I’ll be honest, I was positive we’d done a few articles looking at the different types of patio furniture material that are popular in the UK.
And we have, sort of, but not one that seems to offer a simple and concise overview of the main materials, their pros and cons.
We’ve mainly done individual articles on each material. That or the info has been a section in posts looking at how to buy etc.
So I thought it best to rectify that sharpish, and this month give you a brief guide to the main materials on the market.
The key decision making criteria for buying new patio furniture is pretty simple really.
- We want it to look good
- We want it to fit in the space we have available
- We want it to be durable
- We want it to be weather resistant
- We want it to be fit for purpose
Choosing the right patio furniture material is just a matter of a little research. Taking a little time before you buy to see how those different materials compare in terms of the criteria above.
The different materials available each have their own pros and cons, methods of care and maintenance etc. Yes, you want it to look good, you’ll have a budget in mind, but it also has to perform.
You want it to be constructed from a material that’ll stand up to the elements, that’ll fit with how you and your family want to use it.
Choosing the right patio furniture material for you
I don’t want to insult your intelligence. No doubt you’ve an idea about the style of patio furniture you want, be it a contemporary outdoor sofa set or a classical patio dining table and chairs.
Hopefully, what this article will impart is some of the wisdom we’ve picked up over the years. A few things to take into consideration with regard to the different materials before you buy.
Your best starting point when deciding on the right material, is to think about how you plan on using it, and how much time you want to spend maintaining it.
Timber for example has always been a popular choice. However, unless it is regularly sealed, it will take in moisture that will cause it to split, and at worst, wood rot could take hold.
On the plus side, Timber is sturdy. It won’t get blown over when the wind picks up. The downside of that is if you like to move your patio furniture around the garden, then it is heavy.
Cast aluminium on the other hand is fully rust-resistant, low maintenance and easy to pick up and move. It’s all about finding the material that best suits your requirements.
Obviously, we ‘re a little biased towards cast aluminium. It’s a great all-rounder, excellent value for money.
But this post is not just a Lazy Susan hard sell. I want to look at all the options you have, let you decide what material is best fit.
The main types of patio furniture material in the UK
Here in the UK, patio furniture is constructed from various natural and synthetic materials, all with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Metal Patio Furniture
Metal patio furniture is durable, hardwearing, available in a variety of styles and extremely low maintenance. Plus, the majority of metals now used in the UK are specially coated to make them durable and rust-resistant.
The flexibility of metal as a material means we have a multitude of styles too, from modern to classical. And within that a whole host of features can also be easily achieved, from extending tables to folding and stackable chairs.
You have to be careful with weight though. It can vary depending on which metal the furniture is constructed from.
Cast aluminium furniture such as our Lottie set picture above is lightweight but sturdy.
Steel on the other-hand is the strongest metal but it is also the heaviest. You definitely don’t want to go for steel if you want to move it around the garden.
And then of course there is wrought iron like the beautiful Rolltop Bench from Holloways below. One of the original patio furniture materials if you will.
You can still get it, its not cheap, but it is unique, and what you’re basically getting is a handcrafted item. It has all that heritage, and is not mass produced in a factory.
The down side of wrought iron (aside from the cost) is that depending how it is finished (i.e. not powder coated), it may need re-painting/sealing to keep the rust away. Plus it is heavy when compared to cast aluminium.
Timber 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.
It is robust, sturdy, will stand up to the 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’s also heavy. Much heavier than cast aluminium or PVC. 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 large 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 any of our cast aluminium sets.
Teak like this York 6 Seater Table Set from The Garden Furniture Centre (pictured below) is slightly unique in that it has naturally occurring oils, so doesn’t need as much maintenance.
Teak is a hardwood, so it will stand up to everyday use, and is more difficult to dent than say oak. Stunning material too, but you pay for that beauty compared to other materials.
The best piece of advice we can give you if you want timber, is make sure it is furniture that has been certified by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Both the FSC and PEFC have developed high sustainable standards for forest management, and operate programs that ensure compliance.
They operate certification schemes throughout the supply chain, so you know if you buy FSC or PEFC certified timber patio furniture, or any timber product for that matter, it is supporting responsible and sustainable forestry.
Plastic PVC Garden Furniture
PVC furniture has made great strides in recent years. Gone are the days of cheap white plastic patio sets. Improvements in resin technology and production now mean pieces don’t really look like plastic if that makes sense?
Just take a look at the set pictured below from Vondom Studio. This is their Jut range and visually it is so striking, not what you pictured when I said plastic patio furniture?
The advantages of plastic are well known. It will not rust, is lightweight, relatively inexpensive compared to all the materials above, and needs very little maintenance. Quick wipe with warm soapy water to remove dirt and debris will often suffice.
All that said, I have to be honest. I’m not really a fan. While some of modern styles look stunning, it’s still not great to sit on when you compare it to timber and 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 feel you want.
That said, if you don’t plan on sitting on it for any length of time, then it looks great at a fraction of the price. But for me, that kind of defeats the point?!
I could of grouped this in with Plastic/PVC but its such a popular patio furniture material, I felt it deserved a section of its own. Synthetic Rattan just has its own distinct style too.
The Copa Outdoor Aperitif Set from Made.com pictured below is a particular favourite of mine, and a great example of that style.
I have something similar in my garden now but it is not in the fab citrus green colour of this set. I’m tempted to replace it to be honest, get the current one on eBay.
Whilst synthetic rattan retains many of the benefits of plastic furniture, the resin is usually woven around a powder coated cast aluminium frame, so that gives the furniture a little more comfort and stability too.
The rattan is made from woven strands of coated resin, which provide the traditional look and feel with the durability and weather resistance of PVC.
It needs very little maintenance, is lightweight and relatively easy to clean.
And I say relatively as you tend to find debris gets stuck between the weave, well it does in the set I have. You have to wait for a sunny day and give it a hoover with the brush attachment.
However, it is weather resistant, so you can leave it outdoors in winter, and it won’t fade in the summer sun.
The thing you need to avoid with this type of material is cheap PVC/plastic. Only buy furniture made from High Density Polyethylene (HDPE).
Poor quality PVC rattan furniture will just unravel from the frame and split. It does not have the properties needed to stand up to the elements.
Price is usually the give away. So if it’s cheap and you’re not sure if it is made from a high-grade HDPE or not, then please don’t risk buying it.
Synthetic Eco Timber
And finally, a bit of a new patio furniture material on the block. We are seeing more and more synthetic eco timber coming onto the UK market.
I guess it’s not new as such, it seemed to first appear as an alternative to decking. And while this type of furniture has been available in the US for a decade or two, it has only appeared on the UK garden furniture market in more recent years.
The Polywood® brand seem to be leading the way with this type of material, they’ve been around for a number of years, and they certainly have some of the best looking furniture.
Much like the synthetic resin furniture, Plywood® is basically a plastic effect timber that’s made from post-consumer bottle waste such as milk and detergent bottles, or any other HDPE post industrial material for that matter.
And because its made from HDPE, it too is an exceptionally durable plastic that has infinite recyclability.
Polywood® is available in the UK from Polywood.co.uk and their Palm Coast Ultimate Adirondack (pictured above) is the star of the collection for me.
So that’s your lot for this post I’m afraid. It is not a definitive guide to every material, but it covers what is popular in the UK patio furniture industry right now.
I may take this a step further in the coming months too. Ideally, I’d like to pull all the pros and cons info together into a table, so watch this space!