Woven Rattan Wicker Outdoor Patio Furniture
Woven outdoor patio furniture is one of the fastest growing categories today. The technology has advanced in recent years and the stigma of classic wicker that cracks is gone. Today’s quality woven patio furniture is entirely synthetic. The strands can be made from PVC (less desirable) or polyethylene. PVC is less durable and will eventually harden when exposed to the sun, and crack. Polyethylene is extremely durable, weather resistant, and will last for many years without concern.
The best type of synthetic woven strands will be thick, contain UV inhibitors that allow it to retain its original color, and will be multi-dimensional in color. Weaving multiple colors together, or using multiple colors in a single strand provides a very natural look. Almost all woven patio furniture is woven by hand. You should look for uniformity in the pattern, but minor variations may exist and are a reflection of the human attention given to your piece. Weaving is a specialized skill that younger generations are not adopting as much as in previous generations. We can expect some changes in the industry as a result. Perhaps pricing will increase, weave designs will be simplified, or machines will be introduced.
Woven patio furniture is extremely diverse in style. Very traditional looks have been emulated with modern day materials, and very contemporary styles have been introduced. Be sure to evaluate the framework that the weave surrounds. You want a quality internal infrastructure. This will most often be aluminum. Evaluate the aluminum frame like you would any aluminum furniture. Look for quality welds, thickness of material, and weight. Select pieces that rise up off of the ground. You do not want the woven material to touch the ground and tear when being moved around.
Woven material mixed with other materials is very on-trend. Look for pieces that include cushions, aluminum, composite, or MGP trim and legs, or pieces that use woven panels as accents. Occasional tables may or may not include woven material, yet complement a woven collection very well.
Beware of woven pieces that are surprisingly inexpensive. They are likely made from a thin synthetic material or PVC. They may have weak or poorly constructed frames underneath. Be prepared to pay the same price for quality woven pieces as you would for any other quality piece made from another material.
- Christopher Amos
Wood Teak Outdoor Patio Furniture
There are several different types of wood that outdoor patio furniture may be made from. You will want to know not only the type of wood, but if possible, the country of origin. There are soft woods and hard woods, woods that are painted, lacquered, sealed, or oiled.
When considering wood outdoor furniture, know the location the furniture will be in. Will it be exposed to rain, sun, snow, or salty air? Would you like to apply a custom finish or paint it yourself? Some wood furniture is available unfinished and you can paint it as you like. Furniture with a finish already applied may need to be sanded and/or primed before you would be able to refinish it. Of course you may leave unfinished wood unfinished, and allow it to weather naturally. Teak furniture, for example, is best appreciated unfinished but treated with linseed oil at regular intervals to preserve it.
Soft woods generally come from trees that bear needles. These include pine species, cedar, cypress, and redwood. Hard woods generally come from broadleaf trees. Common examples are oak, cherry, teak, and jarrah.
Teak is the strongest wood in the world. It is quite resistant to UV, pest, and moisture damage. There is much discussion about the country of origin for teak wood. If you are concerned about this, you will need to do your best to verify what you’re told through the manufacturer. Sales people may not know or may be misinformed, and could be lead to agree with what you hope to be true.
Teak wood is graded A, B, or C. The grade represents its quality and often age. A grade is the center cut of a tree, excluding the very center, that is at least 40 years old. The center cut accounts for 30-40% of the diameter of the tree. A grade teak is has a grain that is tight and even, a warm color tone, and no knots. It’s naturally a bit oily. It will patina to a silvery-gray color without becoming weak. Teak trees in Indonesia are routinely milled at 40 years old and are typically of the preferred species tectona grandis. If the wood is sourced from Indonesia, there is a chance it is A grade.
B grade teak is considerably of lower quality but is still made into outdoor patio furniture. It may come from 40 year old trees, but from the outside of the tree, rather than the center. B grade features color variations, knots, twisted grain, and less dense grain. You may see tan or dark patches, and gray and black veins. Rather than being oily, this wood tends to be powdery or ashy, and finishes are absorbed poorly and inconsistently. Sometimes the grain is so open in areas that fillers need to be used. These fillers are fairly obvious and my pop out over time. While the variation of the wood may look interesting, the quality of wood for use in patio furniture, balanced with the price you’ll pay for it being teak, makes B grade a poor choice for outdoor patio furniture.
C and D grade teak is considerably lower quality young wood, and is typically reserved for very small decorative items. Buyer beware, as low grades of teak can be and are made into furniture.
Reclaimed teak is becoming popular. It is not proper to classify reclaimed teak as grade A even if it was originally sourced as grade A when new.
