I’ll be honest, I struggled with what to call this article. I knew I wanted it to be a comprehensive overview of all things Garden Furniture. Initially, it was entitled ‘a guide to...’ but Garden Furniture 101 just sound a little more succinct and snappy. A starter. A primer. A comprehensive introduction. Everything you ever wanted to know about garden furniture but were afraid to ask.
For anybody purchasing new garden furniture there’s a number of questions we should all ask before we buy, but especially if you're a first time buyer...
- How do you use your outdoor space?
- What’s your budget?
- What type of garden furniture?
- What style of garden furniture?
- What material should you purchase?
- How much care and maintenance will it require?
- Will it fit?
- Will it stand up to the elements?
- Is it easy to store?
- Is it easy to assemble?
- How comfortable is it?
I want to use this post to answer all of these questions, and maybe some I’ve not even thought of yet. Try and present all the options, all the pros and cons to help you make a more informed purchase.
And whilst I am a little biased towards the cast aluminium we have chosen as the core material in Our Collection, I promise to try and make this post impartial.
How do you use your outdoor space?
Start by thinking about how you would like to use your outdoor space, and any new furniture pieces.
Do you want it to serve as a more formal outdoor dining area? Do you like to fire up the BBQ? Is relaxation more important? Kicking back with a good book and a cup of coffee? How you and your family use that space will serve as a great starting point.
Of course the type of garden you have is also critical. It could be you have a large outside space with big patio. If that's the case, then you can divide it up to perform a number of different functions from outdoor cooking to dining to sofa style seating. Look at that space just as you would any room inside the home.
On the flip side, if you have a small back yard style plot, then that furniture needs to work a little harder. You may even need to compromise, get smaller pieces that perform a number of functions.
For example, I recently moved to the city centre so our girls would be closer to their school. We went from a large country plot out in Northumberland to a 10m x 20m back yard. Now, it's certainly big enough for us now the kids are in their teens but there was some beautiful planting we wanted to retain, so we had to get rid of our large L-shaped outdoor sofa.
We simply didn't have the space for both the sofa set and our Lazy Susan dining set. And whilst the sofa was comfortable, we much prefer a BBQ and eating in comfort than we do just sitting for hours on end. That said, we can still sit with a coffee on a Sunday morning, and if we do get some really good weather where we want to kick back, then we just pull a sun lounger out from the garage.
We've had to compromise a little, but looking at how we use our garden helped us make the right decision in terms of what pieces worked best for us.
What's your budget?
In the end your budget ultimately determines what you can purchase. And please don't just think DIY Superstore bargain. Budget furniture could end up costing you more in the long run!
The styles are often very much of the moment and constructed from materials that help retailers keep costs low but you sacrifice on quality. It's like the old saying goes, buy cheap, buy twice. Now for many people, they like that. Buy something that looks stylish, use it for a couple of summers, then replace it with the next trend.
However, some shoppers are a little more savvy. Actually, savvy is probably not the right choice of word, as the above, if it works for you, it works. Maybe discerning is a more accurate description? Those of us who want our furniture to look stylish but last for a decade or more. Pieces that are well built but classically styled so they won't date. For that, you'll have to pay a little bit more, but you'll get outdoor furniture that will more than pay for itself over time. Better value for money in the long run.
So when it comes to new garden furniture, push that budget. Set it and stick to it but try and stretch to purchase the best furniture you can afford. If your budget is tight, then think about materials that give you best quality for your money.
It could be that you go for a material that requires more maintenance for example. It will be cheaper to initially purchase but the trade off will you will have to spend more time and money over the years to maintain it.
Alternatively, shop in the end of season sales. Pick up that higher priced set for the same price as the inferior quality piece come the off-season.
Another way you can shop smarter is to buy furniture constructed to fake it. Now that may sound like a bad thing but trust me when it comes to outdoor furniture, it is often a big positive tick.
What companies such as us have done, is to take the look of a more expensive but harder to maintain or less practical material, in our case wrought iron, and create the same look and feel with a material more suited to the climate in the UK and the tastes/needs of UK consumers.
It's not just Cast Aluminium too. Look at materials such as resin where significant developments have been made over the last decade, or opt for inexpensive timbers that give you the look of teak at a fraction of the cost.
However, all that said, I still maintain that when it comes to any type of furniture, the old adage 'you get what you pay for' most definitely holds true. Do your research to find what material will work for you and purchase with care, request Samples if buying online and always carefully check customer testimonials and reviews, before making a purchase.
What type of garden furniture?
Once you've established how you use your outdoor space and budget, it makes is easier to purchase the right type of furniture.
