When our garden furniture began to fall apart last year, it was surprisingly difficult to make the right choices for our garden. The factors are style, cost, durability and maintenance.
We don’t have anywhere to store chairs and tables in winter, and I don’t want to cover them. I want to enjoy our winter garden, and be able to sit outside with a coffee on a fine day. But that can mean that some garden furniture doesn’t last as long.
However, there are also other factors. If you’re buying furniture for a roof terrace, balcony or windy garden, then the weight matters. Light garden furniture could blow around easily unless it’s secured.
So here are the answers to the top garden furniture buying questions, plus shots of the best garden furniture I’ve seen in gardens and shows this year. I’ve given sources where possible, but variations of most of these styles are quite widely available. Links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure, but other links are not.
When to buy garden furniture
We were shopping for our garden furniture in late summer. That’s a good time – although there’s less choice, there is more chance of reduced prices. If saving money is your aim, then the New Year sales are also a good option.
If you want maximum choice then it’s a good idea to start hunting for garden furniture in early spring, when new stock comes in for the summer.
Which garden furniture to choose?
You can choose from six options: wood, metal, rattan, plastic, stone/stone composites and built-in seating/tables made from hard landscaping materials.
Plastic, metal and built-in or stone/stone composite garden furniture is the longest lasting. And plastic will also be the cheapest, while good quality wood and rattan are generally the most expensive.
Rattan garden furniture can be contemporary or traditional.
Stone and stone composites
Stone and stone composites are exceptionally long lasting. I have two stone composite benches from Haddonstone. One is 30 years old and the other is 10 years old. You can’t tell the difference between them. They need occasionally cleaning but are otherwise completely weatherproof.
In the end, we chose a dining table with a stone composite top from Garden Trading. It was a little more expensive than the good quality teak garden tables of a similar size, but I think it will last longer, especially as we don’t plan to cover it in winter.
Built in garden furniture
Many people use leftover pavers or wood to build in benches as part of hard landscaping. This is exceptionally durable and also quite low maintenance. It’s also a good option for smaller spaces because you can build exactly the shape and size you need.
You can also build in garden benches with storage beneath them or with lids that lift so you can store cushions easily.
What style is your house or garden?
When we were looking for new garden furniture, we came to the conclusion that there are a limited number of garden furniture styles. And there are cheaper and more expensive brands in each category. The more expensive ones will generally last longer and can look better.
One place to start is to take the style of your house through into the garden. This post on how to link your house and garden shows how. Take colour themes, paving, flooring and furniture styles through from the house to the garden to make your space feel more cohesive.
So once you’ve fixed a price point, your final decision will probably be made around style. It’s worth taking a moment to think about what your garden style is. This post has 12 garden styles – can you recognise yours there?
Garden furniture styles
Mid century modern
Mid century modern garden furniture has a lovely retro feel, and it works well in contemporary settings too. These garden chairs are in a garden designed by Lisa Feurtado of Fuschia Green Garden Design. Alice’s Garden Egg designer string chairs are similar. You can see more of Lisa’s design in how to link your house to your garden.
Contemporary garden furniture includes many rattan sets, as well as artesan-made items.
Wooden garden furniture is available in a wide range of price points. And it is the most traditional style of garden furniture. From Lutyens benches to teak garden tables, it’s probably the most loved and best known style.
Vintage or second-hand
Buying second-hand garden furniture is the most environmentally-friendly option, and it can also be one of the cheapest. Look at online auctions, such as eBay or Facebook Marketplace and free sites, such as Freegle or Freecyle. But check that the furniture is sturdy or that you can repair it.
We have a set of 1960s French metal chairs which we bought for about £20 each in a depot vente (a type of second-hand warehouse) in the South of France. We undoubtedly spent quite a lot more on the petrol by strapping them to the roof of the car and driving them to the UK.
Are outdoor cushions waterproof?
There’s now a good range of outdoor cushions. These can usually be left outside for most of the summer, although it’s wise to store them indoors in winter.
We bought a vintage metal garden seat and two chairs. They needed cushions, but as the furniture was 50+ years old, it didn’t fit standard sizes of cushion available for sale now.
So I bought some fabric labelled as suitable for outdoor cushions and had them made up by a local upholsterer. If you’re good at sewing, you can do that yourself.
Can garden furniture be left outside?
Most garden furniture is designed to left outside. However, natural rattan and wicker and some wooden furniture should really be brought inside overnight.
If you don’t have space for storage, you can buy outdoor covers for garden furniture.
What else do I need to think about when buying garden furniture?
Think about the weight of garden furniture. If you live in a windy area, or you’re buying for a balcony or roof garden, you don’t want lightweight garden furniture that could blow away. Rattan and plastic are the lightest.
Check the maintenance requirements. Everything needs maintenance, and everything will last longer if it’s properly maintained.
Rattan or wicker – which is best?
Rattan is a natural material and wicker is a style of weave, so people use the terms ‘rattan’ and ‘wicker’ for garden furniture interchangeably. However, you can’t leave natural rattan and wicker garden furniture outside. They’re better used in a conservatory and put outside occasionally in good weather.
However, synthetic rattans have been treated to make them much more weatherproof. They’re usually made of polyethylene resin or PE. These are designed to be left outside.
So what did we choose in the end?
After months of research, we decided to splash out on a table with a stone composite top from Garden Trading. It was a little over our budget, but as it was the end of the season, it was discounted.
And we also saved by buying some contemporary-looking garden ‘Lacko’ garden chairs from IKEA. They’re made of metal and plastic, so are light and hard wearing.
I think that matching sets can look very good, especially in a smaller garden. But if you can’t find one that’s exactly right for you, I think the option of buying the table first and then thinking about the chairs also works.
(Disclosure note: None of the manufacturers mentioned in this post knew they were being written about. And there have been no payments, discounts or free items in return for publicity. It’s worth saying this because sometimes people assume that there is a commercial relationship. But there isn’t, in this case.)
Pin to remember this garden furniture guide
And do join us for a free weekly email with more gardening tips, ideas and inspiration.