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GardenSMART :: Let's Go Shopping

Let's Go Shopping

By T.K. Wismer, Blue Oak
Photographs courtesy of Blue Oak

It's the time of year when retail stores are pushing their patio season décor out to make room for the next round of seasonal fare. Online retailers get in on the action as well, applying deep discounts to all things outdoor, for a daily reminder straight to my inbox that the days of summer are quickly passing me by. The phrase "sale" can at times be intoxicating, but making a hasty decision when it comes to purchasing outdoor furniture might have you dragging this summer's purchases out to the street by next season.

I have fallen for "disposable" outdoor furniture in the past, but after reinvesting three times over I came to realize I could have researched a little more and invested in nicer pieces just once. So let me save you the trouble of outfitting your outdoors with soon to be broken-down furniture and arm you with a shopping guide outlining the quality points that matter most outdoors.

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Start with the Frame

What to Shop for:

  • Aluminum - the rust resistance of aluminum is far superior to steel and wrought iron. Special coatings and paint can add rust resistance to steel and iron but they are never truly rustproof.
  • Powder Coating - is electrostatically applied and then cured under heat but to put it simply, it creates a hard finish that is tougher than paint. It's often used on appliances and cars.
  • All-Weather Clear Coat - this step adds an extra level of protection for special finishes like hand brushed details. It helps to withstand UV rays and other outdoor elements.
  • Stainless Steel Hardware - the hardware is typically the first area you will spot rust. Stainless steel hardware resists rust far better than conventional steel hardware.
  • Complete Welds - means every connection is seamless so there is less cracking or holes for water to creep in.

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Consider the Weave

Traditional wicker has a beautiful aesthetic, but is prone to fading, cracks, and unraveling.

What to Shop for:

  • Resin Weaves - are made of synthetic plastic versus natural fibers. This has the look and feel of natural weaves while adding durability to withstand water, mold, and UV rays.
  • Fully Woven - has a seamless look versus panels that are later assembled. The added benefit of fully-woven is that it eliminates gaps and end points that can come loose.
  • Hand Woven - requires a skilled craftsman and time. One chair may take several days to complete, but the technique is unparalleled in terms of creating a unified pattern with lasting resilience.

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Fabric Matters

Quality fabric keeps cushions and pillows looking newer longer. In ordinary outdoor fabrics, color is applied to the surface but high-end, weather-resistant fabrics are engineered for longevity.

What to Shop for:

  • Acrylic Fibers - are synthetic fibers that can be made to mimic other fibers such as cotton. It is lightweight, soft, and versatile so you won't get that scratchy feeling when you touch it.
  • Solution Dyed Acrylic - basically, this means the threads are colored versus color being applied on top of the fabric. Pigmented fiber has the highest lightfastness, so your red cushion won't be pink by the end of the season.

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Comfort is Key

This is one of the hardest things to shop online, but there are design elements you can look for that lean towards more comfort.

What to Shop for:

  • Ergonomic Design - things like generous proportions, slightly angled seat backs, height, and arm width are all design details that help make a piece more comfortable.
  • Dual Density Foam - is the combined use of high and low-density foam so that cushions are soft enough to be comfortable, but have the support needed to stay comfortable.
  • Multi-Layered Dual Density Foam - if dual density foam is good then multiple layers of it must be better right? This design detail adds even more pressure reduction, stability, and proper alignment.

Some of these points can be found in product descriptions from retailers, but sometimes it takes a visual inspection to discern quality. My suggestion is to read reviews and look for retailers who allow a grace period or a flexible return program. It is also very important to inspect the packaging for any damage upon receiving deliveries, as some companies will have you refuse the delivery for refunds and exchanges.


All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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