Many of us, myself included, have made an impulse purchase only to sit back (literally) and think this just isn't comfortable. I did it about 10 years ago with a poly-rattan sofa. It looked super-stylish but once I got it home and the family and I started using it, we quickly realised it wasn't for us. The fact it was incredibly uncomfortable to sit on aside, the kids ruined the cream seat cushions.
The starting point for buying the right type of furniture is back to how you use your garden, how many people you want to seat and what available free space you have. More of that last point in a moment.
In terms of the number of seats though, the minimum is one per person in the household. However, if you like to entertain friends/family, then you'll need the option to add additional seating, maybe a bigger table?
What are the different types of Garden Furniture popular in the UK?
A few examples include:
- Garden Benches
- Garden Chairs
- Chaise Longe
- Garden Sofa
- Garden Dining Set
- Day Bed
- Garden Coffee Table
- Garden Bistro Set
- Sun Lounger
- Sectional Seating
The types of garden furniture available these days can be a little overwhelming, if you can get if for inside the home, then chances are you can get it for the outside. The above bullet point list is just some of the main/popular options for the UK market, but even within those there's a wide range of different variations and features. Garden table with a built in fire pit or hot plate anybody?
By establishing the main purpose of your garden before you buy, it will make the search much easier, stop you from potentially wasting money. Plus, if your outdoor space is limited, it'll ensure you get pieces that best fit and function.
Much like interior design, I always think a less is more approach works best, don't try and squeeze too much on a small patio. You need space to move around freely, pull chairs out etc, so think about the flow. How you move around the garden. A spacious looking garden is easier to keep tidy too, and definitely more relaxing than one that is cluttered and difficult to walk around.
Think of the long-term. Spread the cost and start with a few basic pieces, especially if you're unsure of how you want to use your outdoor space. Keep it simple by purchasing say a 4 seater garden table and chairs, then design the rest of the space around that, maybe add a bench or some more relaxed seating.
Many Lazy Susan customers will purchase an outdoor dining set from us and then a year or two later return for a coordinating garden bench or side table etc. Don't try fill the space in one hit, spend time in it, evaluate what you need, and what can go where.
What style of garden furniture?
Style of garden furniture is I suppose a secondary consideration. Modern or Classical? Most people have a strong feeling one way or the other. The rest of your home often reflects your preference, and that will naturally continue outside.
I always advise people who are a little unsure to try and opt for garden furniture pieces that fit with the style of the property itself. If you live in a country style cottage or more period property then a classically styled set such as those we offer at Lazy Susan will perfectly complement your home. A modern townhouse balcony could be better suited to a sleeker modern styled set.
Of course you can always break those rules...
When you mix the classical with a modern style you are automatically making a statement, creating something a little more individual, a multi-layered outdoor space if you like. That combination of modern with classical can create a nice juxtaposition. However, that comes with a caveat.
Combining modern furniture with a more traditional home or vice versa can be messy if not carefully planned and considered. You need to have a keen eye, a clear aesthetic and the confidence to pull it off.
For me though, that choice all boils down to your own personal taste. Both styles are popular. Neither is wrong. And to be honest, this a topic we could write numerous articles debating the issue. Purchase what works for you and what you like the look of.
When many think of modern garden furniture, they associate it with the sleek, clean, minimal lines of our Modern Collection. They often assume those attributes are a case style over substance. A sacrifice of comfort for good looks, but that is not true. The modern can be just as comfortable as the more classically styled pieces that feature more natural curves.
At Lazy Susan we crystallised the bulk of our collection into well-made, comfortable but classically styled pieces. That decision was based on demand. The more modern pieces, we have a simple offering, but we find those classical pieces just exude more quality, they fit better with the tastes of the majority of UK buyers.
And to be honest with you, the modern and traditional often overlap to create a best of both worlds. That is what we feel we've achieved with the Lazy Susan collection. A blurring of the lines. Classically styled pieces that won't go out of fashion, constructed using the best of modern production methods and materials.
What material should you purchase?
This is the contentious one. The question that definitely creates the most debate in our industry. Reports conflict, research is limited and trying to establish an accurate market split between the 3 core materials - Timber, Metal and Resin/Plastic - is extremely difficult, let alone the sub-categories of different materials within.
I suppose popularity could be regarded as an indication of quality but to be honest the split is pretty even between those core materials. Each material has its place, and each material has its advantages and disadvantages. Rather than bore you with statistics, I thought it best to present their pros and cons for you to make up your own mind. And I suppose, depending on what you want, often a pro can be con and vice versa!
What are the popular types of garden furniture materials in the UK?
Cast Aluminium Garden Furniture
Let us start with what we know best, and the reason why Lazy Susan's owner, Michael, decided to make cast aluminium the core material for his collection.
