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The outdoor living and dining season is finally here. If you're like many of us, you may have looked around your deck and realized your furniture could use an upgrade. (Of course, if you realized the deck itself needs an upgrade, we can help with that, too!)
Here are some tips to help you purchase the ideal furniture for your outdoor space. We've included information on furniture sizing, the pros and cons of different materials, and a checklist to guide the buying process. Happy shopping!
How to determine the proper dining table size
If you're replacing your current dining table and chairs, you probably already know the size you need. If you're starting from scratch, or if you didn't size your original set properly, make your first purchase a pad of graph paper.
Then, follow these steps for a foolproof furniture plan (you can use this same process for other deck furniture you might want):
Draw your deck to scale (1 inch equals 1 foot, example).
Mark the locations of stairs and doorways.
Cut out "furniture" using the same graph paper and scale. (Tip: Look online for furniture you like; then, use the dimensions of those pieces for this exercise.)
Avoid the temptation to overcrowd the deck. Ensure adequate room for guests to push back their chairs and move around freely. Leave some general "walking around" space as well.
Don't forget to allow room for your grill.
If you often host larger gatherings, choose a table that fits your space properly; then, purchase additional seating that can be easily stacked and stored when not in use.
If space allows, consider adding a small bistro set or bar-height table and chairs for more intimate dining or a cozy spot to enjoy your morning coffee.
Consider furniture with built-in storage or a deck box that can protect cushions, grill items, or outdoor accessories from the elements.
Which deck furniture material is best for your space?
Here is a quick rundown of the pros and cons of different furniture frame materials.
Material Benefits Drawbacks
Solid and sturdy
Doesn't get overly hot or cold
Teak is extremely long lasting with proper care
Hardwoods more resistant to weather
Will fade in the sun
May require preservatives to prevent cracking, decay
Some species need oils to preserve natural color
Some species prone to splintering
Wooden tables need protection against moisture rings and heat marks
Lightweight, easy to move
Chairs usually easy to stack
Resists moisture, rotting, cracking
Salt water not a threat
May contain recycled content
Can blow around easily in strong winds
Inexpensive pieces may look cheap or flimsy
Resembles wrought iron yet easier to move and maintain
Stays cooler than wrought iron
Low maintenance (annual soap and water cleaning)
Won't corrode, rust, or fade
Higher-end sets can be costly
Lower-priced sets might not be quite as durable (store inside during the winter)
Rattan and wicker
Synthetic versions are fairly weather-resistant
Synthetic versions available in wide range of colors
Synthetic versions can be washed with soap and water and left to dry
High-end synthetics are usually UV-resistant; won't fade or crack
Natural fibers are not as hardy as synthetics
Elegant and timeless
Newer pieces usually powder-coated to resist rust and chipping
Won't blow around in strong winds
Difficult to move
Can get very hot in the sun
Chairs can be uncomfortable without cushions
Older pieces can rust and chip
Annual refinishing recommended for older sets
Choosing the perfect outdoor dining set
Where should you shop for outdoor furniture? Fortunately, you can find attractive outdoor furniture everywhere from big box home improvement stores to warehouse club stores to high-end furniture retailers. Let your budget be your guide. To further assist you in the buying process, use these tips from ConsumerReports.org:
Pay close attention to the height of both the table and the chairs. If the table feels too high or too low relative to the seating, you and your guests will be reluctant to linger.
Examine the construction of the table. Is it sturdy, or does it move easily when you push on it? Are screws or other fasteners capped and hidden? If not, are they made from rust-proof stainless steel?
Is the finish smooth and uniform all over? Any sharp edges visible?
Do the chairs fit comfortably close to the table or do the armrests get in the way?
What about the seats? Can you easily slide all the way back or is the angle uncomfortable? Unless you're a riveting storyteller, chances are your guests would rather not eat their meals perched on the edge of their seats.
Don't forget about seat cushions. Do the cushions fit the seats appropriately and have plenty of comfy padding? Can the material withstand the elements, or will you need to be extra-diligent about putting them away after every use?
If you'll need to purchase cushions, are the seats a standard size and shape? (Meaning, will you be able to purchase cushions easily, or will they need to be custom made?) Either way, purchasing outdoor cushions can be a pricey proposition. Factor in the added expense.
Need an umbrella to go with that table?
Warm sunny days are glorious … unless you're sitting in direct sun trying to enjoy a meal or beverage. The easy solution, of course, is an umbrella.
If your new table is equipped for an umbrella, you'll need to choose a stand (or base) as well as the umbrella itself. Choose a heavy stand that will hold the umbrella snugly. Then, select an umbrella that will coordinate with your dining set. Wooden tables, for example, look best with a wooden umbrella frame. Most other furniture frames look best with metal umbrellas.
Wooden umbrellas usually operate via a pulley system and cannot be tilted to block the sun.
Most metal umbrellas open and tilt via a push button or crank lift.
For durability and longevity's sake, look for umbrella fabrics that can withstand rain and UV rays.
To ensure adequate protection from the sun, use the following formula to determine the optimal umbrella size: measure the table and chair space to be covered; then, select an umbrella with a diameter that is at least four or five feet larger than the measured space.
If your table does not accommodate an umbrella, consider a free-standing option. Again, be sure to select a model that provides adequate sun protection. And don't overlook the importance of the umbrella stand. Heavy bases are especially important when using a free-standing umbrella.
Know your furniture options … and your decking options
As with most significant purchases, a little time spent doing some research will yield much better results.
Of course, if you are researching decking options, check out the advantages of Fiberon composite decking over wood -- especially when it comes to low maintenance and durability. Composite decking has come a long way; you may be surprised by what you learn.