Room with a View: Outdoor Furniture

Written by Dawn Keable   

Remember when your mother used to send you outside and insist you stay there? That didn’t happen too much at my house. The request was there, but the end result wasn’t quite what she was looking for. Why? Because I was a reader. And, as all good readers know, you need a cozy indoor nook to stretch out with a book. Outdoor options were slim at best.  

 It was the ’70s and the outdoor seating choices at our house ranged from a scratchy foldable chair made of thick woven-nylon strips, a chaise lounge constructed of thin yellow and white plastic tubing that would heat and stretch as the temperature rose, if you didn’t fall out trying to get on it in the first place, or a rough wool blanket spread on the ground.

 I went with the most comfy choice —my bed. I would have dragged it outside with me if I could have. Apparently, I was onto something.

The New Face of Backyard Furniture  
Roughly 30 years later, innovations in style, design, and comfort have changed the face of backyard living for the better. Gone are the days where a simple charcoal grill, wooden picnic table, pink flamingos, and kiddie pool were the yard accessories of choice. No one knows this better than third-generation
North Kingstown furniture retailer, Keith McKay, who, during the past five years, has noticed a real push on patio furniture. “People look at the deck as an extension of their living room,” said McKay.

 As a result, the industry has risen to the occasion, featuring not only the standards you’d expect like gliders, hammocks, and classic adirondacks, but comfy cushioned chairs, with materials that don’t retain water, ornate dining room sets that can seat up to 10, firepits, high-quality outdoor rugs, and lamps tough enough to withstand the elements and dressy enough to winter inside the house.  

 And for readers? According to Jackie Hirschhaut of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, the largest association of home furnishing companies in the world, this year brings a greater depth of products for sitting, relaxing, and conversation. On deck, literally, are complete seating groups that include sofas and sections, with expanded options like rocking and reclining features.

Decisions, Decisions
With all of the choices out there, how do you decide what to buy? First, you need to figure out the main function of the room, whether it be an outdoor family room, a second kitchen, or something in between. If you’re completely overwhelmed, there are designers that can step in to help. Once you’ve determined the purpose of your space, the rest is easy.   

 Your decisions from here on go back to the basics — personal taste. It’s that simple; Pick what you like. And luckily, whether your style be contemporary, casual, or eclectic, there truly is something out there for everyone. Hirschhaut notes that a “continued sophistication of design, product assortment, finishes, and materials create a seamless connection between the indoors and out.

Environmentally Friendly Furniture
 What better way to celebrate the great outdoors than to actively work towards preserving it? According to McKay, one of the biggest trends in outdoor furniture that he’s seen is recycled products. Envirowood, made from recycled plastic bottles and containers, mimics the look of real wood with an authentic grain texture and color. But unlike real wood, it is rot-, decay-, and insect-proof, requires no maintenance, and no trees are used in the process.

Other trends that McKay has noted on the local front include the continued growth of all-weather furniture, like products constructed from teak and wicker that can withstand the elements and still look brand new for years to come. Bright colors, like reds and oranges, will also make a noticeable appearance in 2007, and after surviving yet another dark, hueless New England winter, why not add some color to your world?

Buy Quality and It Will Last
Speaking of harsh conditions, one of the most basic tips to make your investment last is simply to cover it up. In addition, the American Home Furnishings Alliance offers up a detailed guide, broken down by material, on how to clean and care for all aspects of your outdoor furniture from umbrellas to tabletops. 

 But the single most important thing that McKay says anyone should remember when purchasing outdoor furniture is something that your mother has probably told you a million times. “Buy quality,” he said.

Once you find furniture that you love, you’ll be drawn outside to use it for seasons to come. And that’s something that will surely make mom prou

Tips On Caring For Your Outdoor Furniture
With a few simple steps, you can keep your outdoor furniture looking fresh and new for many years. The American Home Furnishings Alliance offers the following care and maintenance tips:

Aluminum frames
Clean with mild soap and water. For non-textured surfaces, apply an automotive wax every few months. On textured finishes, periodically apply baby or mineral oil. Occasionally spray oil lubricant on chair swivels or glides.

Tempered-glass tabletops
Clean regularly with a soft cloth, a mild detergent, and warm water. Buff dry with a clean, lint-free cloth. Commercial glass cleaners also may be used.

Outdoor wicker
Vacuum gently or brush with a soft bristle brush. Hose off every few weeks and clean periodically with mild detergent and water. Rinse thoroughly and air dry.

Vinyl straps
Wash with mild detergent and warm water, using a soft sponge or cloth. Rinse thoroughly. To remove scuff marks, apply toothpaste or gentle abrasive and rub gently with a dry cloth. To remove mildew, use a solution of warm water, mild detergent, and bleach (no more than one-quarter cup to 3 gallons of water). Apply vinyl protectant to the straps after cleaning.

Sling furniture
Wash with mild soap and water. Rinse thoroughly and air dry.

Vacuum as needed to remove organic material and prevent decay. Clean by sponging with mild detergent and warm water. Rinse thoroughly. Air dry. If mildew occurs, use a solution of one-cup bleach and a squirt of detergent per gallon of water. Scrub with a sponge or soft brush. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and air dry. Always test an inconspicuous spot first to make sure the color won’t fade. Bleach may not be suitable for some fabrics.

Wrought iron and steel
Clean with warm, soapy water. To maintain the gloss on non-textured surfaces, apply automotive wax. On textured finishes, periodically apply mineral or baby oil. If rust develops, clean area by sanding lightly, then wipe thoroughly and apply touch-up paint (usually provided by the manufacturer).

Clean with mild detergent and water. Rinse well. Some manufacturers recommend an occasional application of oil. Teak and jarrah can stay outdoors year-round. Pine, oak, and cedar should be stored for the winter. Painted woods require painting every year or so.

Wash covers with mild soap and water, using a long-handled brush. Spray silicone on the joints of wire frames. Use wax or furniture polish on wooden umbrellas.