In my opinion the quintessential garden furniture material, yes even more so than timber. Cast aluminium is now available in a variety of different colours and finishes. It does not rust like steel and iron. However, we apply a protective painted finish to prevent it from 'Pitting' and further protect it from the elements.
As a metal it is sturdy, so won't blow over easily, but it's not as heavy as steel and iron, so it can't be picked up and moved around with greater ease. Modern casting production techniques/methods also mean that the design details and level of craftsmanship often seen in higher quality cast aluminium furniture such as those found in the Lazy Susan collection will even rival that of traditional wrought iron.
- Lightweight but tough enough to last many years
- Low maintenance
- Provides excellent value for the money
- Protective coated/painted frame
- Can be left outside all year-round
- Paint chips must be touched up
- It could blow over in high winds
- When purchasing, look at any welded joints as this can indicate poor quality. Cast aluminium can be a very tricky material to bond together, so better quality pieces such as ours will be supplied primarily flat-packed and incorporate good quality fittings and braces for additional support etc.
Steel Garden Furniture
Steel furniture is lauded for its strength and durability. Like cast aluminium it is again easy to maintain and clean. It is less prone to cracking and scratching than iron, however, it is important you purchase pieces that have a protective coating applied to help prevent it from rusting.
- Steel furniture is fireproof and waterproof.
- Extremely strong
- Available with a high shine or satin stainless finish
- Offers a more natural metal coloured finish
- Easy to maintain
- Durable and wind resistant
- It is heavy so can can damage timber decking for example
- Rust is a constant concern with regular steel, so look for sets that have a protective or powder coated finish. The other option is stainless steel but that is expensive
- Steel will absorb the most heat in summer so needs to be paired with cushions as it can become hot to the touch
- Steel can also feel hard and cold to the touch
Wrought Iron Garden Furniture
Wrought iron has the heritage. Along with timber, it is one of the original garden furniture materials, known for its strength and durability. Also available in a cast form, more common in our industry is the traditionally styled Wrought Iron.
Requiring significantly more maintenance than other metals, it is extremely vulnerable to moisture, which can cause rust and corrosion. You've got to keep it clean and painted, and it is easily chipped/scratched.
Wrought iron is also quite a heavy material and difficult to move. On the other hand, this can be viewed as a positive, making it less likely to blow over. One thing there is no denying is it's class and sophistication.
- High degree of craftsmanship and intricate design details
- Strong and durable material that can last a lifetime
- Classical styling
- Heavy so difficult to move around the garden and could damage patio materials or decking
- Will rust if exposed to the elements.
- High maintenance and requires regular painting or other finishes to protect it from the elements
- Wrought iron furniture is expensive
Plastic or Resin Garden Furniture
Plastic and resin furniture has made great strides in recent years. Gone are the days of the cheap white plastic patio sets. Improvements in resin technology and production now mean pieces don’t really look like plastic if that makes sense?!
The advantages of plastic are well known. It will not rust, is lightweight, and relatively inexpensive compared to all the materials above, and needs very little maintenance.
All that said, I have to be honest. I’m not really a fan. I know, I know. I said I'd be impartial. However, I also want to be honest with you. While some of modern styles look stunning, it’s still not great to sit on when you compare it to timber or metal furniture. It is definitely improving, but a lot of what I’ve tried at trade shows etc, well it just doesn’t have that solid/quality feel I like.
- Low Cost
- Wide range of colours
- Some funky modern styles
- Perception of cheap/low quality
- Most plastics, unless otherwise specified, are easily bleached in the sun
- They also tend to be unable to hold as much weight as other materials and will snap or warp when that weight limit is exceeded
- Easily blown over
Synthetic Rattan Garden Furniture
Let me clarify something before we continue... Wicker is the technique of weaving strands and can be constructed from a number of different materials, Rattan is the type of material (traditionally grasses etc) used to weave wicker style furniture and baskets etc. Sorry, I just felt it important to clarify as that often confuses.
Synthetic Rattan is probably the garden furniture style that has seen the biggest growth in the past decade or so. And as the name suggests it is constructed from synthetic plastic strips woven to form Wicker style pieces. Lower in cost than natural materials, it still retains that natural stretch or give, making it very comfortable to sit on.
- Lower Cost
- Natural look
- Works well in a modern and retro style
- The plastic weave is prone to stretching and splitting
- Whilst the Poly-Rattan itself is comfortable many of the cheapers sets are wrapped around cheap metal frames that can be uncomfortable and prone to rust
- Difficult to clean, dirt gets trapped in the weave
Wooden Garden Furniture
You can’t beat the look of natural timber, it is stunning in the right setting, and that’s why it remains such a popular patio furniture material.
