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Your Guide to Buying Garden Furniture

Discover the key to choosing outdoor furniture for your garden

Jessica Harding
By Jessica Harding, Senior Creative Buyer

With long-awaited spring on the horizon, dreams of sunny barbecues, evening cocktails in the garden and curling up with a book under a sunset sky are within reach of becoming a reality. One of the best ways to prepare for the season is to create your very own garden paradise by choosing luxury garden furniture and accessories with which to enjoy these summertime pleasures.

Covering all bases from seating solutions to lighting and cushions, we lay down the need-to-know info before making outdoor investments. Follow our guide—complete with expert tips from leading London interior designer Laura Hammett—to ensure you opt for nothing less than long-lasting luxury.

Choosing the Right Outdoor Furniture

Furniture pieces, including garden sets, dining tables, sofas and loungers, act as the bones of impressive outdoor spaces. They’re investment pieces that last generations so a fail-safe technique is to choose something timeless that you’ll love forever.

“It’s all about quality when selecting outdoor furniture,” explains Laura, “Especially in the UK, it has to be able to withstand all seasons. Like indoor furniture, outdoor furniture also needs to be comfortable and we find that furniture with upholstery works well and helps to soften hard landscaping.”

There are so many options out there and whilst it goes without saying that you should select pieces that resonate with your personal style, it’s also vital to consider the pros and cons of different materials.

It’s all about quality when selecting outdoor furniture, especially in the UK. It has to be able to withstand all seasons.— Laura Hammett

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Upholstered Garden Furniture

Ah, perhaps the greatest (and certainly most comfortable) invention of the al fresco world—indoor-presenting furniture that can withstand the challenges of the outdoors and look fine doing it. Undoubtedly the garden furniture of choice for those who want to bring the indoors out, upholstered outdoor furniture offers all of the classic upholstery forms (not a hanging chair in sight) and techniques, from button tufting to piping.

Benefits: The two key benefits which lovers of upholstered garden furniture claim are, of course, comfort and style. If you want to lounge in as much comfort and luxury out of doors as you do indoors there isn’t anything that can beat outdoor upholstery. Complete the look and create a living room worthy outdoor space with the addition of outdoor cushions and rugs.

Downsides: Though no effort is spared in creating the most durable pieces possible, outdoor upholstery—as with indoor upholstery—won’t have the same staying power as wooden, rattan or metal outdoor furniture. These are definitely pieces you’ll want to buy all-weather protective covers for.

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Metal Garden Furniture

Metal outdoor furniture can call upon a classic aesthetic but is also perfect for channelling a slick, industrial vibe. There are endless colours and finishes available, and its malleable nature means it can take on a range of forms from traditional dining chairs to minimalist tables.

Benefits: Strength and extreme durability—the essential tools to survive harsh outdoor elements—have to be metal’s best characteristics. Thanks to its versatile nature, wrought irons designs with ornate scrollwork have the power to cut a svelte figure but are incredibly heavy-duty at the same time and won’t blow over in the wind. Aluminium designs are great lightweight options; look for powder-coated designs to prevent corrosion.

Downsides: Metal furniture can be cold and uncomfortable, however, this is nothing a sumptuous outdoor seat pad can’t fix. They can also come in cheaper varieties which won’t wear as well.

“Don’t underestimate Mother Nature,” Laura advises. “Many cheap metals will rust very quickly, fade and become brittle in the sunlight or cold, dewy nights.” Only contemplate metal furniture which has a guarantee and has been treated carefully.

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Wood Garden Furniture

With its rich colour and unique grain, wood furniture boasts a natural beauty. The material has stood the test of time in the furniture industry for a reason as it has the ability to look relaxed yet refined, as well as traditional and contemporary.

Dense woods are used for garden furniture due to their natural resistance against the rigours of open air use. There’s a wide range to choose from including eucalyptus, cedar and redwood. Our favourite is teak—the Rolls Royce of hardwoods. Its tight grain and high natural oil content provide a lustrous honey brown hue and extreme resistance to decay and water.

Downsides: All woods are susceptible to warping, rotting and fungal infections, and less water-resistant woods can also shrink or swell over time. After years of exposure to the elements, teak will weather naturally to a silvery grey patina. This aged look is a bonus for some people but if you prefer its fresh appearance, you can treat the tropical hardwood with protector to maintain its colour. The application of oils and sealants is a simple way to increase the look and lifespan of all wooden furniture.

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Rattan Garden Furniture

Rattan furniture was originally created using woven palms but today weather-resistant synthetic substitutes are used. Rattan-effect or resin weave designs celebrate casual beauty—making perfect seating solutions for relaxation—and thanks to their synthetic nature, they come in a wide range of colour options.

Benefits: The advantage of rattan-effect furniture is that it offers a natural finish and is specifically developed for outdoor use. The woven resin is insensitive to temperature change, promises not to crack or erode over time and is extremely low-maintenance. It’s also lightweight, which enables you to experiment and change up your garden layout with ease.

Downsides: Rattan designs often work boxy silhouettes, which means they can be tricky to store away during the cooler months and need a lot of foot space. All-weather protective covers are an investment worth making if you lack storage space. 

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Rope Garden Furniture

Rope outdoor furniture is created using strengthened cords or ribbons of rope over a durable metal frame. The weaving patterns or application of the rope is often used to create visual interest—perhaps with a twisted element, a tessellating open weave or a tight braiding—as well as structural integrity. Upholstered seat or back cushions are designed, separate or integral to the piece, to provide extra comfort.

Benefits: Relatively lightweight but slightly more welcoming and comfortable than metal designs, rope outdoor furniture feels warm and rustic and enjoys an intriguing textural quality. It’s a good middle ground between incredibly modern garden furniture and the more transitional upholstered pieces.

Downsides: Due to their network of strands, rope garden furniture might not be the best choice for households with small children or pets in small arms and legs might too easily get tangled.

Additional Outdoor Furniture Tips

Proportion is everything. Just as you’d measure up before purchasing indoor furniture, you should do the same for your al fresco areas. Whether you have acres of land or a compact city rooftop, always measure your space and take note of the size of dining tables, chairs and loungers to ensure they’re a perfect fit.

Always look for furniture pieces from established brands with a 10-15 year warranty for non-upholstered parts. A 5-10 year warranty is to be expected for upholstered parts.