Outdoor Furniture for Small Spaces - Our Comprehensive Guide
Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Perhaps you need to update your existing furniture or are thinking of redesigning your outdoor space. Outdoor furniture is a sizeable investment and there are considerable differences in materials and quality that will impact the durability and longevity of each piece.
(Above: Bask Sunbrella aluminium 2-seater outdoor sofa, RRP $1649)
A lot of the same characteristics you value in indoor furniture apply to outdoor pieces as well - durability, comfort, and style (and price, of course). Patio furniture, however, must withstand exposure to the elements outdoors. Although patio furniture will never be 100% weatherproof, the quality of materials can make a considerable difference. Furniture frames, tabletops, and upholstery must remain structurally stable and maintain their appearance through many seasons.
There’s Outdoor and then there's “True” Outdoor.
When considering the longevity of furniture it’s important to distinguish between what we call “true outdoor” furniture and just outdoor furniture. The latter being furniture that is sold as outdoor but needs protection from the weather - either uncovered or with a cover protector. This furniture is generally what is sold through big-box retailers such as Mitre 10, Bunnings, Harvey Norman, and even Freedom. Hence, the price is cheaper. "True" outdoor is capable of being left outside and will include cushions that are made of quick-dry foam and marine-grade fabrics.
With this in mind, it's an excellent time to mention the old adage, "you get what you pay for." Material quality will be the single most significant factor that determines the longevity of your furniture. Particularly if your space does not have any cover and your furniture is exposed year-round to the elements. Cheaper furniture is less resistant to the elements which means bringing cushions indoors or into storage and the hassle/inconvenience of this. We're naturally lazy, so if it becomes an effort to "get the furniture out of storage or to take the cover off" we're less likely to do it and therefore the furniture is never truly enjoyed or used. This needs to be weighed up with the cost of high-quality furniture that doesn't need protection and therefore is ready to go immediately when wanted.
Let's have a closer look at the most common material options.
Materials fall into two broad groups:
1 - those that weather and develop a patina over time; wood
2 - those that are impervious to the elements, maintaining their original appearance for many years; powder-coated aluminum, stainless steel, or UV resistant plastics.
However, even these materials can change when exposed to the elements over time. Some fading, staining, or corrosion isn't uncommon, and light maintenance will ensure the longevity of your furniture.
Teak is easily the most popular wood choice for outdoor furniture. It is incredibly solid and doesn't warp, crack or become brittle like other varieties of wood. Teak repels most water and does not expand or contract in the drying process. It has a high natural oil content, making it highly resistant to rot, decay, and insects. This durability against the elements enables it to last up to fifty years! It has a honey brown appearance maintainable with minimal oiling. Alternatively, it will patina into an attractive silver-gray over time if left untreated.
However, there are three tiers of graded teak based on the trunk part it was milled from. The closer to the center of the log, the more uniform the color, and the denser the grain and oil content, thus more hardy and durable. Grade quality will affect the longevity of your furniture. Be sure to inquire before you purchase to avoid any surprises down the line.
(Above: Kisbee teak lounging set, Sunbrella fabric, all-weather foam, RRP $9261)
This solid Australian hardwood is another excellent option if you are looking for long-lasting durability. It is weather and rot-resistant, and its oil acts as a natural insecticide. It can last up to 25 years, and well beyond if it is regularly maintained. Eucalyptus has a lovely natural washed appearance which develops into a silver patina unless routinely oiled. That said, it is not quite as strong or durable as Teak. But Eucalyptus is fast-growing and one of the most widely cultivated tropical hardwoods in the world. Because of this it is less expensive than Teak and makes it a good option for longevity at a more affordable price point.
(Above: Aria 4-piece eucalyptus outdoor lounge, olefin fabric, foam inner not stated, RRP $2,399)
Acacia is another hardwood variety commonly used in outdoor furniture. It has a much lower natural oil content—and thus lower density and is not as long-lasting as Teak or Eucalyptus. Teak can last for decades, even untreated, but to extend the life of acacia, it will require routine maintenance, such as waxing to protect against moisture and shielding from harsh UV rays to prevent drying and cracking. Grain colours range from light yellow-amber through to deep mahogany. The major benefit of acacia is that it is extremely fast-growing and widely cultivated making it one of the least expensive timbers on the market.
(Above: Cannes Acacia 4-piece sofa package, "outdoor friendly", RRP $3,099)
This metal alloy is sturdy and durable, making it an excellent material choice for heavy outdoor furniture, such as dining tables, sectionals, and sofas. Its sleek silver metallic finish lends it a chic contemporary look.
Stainless steel is very high density which helps prevent dents and other damage from frequent use, and will not blow away in strong winds. However, it can get hot to the touch in the summer heat.
Stainless steel comes in various grades depending on the composition of alloys. The different grades offer different rust resistance, pitting, and corrosion qualities, which will be reflected in the furniture price.
316 Stainless Marine grade employs higher nickel and molybdenum content, giving it better resistance to oxidation and extra durability.
304 is also commonly used for outdoor furniture. However, it does not contain any molybdenum making it less resistant to rust and corrosion.