Robust and sturdy, it will stand up to wind. Timber also doesn’t retain heat like some metal furniture, so it won’t get hot in the sun. The powder coating on our cast aluminium will prevent this too.
The downside of timber, it is heavy. Much heavier than cast aluminium, so difficult to move around the garden. And as we’ve already touched on, you will definitely need to maintain it. Timber needs an annual coat of stain or oil to protect it from the sun and rain. On a larger set, that’s no five minute job too. Even the most weather-resistant timbers like cedar, redwood or teak will need to be maintained more than our cast aluminium sets.
- Timber pieces are heavy so won't blow over
- If protected and maintained will last a life time
- Easy to repair, repaint etc
- Relatively low cost
- The highest maintenance of all materials
- Durability and outdoor performance vary greatly from one type of wood to another.
- Without cushions can be uncomfortable to sit on
What kind of materials do you like?
Many have a firm idea of what material they like and want. Many people will simply buy what looks good, or what's comfortable, regardless of material. However, if you're undecided, then the weather plays a big role in determining if a certain material is a good fit for your garden.
For example, if you can't store inside during the winter, then you need something low maintenance, but designed to withstand the snow and rain. And I know, in theory, all materials used in the construction of garden furniture should be suitable for outdoor use. In reality, however, many require regular maintenance to help them stand up to mother nature.
Weigh up the pros and cons and decide what works for you.
How much care and maintenance will it require?
Consider the weather in the UK?
We get it all but mostly lots of rain. Of course there's always the option to cover whatever material you purchase. And if you're reading this, then you're doing your homework.
It is important that before you click buy that you know what you're getting, that the material you choose will work for you. I can't speak for other materials or manufacturers here, I only know what our furniture requires. It has a protective coating so it can be left outside all year round.
In terms of maintenance, give it a clean with warm soapy water when it needs it. Don't let food or bird droppings sit on the surface too long. Touch up any paint chips, especially keeping a close eye on the bottom of feet if the furniture is on a stone patio (see our how-to video below).
Another good tip, is when you've washed it, just apply a light coat of car wax or baby oil. It gives our furniture a nice lustre, and provides a little extra protection, helping moisture to bead off.
Will it fit?
Measure the space you have available and measure it again!
Will the full set it fit in the space you want it to go? Is there room to pull out chairs and walk around once in situ?
The space requirements that we recommend are illustrated in the diagram above.
As a general rule, we advise that you allow for a minimum 75cm of free space around our tables to sit comfortably. and then an additional 75cm of 'working space' so there's room for chairs to be pulled out and people can move around the table impeded.
However, if you have any special requirements or concerns, and you'd like to chat through these dimension recommendations with a member of our team, then please don't hesitate to get in touch.
You can call us on 01243 717197 or drop us an Email.
Will it stand up to the elements?
Think about where you are going to put the furniture? Is it on patio or outdoor space that's exposed to the elements. Walls and fencing will provide shelter from a strong wind. If your space is open then you may need something with a little heft to it.
Do you have anywhere to store in bad weather or will you need to think about a cover? If the space is open to the elements, then you might want to consider a Lazy Susan Parasol for shade if you get too much sun.
Is it easy to store?
If you want to leave your furniture outside all year, then you must account for some degree of deterioration, regardless of material, how much depends on how often you clean and maintain it.
If you're lucky to have some storage space, then please use it. Even furniture such as ours that's designed to stay outside all year round, it'll help to keep it clean, meaning it's ready to pull out on a good day. A good cover will do the same job but make sure it is secured down.
Any cushions or parasols, keep them clean, keep them dry and store indoors. Many of our chair options are stackable to help save space too.
Is it easy to assemble?
Most garden furniture, especially pieces sold online such as ours, require some form of assembly. It makes it easier to transport, and believe it or not, is actually what gives our furniture much of its structural integrity. Plus, if a leg is damaged for example, it is easy to replace.
The video below shows the quality of our fixtures and fittings, and how easy the pieces go together.
How comfortable is it?
If you want to enjoy your garden for many hours when the weather permits, then you need comfortable seating.
Our collection is primarily focussed on outdoor dining, but that doesn't mean our chairs compromise on comfort. If you're sat for a family BBQ, a few evening drinks, then you want a garden chair that's comfortable for 2 - 4 hours, so we've made them ergonomical, with the option of adding cushions for even greater comfort.
So that's hopefully all you need to know to make an informed purchase?
This won't be a static post. We'll add to it, keep it up to date, and if there's anything you'd like to add, drop a comment or email it over and we'll add it to this post. And if you're in the market for new garden furniture, please pop into our Shop to view our full collection.