Aluminum: Rust free and durable
Aluminum is an ideal material for outdoor seating. It’s strong, rust-proof, and stands up to extreme weather elements as well as rough-and-tumble children.
What to look for: Insist on all-aluminum frame construction to prevent rusting. Screws, bolts, and nuts should be made from stainless steel or other non-corrosive materials‹you don’t want the connecting hardware to rust after a few years. Make sure the finish is powder-coated, not painted.
Powder coating is a process in which colorful polyester powders are baked onto the frame. This finish bonds to the aluminum, forming a strong plastic skin that is more than three times thicker than paint. There should be no sharp or unfinished edges—don’t forget to check the underside of armrests. If you have small children, look for furniture that won’t tilt easily or pinch little fingers.
Pros: Aluminum furniture is weatherproof, rustproof, and easy to care for. Because it’s lightweight (cast and wrought aluminum are solid and heavier), you can easily move it into different conversation groupings or bring it indoors for the winter.
Cons: Light tubular aluminum is not a good choice in areas with high winds. Quality cast aluminum may be too expensive if you want to change your look every few years.
Resin: Light and popular
Resin is a popular material for outdoor seating because it’s lightweight, easy to maintain, and comes in a wide range of prices. Resin furniture is molded plastic that’s chemically treated to add strength and prevent fading, yellowing, and cracking. High-quality resin furniture is designed to expand and contract with temperature changes, so you can leave it outside year-round without worrying about cracking, rusting, or rotting.
What to look for: Choose heavier resin to prevent furniture from blowing around in strong winds. Look for cut-outs or small drain holes on seats so furniture will dry quickly after a heavy rain.
Pros: Resin furniture is durable yet lightweight. It’s easy to move, stack, and keep clean. It is practically indestructible, sheds rain, and is easy to find.
Cons: Because resin furniture is widely available, it seems like everyone has it. Add colorful pillows or cushions to give your resin seating a personal touch and make it more comfortable. If you choose less expensive resin seating, don’t expect it to last for years.
Wicker: Warm and stylish
Wicker is not a material, but a technique that weaves together long flexible strips of plants‹most often reeds‹or synthetic materials such as extruded resin or vinyl. Natural wicker is woven by hand.
Because exposure to the elements can damage natural wicker, use it only in sheltered areas, such as porches, screen rooms, and sunrooms. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for—inexpensive wicker pieces are usually made from lower-grade materials. They won’t look good for very long.
Weatherproof outdoor wicker is a better choice for outdoor seating. It costs more, but it will last longer and pay off in the long run. It’s usually guaranteed for life. Most outdoor wicker is made from woven resin on a powder-coated steel base. It wears better than natural wicker and resists damage from water and ultraviolet rays.
What to look for: Choose comfortable, roomy chairs with wide armrests. The wicker shouldn’t be unraveling or loosely wound on the frame. High-quality wicker should feel smooth and not have splinters or ends sticking out. Wicker weave should have a tight and uniform pattern. Make sure seat frames are reinforced with hardwood corner blocks and have extra bracing for weight-supporting joints and leg backs.
Pros: Natural wicker is beautiful and durable when kept on sheltered porches or indoors. You can customize it with your favorite fabrics and finishes. Outdoor wicker resists mold, mildew, stains, and sagging.
Cons: Most wicker seating needs cushions for comfort. While natural wicker adds a lovely country-home feel to an indoor seating area, it doesn’t stand up to the elements.
Iron: Strong and solid
Wrought-iron and cast-iron furniture are durable and beautiful (photo 2). Wrought iron is made from solid 1/2-inch round bars of iron that are formed into detailed designs. To make cast iron, the iron is poured into molds, allowed to cool, then formed into solid frames.
What to look for: Look for pieces made with solid metal rather than hollow tubing. It’s better if pieces are welded, rather than bolted, together. If bolted, make sure bolts or rivets are rust-resistant. The back legs of chairs should be reinforced with braces or double rods. Iron mesh should feel sturdy with no ripples. Look for a uniform powder-coated finish with fairly smooth welds. Beware of cheaper furniture coated with spray paint.
Pros: Iron is versatile, stylish, and strong‹and often less expensive than furniture made with other materials. Since iron is heavy and solid, it is well-suited for windy spots where light furniture might blow away. Iron is practically indestructible and will hold people of any size. Wrought iron gives a similar look to cast aluminum and can cost much less.
Cons: Iron is not necessarily comfortable to sit on, so add cushions for comfort. It’s also heavy and hard to move. Iron requires more maintenance than other types of metal furniture.
Wood: Simple and substantial
Wooden outdoor furniture has a classic look that can transform your seating area into something special. Mahogany, teak, and cedar are dense, heavy woods that maintain their good looks even in harsh climates.
What to look for: Check for finish flaws and rough areas. Wood should be smoothly sanded even in places that don’t show. Make sure individual wood pieces match for grain and color. Joints should fit tightly and chairs should be slatted for quick water drainage. Make sure screw heads are covered with smooth plugs. Choose furniture with few knots, which are weak spots, but keep in mind that wood is a living material and a few imperfections are part of its appeal.
Pros: Maintaining wooden furniture takes almost no effort. Left alone, teak and cedar will weather to a handsome silver gray.
Cons: If you want to preserve wood’s original color, you must stain or paint it annually. Some wooden furniture, such as teak, is expensive, but it’s usually a one-time purchase and will last a lifetime.
Gail Johnson is the former managing editor of Gardening How-To.