Home and Garden

Outdoor furniture is more durable and weather-resistant than it used to be


Washington Post Service

Recently, a pair of homeowners approached landscape designer Gina Benincasa and told her that they were sick and tired of replacing their outdoor furniture every few years. “Build us something that will last forever,” they said.

For these clients, a stone bench and granite-topped table were the solution to a common challenge: choosing outdoor furniture that can weather sun, rain and humidity.

Not all can afford custom work, so we asked Benincasa, who works for D&A Dunlevy Landscapers in Poolesville, Md., for the rundown on the metal, wood, and plastic furnishings for decks, patios and balconies.

First, she says, there’s metal, which is probably the most durable but can be expensive. (And be aware of the differences between powder-coated metal, which makes for a long, colorful life, and painted metal, which is less expensive but will require more maintenance, Benincasa says.)

Second, there’s wood, mostly teak, “which definitely withstands the test of time.”

And then there’s wicker, which is a weave that’s now made of better, longer-lasting stuff than in the past.

Last, there’s plastic, which can be trendy and fun, but might need to be replaced more often.

If the rule applies anywhere, it’s here: You get what you pay for.

“We definitely go for things that are going to stand the test of time — and sometimes those things are expensive,” says Leslie Gignoux, a Washington landscape architect

Additionally, when furniture is out in the elements, nothing is maintenance-free. Powder-coating needs cleaning with mild soap, paint can need repainting and wood can need sanding and staining.

But it’s not all bad news when it comes to living en plein air. As homeowners increasingly consider the outdoors as an additional living space, manufacturers are responding with better-quality furniture and a growing selection of materials, fabrics and colors. To help you sift through all the options, here are 14 pieces that will be ready to party for years to come.

• For those who really want to create true living spaces outdoors, manufacturers are providing more attractive, more comfortable pieces. Consider Room & Board’s Bryant sofa: deep cushions covered in weather-resistant fabric soften a steel-and-wood frame. Gignoux cautions buyers to pay close attention to the quality of any sofa frame, as one can always replace fabric. And make sure the frame is comfortable without the cushion, she says, in case the seat needs to be used when the cushions are wet ($2,999, www.roomandboard.com).

• With outdoor sofas, make sure you check the quality of the materials, says Robert Archer, who recently helped with the development of Jacobsen Architecture’s new outdoor furniture line. “Make sure it’s truly made for the outdoors, and that the manufacturer is using all outdoor materials, including the foam and fabric, stuff that the rainwater is going to go right through.” The Jibe outdoor sectional sofa by Blu Dot has all the right stuff: an anodized aluminum frame, nylon support straps, antimicrobial foam and Sunbrella outdoor fabric ($3,998, www.bludot.com

• For a small balcony, go with the tried and true: a set of chairs and a bistro table. “They work well for coffee and breakfast in the morning for two people,” Gignoux says. Ballard Designs has charming sets of steel cafe folding chairs, powder-coated in six colors: black, blue, light blue, orange, green, and white ($179 for a set of two, www.ballarddesigns.com).

• When it comes to teak, Gignoux says that you can’t go wrong with the British companies Barlow Tyrie and Kingsley Bate. “They have lovely, classic lines,” she says. The Mendocino dining table from Kingsley Bate, in a rectangular or square shape, has the kind of elegant, flexible design that works well with traditional or modern chairs ($880-1,200, www.wayfair.com). For more teak options, Archer also recommends the Australian manufacturer Harbour Outdoor and Design Within Reach.

• Add some variety to a deck full of teak and metal with the clay Carilo garden stool. Glazed in blue, it is a colorful perch for plants or drinks — or unexpected guests ($139, www.crateandbarrel.com).

• The modern-angled Gehry cube (designed by architect Frank Gehry for Heller) would work well on a balcony with a bistro table, chairs, and maybe a planter or two, Benincasa says. “I think it’s cool; it’s fun,” she says. “Anytime you can get color into the outdoors, it adds a little something.” The 19-inch-by-20-inch cube can serve as a table or stool and comes in eight colors ($250, www.roomandboard.com).

