How to choose the best garden furniture for your garden

January 11th, 2023
Posted In: Garden style & living

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.

How to choose the best garden furniture for you

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.

Traditional wooden garden furniture.

Traditional wooden garden benches at West Dean Gardens in Sussex. When choosing wood, only hardwoods, such as teak and cedar can be left outside for long periods. Wood will need annual maintenance.

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.

Metal garden furniture is long lasting

Top: A ‘bistro set’ from Dan Cooper Garden, made of scratch-resistant sheet metal with an all-weather coating. On the left is a recycled vintage ‘Tolix’ style chair seen at BBC Gardeners World Live. You can find similar Tolix chairs on Amazon and elsewhere. Above: a metal swing bench in garden writer Francine Raymond’s garden.

Rattan and wicker furniture is only long lasting if it's synthetic.

Natural rattan is not weatherproof but synthetic polyethylene resin rattan (top picture) is more hard wearing and can live outside without covers on. However, it will last longer if you cover or store it in winter. Wicker is a type of weave, while rattan is the material the chair is made from.

Rattan garden furniture can be contemporary or traditional.

A friend of mine had a longer-lasting synthetic polyethylene resin rattan sofa set. Her garden is small and she can see the whole thing from her glass kitchen doors. She didn’t want to put a cover on it. It looks too dreary to see a lump of grey tarpaulin outside for months on end.

However, the sofa set really started to wear after only four or five years. It started to break apart.

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.

Benches made with hard landscaping leftovers

Top shows a bench of recycled pavers and wood in a show garden designed by Amelia Bouquet. Above: Leftover decking, rocks and planks turned into seating at the Diggers Club, Heronswood. See more of this garden in Cottage Garden Mash-up.

You can also build in garden benches with storage beneath them or with lids that lift so you can store cushions easily.

Built in benches save space

Two built-in benches. The top one is a bench made of gabions with leftover pavers, in a show garden designed by Mike Baldwin and Rachel Pratt. The picture below it is a wooden bench with storage for logs beneath it in a garden by Charlotte Rowe.

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?

Choose your garden furniture to suit your garden style

Contemporary or traditional? Choose your garden furniture to suit your garden style.

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.

Mid century modern 'egg' chairs

These ‘egg’ chairs are in a garden designed by Lisa Feurtado of Fuchsia Green Garden Design in Kent.

Mid century modern is a fashionable style for gardens today

Mid century modern – the chairs are in an RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden designed by Tony Woods/GardenclubLondon. And the pic below shows a ‘cocoon’ style garden chair in a show garden designed by Nikki Hollier.

Contemporary

Contemporary garden furniture includes many rattan sets, as well as artesan-made items.

Contemporary garden furniture

Top: a contemporary bench and table in a garden designed by Pollyanna Wilkinson. Above: Contemporary bench in a show garden designed by Anthony Lionel Landscapes.

Traditional style

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.

Traditional garden benches in wood and stone or stone composite

Traditional garden furniture is often in wood or stone/stone composites. It suits period homes and traditional 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.

Vintage and second-hand garden furniture is a good environmental choice.

Metal garden furniture is very durable, so it’s a good choice for vintage and second-hand buys. Check that it’s sturdy and treat any signs of rust.

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

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How to choose garden furniture


2 comments on "How to choose the best garden furniture for your garden"

  1. Janis says:

    We wanted furniture that was comfortable without cushions and doesn’t take flight in a strong wind. Took 2 years to find a new dining set, but finally lucked into a vintage mid-century set at an estate sale. Had it powder coated and it should last us the rest of our lives. We live in Tulsa, OK in the US so wind is an issue. This is weighty like many vintage sets, but is metal mesh so the wind goes through it. $75 for a round table and 4 chairs. $480 for the powder coating. Make sure your powder coater does good prep work, or it isn’t worth it.

    1. Love mid century vintage!

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