The dyeing process for outdoor furniture fabrics helps ensure that colors will withstand fading. Photo Credit: Sunbrella® Fabrics
A piece of outdoor furniture has to be built to handle each element—most notably, the sun and rain. Photo Credit: Sunbrella® Fabrics
Understanding how quality outdoor furniture is made is only half the process. The next step involves finding a retailer that offers a selection that meets your standards and fits your style. Photo Credit: Sunbrella® Fabrics
The Home Furnishings Solution
Where you shop for your outdoor furniture is as important as what you buy. Home furnishings retailers and specialty outdoor furniture stores offer quality options and exceptional service.
What Makes Outdoor Furniture Outdoor-Ready?
Learn more about furnishings designed for outdoor living spaces.
- by Cindy Hodnett
In the modern home, there's nothing hotter right now than a comfortable, stylish outdoor space. Whether around the pool, anchored by a fire pit or in a screened extension of a home’s interior, outdoor living areas provide functional, family-friendly rooms.
However, the differences in outdoor furnishings and what differentiates them from your regular décor can be confusing. Understanding how outdoor furnishings are constructed can help you select the right pieces for your outdoor oasis.
Because outdoor furniture is exposed to the elements, it's important to know what makes it durable. Josh Rowell of Casual Furniture World says there are several important distinctions that make outdoor furnishings different. “Indoor furnishings often use wood frames and printed fabrics,” he says. “Cushions are often filled with an indoor foam that, when left in the elements, can mold and mildew. And wooden frames will expand, contract and rot if not treated." Taking the elements into consideration, a piece of outdoor furniture has to be built to handle all the elements—most notably, the sun and rain.
A variety of materials are used to build today's outdoor furnishings. These include natural woven components (that are typically treated with UV-stabilizing paints) and metals. “Wrought iron or steel outdoor furniture is often powder-coated much like your car," explains Rowell. "As long as the paint stays on, you will have no rust issues, and nicks and dings can easily be touched up to prevent rusting."
“Another great product is HDPE plastic or resin furniture,” says Rowell. “This furniture is made of recycled plastics, and it is a solid color throughout. Most manufacturers offer a 15-year warranty against rot, fading, crackling, splitting and warping. It is very, very durable stuff, comes in many colors and can be easily cleaned with a pressure washer.”
Two popular components in outdoor furniture construction are aluminum and vinyl:
- Aluminum: Rowell explains that there are two types of aluminum used in outdoor furnishings: extruded and cast. "Most outdoor pieces use aluminum as the material for the frame because it will not rust and can be painted with a durable powder coat finish,” he says. Extruded aluminum is hollow and can easily be shaped to form frames for sofas and chairs. Cast aluminum is solid and much heavier, and individual pieces of furniture are created by pouring molten aluminum into a cast.
- Vinyl: Once the frames are complete, both vinyl and natural woven products are used to create cushions. “Vinyl suitable for outdoor use should be UV-stabilized and should be 100 percent virgin vinyl—which means no clay or talc was added and that ultraviolet rays will not fade or break down the vinyl,” says Rowell. “These vinyls will remain flexible and look great for many, many years."
Understanding Outdoor Fabrics
Regardless of the material used for the frame, outdoor furniture requires special fabrics designed to withstand both everyday and inclement weather. Todd Nifong of Alfresco Fabrics says the difference between regular and outdoor fabric begins with a comprehensive manufacturing process that helps preserve color and prevent fading.
“The main difference between indoor and outdoor fabrics is in the process used to manufacture the yarns used to weave the fabric,” says Nifong. “Dye for indoor fabrics is applied to the finished yarn, which subsequently only allows the color to adhere to the outer layer. Outdoor fabrics use yarns that have been spun from fiber that is dyed in a solution prior to spinning the yarn, so the color is inherent throughout. This gives outdoor fabrics greater resistance to fading."
Where to Shop
Understanding how quality outdoor furniture is made is only half the process. The next step involves finding a retailer that offers a selection that meets your standards and fits your style.
When beginning the shopping process for outdoor furnishings, many people are tempted to start their browsing at the local home improvement store. However, Rowell recommends visiting an outdoor home furnishings store for quality furniture that will last for years.
“Most high-end outdoor furniture is still manufactured in the United States under very stringent quality control,” he says. “Welds are tested and then ground and smoothed by hand. Paints are of a higher quality, contain more UV inhibitors and are thoroughly inspected before leaving the plant. Most often, lower-end furniture will be knocked down, requiring assembly, which is definitely a weak point after a few years of use.”
Rowell says that home furnishing stores also offer better warranties, replacement policies and customer service.
“Most quality manufacturers will offer a 15-year warranty against structural defects, but this warranty is only as good as the company that backs it," he explains. “Many people feel comfortable with a long warranty in a big box/home improvement store, but if they have an issue in a couple of years, they will likely not be able to get a replacement for that piece. More than likely they will receive store credit, but will still have an incomplete patio set. You should not expect to throw your furniture away in just a few years. Should an issue arrive, you should expect the service you desire.”