• The wicker weave is made more substantial with Grandin Road’s Rizza outdoor chair, constructed of all-weather aluminum instead of traditional rattan and powder-coated with resin in nine colors ($299, www.grandinroad.com). “The aluminum powder-coat is a lot lower-maintenance than teak, as teak will gray over time,” Archer says.

• If you’re looking for a spot to unwind after work, Gignoux recommends a simple seat and a place to put your feet, such as West Elm’s teak and all-weather wicker Catskill outdoor chair, with optional matching ottoman. “I think that the lounge-and-ottoman combination is better than the chaise lounge almost,” Gignoux says. “It’s the perfect way to relax at the end of the day” ($199-$399, www.westelm.com).

• Fresh off its debut at New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair, the SR foldable table by Los Angeles’s Scout Regalia is ready to help maximize small outdoor spaces. The 26-inch-by-36-inch table folds up for storage or for hanging on a wall with optional hooks. When hung on the wall, it also operates as a magnetic whiteboard. Benincasa notes that though powder-coated steel is extremely durable outdoors, no furniture is maintenance-free: Wash occasionally with mild soap and water ($250, www.scoutregalia.com).

• Look beyond the expected furniture sets and don’t be afraid to mix and match. Think hammocks, rocking chairs and benches. “I like finding unusual benches in a corner of a garden,” Gignoux says. Try Terrain’s Jardiniere bench, made of iron and painted mint green ($598, www.terrain.com) for a fanciful feel. (Benincasa notes that painted metal furniture won’t last as long as powder-coated metal furniture, but it usually costs less.)

• Terrain’s lattice-back iron chair has a light galvanized zinc finish that ensures it won’t rust when exposed to the elements. As a bonus, it’s weightier than plastic. “We’ve seen people requesting substantial furniture for their rooftops, so it can’t blow away,” Archer says. “Weight is a factor” ($248, www.terrain.com).

• The picnic table has had a long run as the outdoor table du jour. If you don’t have time to visit barn sales and hunt down a fun vintage one, the Beer Garden outdoor dining collection ($140-$230, www.worldmarket.com) is the next best thing. It’s made of acacia, which is somewhat less durable than teak but a good budget alternative.

• Store off-season cushions in Ballard Designs’ gray Castine storage bin, which also doubles as extra seating ($449-$549, www.ballarddesigns.com). The bench comes in a small or large size and is made of is all-weather rattan over powder-coated aluminum. In the past, Benincasa and Gignoux say they wouldn’t have recommended wicker, but both say that today’s wicker is partially made of manmade materials and therefore lasts longer.

• One way to protect your outdoor furniture and make it last longer is to cover it or bring it indoors. What makes Suzanne Kasler’s Directoire bar cart a particularly nice piece is the fact that it can function beautifully indoors, Benincasa says ($469, www.ballarddesigns.com). It can even be stocked inside and then brought outside, to lessen any back-and-forth while entertaining.

• For a smallish deck, Gignoux says the ideal configuration is a small dining table and two to four chairs plus a pair of lounge chairs and an ottoman, with an occasional table between the chairs. A set of three triangular nesting tables offers some flexibility ($230, www.lampsplus.com).

Read more Home & Garden stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">On demand: </span>Most tankless water heaters come on only when they’re in use.

    Ask a plumber

    Heating water can be a ‘tankless’ job

    The pros and cons of installing a tankless water heater.

At just 10 inches deep, the Mill console table from CB2 is perfect for decorating an empty hallway ($299).


    For small spaces, console tables are ideal

    Decorating a small space can be like packing for a weekend trip. There’s room for only the essentials, so every piece should be useful, versatile and worth its weight. If space is a commodity, the console table is one of the most valuable pieces on the market.

This sleek, mid-century Telechron clock is a handsome collectible.


    Telechron products known for style, design

    Q: I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s with this Lucite clock on a table in my parents’ bedroom. I recently found it in a storage unit of their things and am wondering how old it is, and the approximate value. It still works and has great sentimental value and now has a place of honor on my bedside table. Any information you can provide would be appreciated.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category