Textaline colors fade and looks sad after a few seasons. On the plus side it is normally cheap as mass produced in China or similar, but it truly is disposable.
There are now sets on the Market that have replaced the steel with Aluminium and this has extended the life of the product and allowed some design features to be added to the product such as shaped legs and backrests., always be sure what you are buying
HIGH MAINTENANCE WOODWood is a traditional material for garden furniture. The wood can left bare or painted. White wood gleams against foliage. Ethical considerations should rule the choice of timber for wooden furniture. The standard wood used for good-quality garden furniture was oak. It is a durable hardwood which, unpainted, acquires a soft silvery sheen out of doors. Where it is rubbed, oak wood takes on a faint polish, redolent of peace. Tropical hardwoods have now taken the place of oak in the manufacture of garden furniture. Many tropical woods are significantly more durable than oak, but their use has provoked an avalanche of protest from the environmental lobby. It is argued, rightly, that tropical timbers often come from rain forest clearance, which is unjust to the native populations and will cause permanent harm to the global ecosystem. When this is so, I certainly would not want the booty in my garden. But there are certification schemes and tropical hardwoods can be sourced from sustainable managed forests.
That said there are many species of Hardwood on the Market, teak being the most popular. To maintain the looks of your furniture you will need to be prepared for serious maintenance twice a year and if its a hot dry summer more besides. All wood will check which means split, it is a natural process which happens as the resins from the heart wood are depleted regular use of a clear hardwood oil minimises this, and if the problem persists, regular sanding will be required to stop checking / splintering. When kept in tip top condition wood does look fantastic.
Another Hardwood option is the cheaper end of the market, plantation grown hardwoods are generally used, they will last a few seasons but are cheap enough to be replaced on a regular basis.
LOW MAINTENANCE CANE AND RATTANCane is a traditional material for garden furniture. To sit on, cane is warmer and softer than metal, because it does not conduct body heat. Cane is a natural material for use in a natural setting. Cane has a warm soft color and bends easily into elegant curves. Another property of cane furniture is its light weight, an advantage when you want to move furniture around and a disadvantage in windy conditions. Cane is used to make chairs, table, benches.
The most serious worry with cane garden furniture concerns its durability. Providing cane is well ventilated, it will in fact last a long time out of doors. Moisture keeps cane supple and prevents cracking. Many people therefore leave cane furniture outside during the summer and place it undercover during the winter months.
Another solution is to treat the cane with a wood preservative. Some cane furniture is pretreated and sold for outdoor use. Other cane furniture is untreated and intended primarily for use in conservatories. Paint makes cane attractive but does little for its rot resistance.
The material known as 'cane' in fact comes from two different plants: bamboo and rattan
Bamboo’s is a tall, woody grass. Bamboo is light strong and durable.. A single bamboo clump can produce 15 kilometers of usable cane in the lifetime of the bamboo plant.
Rattan is a climbing palm belonging to the genus Calamus. It has long many-jointed stems which are widely used to make 'cane' furniture. Rattan grows wild in forests throughout Southeast Asia. It is mostly harvested by women and children, sustaining the forests in which rattan grows and providing poor people with a source of income.
MEDIUM MAINTENANCE WROUGHT IRON'Wrought iron' means 'worked iron' and wrought iron is the product of a blacksmith's hard work. It is produced by heating the metal and hammering it on a forge. This process makes the iron supple, so that it can take on graceful curves, and drives out carbon and other impurities, making the iron more durable. It is a relatively expensive process. Wrought iron ornaments are available but it is rare for large items of garden furniture to be wrought in this manner.
The majority of wrought Iron sets do need maintenance to ensure rust does not prevail, It is normally powder coated to minimise rust but I would recommend you buy folding furniture so it can be stored in the dry over winter. Additional weather proofing can be achieved by treating with a coat of clear lacquer like Plasti Kote. Accidental chips should be treated immediately with a suitable paint.
I hope you have found this a useful guide and if I can answer any specific questions on Garden Furniture for you please feel free to contact me.