Stainless steel is low-maintenance but not maintenance-free. It will need regular wiping down with a microfibre cloth to remove water stains. If more aggressive cleaning is required, use pH-neutral soaps and a soft cloth to remove all cleaning products. You can also purchase cleaning products specially designed for Stainless Steel.
(Above: Stainless Steel and Teak extension table, RRP $4995)
Aluminum is the most prevalent metal used for outdoor furniture. It is lightweight yet strong, durable, and easy to work into various intricate shapes. It is less expensive than stainless steel, low maintenance, and never rusts. However, when exposed to harsh weather conditions, it can oxidize and acquire a powdery or pocked appearance.
(Above right: Alabama aluminium outdoor sofa, solution-dyed polyester fabric, quick-dry foam, RRP $2995)
Aluminum is often powder-coated with polyester microfibres to provide an additional layer of protection to the elements and add color to the mix. Powder-coated aluminum is smooth and resistant to dirt and debris and very easy to clean. A wipe down with a soft damp cloth for normal cleaning, or a rinse with water followed by a wipe down with a soft cloth, is all that should be necessary to keep this furniture clean.
(Left: Fermob aluminium frame with and Axalta anti-UV powder coat, RRP $690)
Resin & Plastic
In the world of outdoor furniture, synthetic materials, such as resin and plastic, are becoming more and more popular. New manufacturing processes and hybrid compositions mean they can be molded into virtually any decor style.
They are fade-resistant because the color is inherent in their chemical make-up and do not require paint or sealants like other materials.
They're also a breeze to clean and maintain!
There is a growing number of plastics and resins, but here are a few of the more common ones currently in use.
With the development of synthetic wicker, outdoor furniture has made giant leaps and bounds in terms of style and durability. This resin is extruded in strands that replicate the natural bamboo and rattan wicker that many know. While other base plastics can be used for outdoor wicker, high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, is the most durable and suitable option.
HDPE Resin wicker is nonporous and dyed all the way through. This high-quality resin is very dense, resistant to weather damage, UV rays and extreme temperatures. All-weather wicker is also strong, lightweight, fade-resistant and easy to clean.
Wicker patio furniture is colored to look almost identical to natural wicker. And typically constructed over an aluminum frame making it more robust.
(Above right: TIKI aluminium and synthetic wicker sofa, high-density foam, Sunbrella fabric, RRP $1295)
Gone are the days of the old PVC chairs that cracked and split after a few months in the sun!
The new breed of plastic furniture is robust, stable, heat resistant, great looking, and come in a wide range of colours and styles.
(Above right: Nardi Komodo 3 piece polypropylene and fiberglass resin lounge set, outdoor fabric & polyurethane foam cushions, Sunbrella cushions, RRP $3114)
The weather-resistant properties of plastic mean that it is virtually indestructible and can be left outside without risk of deterioration. It is also very lightweight and chairs can be easily stacked away for the winter months or if you need a few extra on hand for guests.
Plastic is a good option for small balcony settings which are often shady and prone to mould or if you need stackable chairs for additional space.
(Above: Nardi Costa Clip 3 piece balcony set, polypropylene and fiberglass resin, RRP $550)
Cushions, slings, and accent pillows for the outdoors require fabrics that can withstand constant exposure to the elements. Fabrics made from synthetic thread, infused with plastic are more resistant to climate issues and hold their color longer.
Textiles made from acrylic fibers withstand the weather as well as regular outdoor use. This material is resistant to mold, mildew, and tearing. Acrylic fabrics are solution-dyed, which means that the threads are dyed before they are woven, allowing the textile to retain its color for longer, even when exposed to direct sunlight. Despite being water-resistant, acrylic fabric is breathable, so it stays cooler in hot weather. It’s also easy to clean with mild soap and water.
Fabrics made of acrylic are considered to be the best all-purpose textiles for outdoor furniture, with Sunbrella® being considered the “gold-standard” in this category.
(Above right: Sunbrella Marine Bean chair, RRP $799)
One of the most durable solution-dyed synthetic fabrics is Olefin, which dries quickly and does not fade. The material is resistant to mold, moisture, and heat, and is generally less expensive than acrylic. While olefin is lightweight and smooth, it can lack the softness of some other textiles.
Olefin is also used to make strong and durable synthetic rope furniture, such as the Catania aluminium and rope sofa seen above, RRP $1995)
Polyester fabric is typically coated with either acrylic or vinyl (PVC mesh) to protect it from the elements. Polyester fabrics are strong, flexible, and resistant to damage from water and stains. Despite its tear resistance and fast drying time, outdoor polyester fabrics tend to fade quicker than batch-dyed synthetic fabrics, as the colour is added after the threads are woven. Thus, they are better suited to shaded areas with less direct sunlight.
(Left: Lafuma Sphinx chair, powder-coated steel frame, Batyline polyester fabric, RRP $495)
Our designers are specialists in small urban gardens, terraced housing, balconies, and decks. If you are thinking about transforming your outdoor space, don't hesitate to get in touch for a free, no-obligation consultation.
Have you read the other blog posts in our Summer Series? Check them out here: