Where to start when choosing the right furniture for your garden? It's vital to first work out how you use your garden – do you enjoy hosting parties (lots of seating needed), or prefer to relax in privacy? Are you a sun worshipper, in which case a lounge chair is essential, or a consummate cook (think large and sturdy garden dining table or dining set)?
The biggest win when buying garden furniture is picking items that are durable and well built, without sacrificing comfort and style. Size matters, too: if your furniture is too small, you won’t want to spend much time using it; too large, and your garden will feel compromised.
Read on for comprehensive coverage of all these factors in choosing your garden furniture – and inspiring examples, too!
Choosing the right garden furniture material
Choosing the right material is essential, too. There are four main choices: wood; rattan; metal; and man-made materials. If you have a shed or conservatory, you needn’t worry about your furniture getting wet or damaged. If not, you will need to choose garden furniture that can withstand the elements.
Invest in sturdy, classic wooden garden furniture
Wooden garden furniture is a classic, natural choice that will complement most gardens. Rustic or modern, light or dark – there are lots of options. If your garden has decking, choose a wood species or colour for your furniture to harmonise with it, which doesn’t mean you need an exact match, just enough similarity to avoid clashing colours and textures.
For outdoor use, go with a tough hardwood that can be left in the garden year-round. Teak, an ever-popular choice for garden furniture, is exceptionally durable thanks to its very high oil content. Almost completely rain-proof, it rarely rots, dents or warps, so makes for a good investment. Keep it in good condition with an annual coating of sealer.
Other good, tough timber garden furniture options include oak, eucalyptus and acacia. They are all hardwoods that can hold their own against the weather, although they are not quite as hardy as teak, so will benefit from oiling once a year.
The downside of wooden furniture? Some larger pieces can be heavy; this means they won't get tipped over in the wind, but they won't be easy to move around the garden regularly either.
Pick elegant rattan or wicker garden furniture
Rattan furniture is the ideal buy for recreating the relaxed look of a traditional country cottage garden (whether you live in the country or city). Lightweight, it's generally easy to shift around the garden – handy if you like to follow the sun with your lounger.
What's the difference between rattan and wicker? Rattan is a strong and durable natural material (made from a vine) that can stand up to the British weather; a tell-tale sign of high-quality rattan is that it should be consistent in texture and colour. You might find that the rattan you're considering is synthetic (see faux rattan below), which is where wicker comes in...
Wicker relates not to a separate material, but to a weaving style (think rattan furniture), and while it can be made from natural materials, such as bamboo, it is usually crafted from a sturdy, weather-proof synthetic, typically resin. That's that confusion cleared up, then.
Explore the versatility of metal garden furniture
Metal garden furniture is perhaps the most versatile of all materials for garden furniture. It can be traditional in style – think intricate wrought iron pieces – to modern and industrial. Metal integrates easily into every kind of garden, from country cottage to rooftop terrace, and can be powder-coated for a colour finish.
Cast aluminium is strong, durable, does rust or flake if left out in wet weather, and is generally very low-maintenance. Despite being hardy, it is a very light material, making it portable – perfect if you like rearranging your garden furniture, or simply want to move into the shade when it gets too hot. There is a slight disadvantage to its light-quality, however: if it’s windy, it is likely to blow over. Aluminium also absorbs heat, so chairs will be more comfortable topped with soft padding.
Steel garden furniture, powder-coated to protect it from rust, is heavier than aluminium furniture, making it a more suitable material for garden benches or dining tables that will seldom be moved. If the coating begins to chip, it should be restored immediately or the furniture will rust.
Wrought iron has a traditional, intricate look especially suitable for a period property. Garden furniture made from wrought iron is heavy, which makes it more appropriate for benches or tables that will not be moved often. The heavy weight also makes it unsuitable for lawns, which it will sink into. Wrought iron can rust and will benefit from an anti-rust treatment, for example powder-coating.
Metal garden furniture requires about as much maintenance as wooden pieces. A dry brushing followed by a wash with warm water and a mild detergent will keep it as good as new. If you make sure to take care of any chips in the coating, it can remain outside all year round, but, as with any other type of garden furniture, over-wintering in an outhouse or garage will increase its longevity. Find out how to revive your metal garden furniture in our step-by-step guide.
Go for modern and fuss-free plastic garden furniture
Yes, plastic garden furniture can look great! Offering the durability and weatherproof qualities to rival that of its natural counterparts, plastic is light and extremely easy to clean, making it a great option if you have kids, for instance. Not all plastics are made equal; look for a hardy compound resin, or low density polyethylene, which is very durable.
Choose a garden table that best suits your needs
If you mainly spend your outdoors time doing gardening and only sit down to rest with a cup of tea, a small table, perhaps one that comes as part of a bistro set, may well do the trick. For lovers of al fresco dining, a more substantial option will be necessary. And if you plan on using your garden table for a variety of purposes, including doing computer work, choose something that will be easy to clean.
Consider the size of your deck or patio, too, to get a good fit. Your table choice needs to allow for at least a metre all round on top of the table's measurements so that chairs can be pulled comfortably and safely back. In a small garden, on a tight terrace or balcony, a round table will allow you to seat more people, yet will take up less space.
Create a focal point with good-looking garden furniture
Good-looking garden furniture can transform your garden space, making it look elegant or cool. Consider a funky rocking chair on a deck or a sculptural bench, framed by trees at the end of a garden path. Before you invest in garden furniture for its looks, double check the comfort factor: if it's only visually inviting, you won't want to spend time lounging on it.
Choosing deck chairs and sun loungers
Have a balcony, a decking area – or, perhaps, even a pool – and love a bit of garden lounging, but don't want to invest in large pieces of furniture? You need decking furniture – more specifically, a deck chair. Choosing one will be dictated mainly by how much space you’ve got as they're quite deep when folded out, but if you have sufficient garden storage to fold your deck chairs away while you’re not using them, they're a brilliantly comfortable budget buy.
More to spend? Invest in a garden sun lounger. Make sure to try it out before you buy as not all shapes and configurations will suit everyone's posture. And, for ultimate comfort, buy deep cushions, too. Ensure they're water-resistant so that they can take a shower, and choose a foldable chair if both need to go away when summer ends.