As temperatures notch up and we look forward to relaxing outside with friends and family, many of us are looking at the new outdoor furniture options with a wishful eye.
In recent years, outdoor living areas have become extremely popular among Americans wishing to fully optimize the most beautiful seasons in their regions. And for Texans, the mild weather can mean enjoying the outdoors all year round.
That helps explains why U.S. sales of such furnishings have grown by 2.8 percent annually over the past five years, with outdoor furniture sales now expected to spike another 4 percent each year through 2021. As of 2016, the outdoor living market had already topped some $5.7 billion.
"Outdoor living now means a lot more than a few lounge chairs scattered on a brick patio or some rocking chairs lined up across your front porch," says Zoe Gowen, Senior Home Editor for Southern Living. “People want the same amount of comfort and convenience from their porches and decks as they do in their living rooms.”
Thanks to advances in all-weather materials, furnishings and accessories, you can decorate an outdoor living space in much the same way you would any room in the home. If you’re just getting started choosing the furniture for your outside “rooms,” here are suggestions for finding options that fit your lifestyle.
- Lay out layouts. Avoid buying too much or too little furniture by using graph paper to map out your living area — including walls, doors and stairs — to scale. Then determine logical spots for the items you’re considering. Seeing the big picture should help you settle on ideal sizes. Be careful not to overcrowd; instead, leave plenty of room for users to push back chairs and walk around without too many obstacles.
- Put your money where your rear is. Look for comfort, durability and optimal height and depth in your seating, trying out a number of styles while paying attention to how well they cushion and support your body. Bottom line: The more relaxing and ergonomically suited your chairs — and the better-suited they are to your tables — the more usage you’re likely to get from your living space. Can your chairs push right up to your tables, or do armrests get in the way? Are seats deep enough to support your legs and back? You may also purchase additional matching chairs that can be folded, stacked and stored, then taken out for larger gatherings.
- Shore up your shade? Think about how much sun exposure you really want. Give yourself options via a freestanding or table-top umbrella, seeking sturdy construction and a fabric built to withstand rain and UV rays. In general, your umbrella’s diameter should be four to five feet larger than the square footage of the seating area you’re covering. Another shade option? A pergola.
- Steer toward storage. Plan ahead for where you’ll store your seating cushions and any other décor items that could be damaged by rain, considering a deck box or other storage containers in your plans.
- Mull materials. Your primary choices of furniture materials will be wood, plastic, cast aluminum, wicker/rattan (natural or synthetic) or wrought iron, each of which offers advantages. Wood can be beautiful and hardy but typically requires some upkeep, while plastic can be less expensive but may be flimsier and apt to moving in strong winds. Certain metals get hot in the sun, and some of them are susceptible to rust.
- Consider construction. Push gently against each piece of furniture to see how easily it wobbles, and turn it over to see how well components are attached. Is the hardware made of rust-proof stainless steel, or a less weather-resistant material? Do you see sharp edges? Is the finish consistently smooth? Do the cushions seem well-made, are they standard-sized for easy replacement and is the material fade-resistant and waterproof like many of the newer acrylic fabrics? How does the cloth feel against your skin?
- Don’t overpay. Compare costs at multiple retailers ranging from high-end furniture stores to big-box home improvement centers to warehouse club outlets. Online sources are another option as you search for the highest quality at the best prices.
Shopping for outdoor furniture can be fun once you do your homework and start with a good idea of what you want.