Teak outdoor patio furniture may be marketed as “handmade” and assumed to be superior to machine made. In the case of teak, the opposite is true. You want to seek out machine made teak furniture. Machines are essential to milling uniform and consistent dimensions, planning correctly, and creating the joinery necessary for solid construction. Machines also test the moisture content and use computerized kilns to achieve the optimal measurement for manufacturing.
- Christopher Amos
What Options Exist for my Outdoor Patio Furniture?
Your outdoor patio furniture may come with options or it may not. You’ll need to decide if this matters to you. At the very basic level, you may be able to choose frame color and cushion color. We carry collections that are available in over a dozen frame colors. This allows you to customize your look to complement your house color or the color of the surface the furniture will sit on. Some choose to match the patio furniture to its surroundings, and some prefer to contrast it.
Beyond color of frame, you may be able to choose frame “finish.” The frame finish is the extent you see two-two colors, dotted paint, brush strokes, multiple layers, or a contrast color along the edges of the piece. Frame finishes can make your pieces look very sophisticated, but they often are a reflection of the durability and color fastness of the frame color. Inexpensive aluminum patio furniture will have simple factory-applied finishes that may go dull, crack, or peel in a relatively short amount of time.
Further, some collections allow you to choose table tops and bases separately. There may be several types of table top sizes, shapes, and textures. You may find smooth, slatted, dimpled, ornate, woven, glass, acrylic, resin, concrete, stone, faux, composite, recycled plastic, marine grade polymer, or any number of custom types of table tops. These tops will be available with possibly multiple options for the base, or the legs. You’ll have simple, contemporary legs, curvy legs, ornate, woven, and any number of stylish types of legs. Make sure the legs you like will support the weight and size of the top that you like. If given options, the manufacturer needs to dictate what options will work together.
Perhaps the most impactful custom option for outdoor patio furniture is the fabric on the cushions or the sling. Your collection might be manufactured with one cushion color. There will be batch created for a season, or even for your particular patio store, and when it’s gone it’s gone. There is no way to request an alternate cushion color because it was made many months ago by the thousands at the factory.
Many furniture companies and collections have prebuilt frames and then the cushions are made to order. With these companies, you’ll have a set of fabrics to choose from. The selection may be a dozen or so, or it could include swatches from a very thick fabric book. These color selections will be outlined online or in the store. You’ll be able to touch and feel and see the true brilliance of the color when looking at fabric swatches in a store. You can even take them outside to see how they will look in natural daylight. Online, you should be given the name or even a code for the specific fabric. The website should have an image of the fabric swatch, and with a quick Google search you’ll be able to find many more representations of the same fabric.
Not all fabrics are created equal. Sunbrella is the gold standard when it comes to outdoor patio furniture cushions. You will also find fabrics by the names Phifer, Phifertex, Olefin, or it may not be specified. If it’s not specified, then you can be confident it will not be Sunbrella.
Collections that allow you to choose your fabric color offer another distinct advantage. They sew the cushions made to order and will be able to make them again for you one day if needed. Your outdoor patio furniture frames will likely outlast your cushions. It is very beneficial and reassuring to know that you can reorder new cushions in the future that will fit your furniture frames exactly as they were designed to.
Some furniture collections allow you to select between poly foam and reticulated foam cushions. Reticulated foam is a far superior product and will cost more. Please read our blog posts on cushions and determine if the type of fill inside your cushion is important to you.
- Christopher Amos
Sunbrella Outdoor Patio Furniture Cushions
Sunbrella fabric is solution dyed acrylic and is the gold standard for outdoor patio furniture today. Because of its durability, fade resistance, ease of cleaning, comfort, and hundreds of patterns, it’s used for indoor upholstery and outdoor applications alike. Sunbrella offers specialized versions of their fabrics for specific applications. There is a large selection of general upholstery fabrics that are chosen for outdoor casual furniture. Several manufacturers work directly with Sunbrella to create custom patterns that are exclusive to them. Manufacturers may also source Sunbrella thread and create their own textiles from it, including rope. There are over 800 Sunbrella fabrics to choose from at any point in time.
Sunbrella is in a constant state of innovation. The colors and patterns are constantly changing, and specialty lines are being created and expanded regularly. All Sunbrella is bleach cleanable, mold and mildew resistant, and stain resistant. Some of the attributes you might find in your Sunbrella outdoor patio furniture cushions are:
Good stretch and recovery
High tensile strength
Sunbrella offers a five year warranty on its upholstery fabrics. This protects against the fabric becoming unserviceable due to color or strength loss from normal usage and exposure conditions, including sunlight, mildew, and atmospheric chemicals. Sunbrella does not guarantee that their fabric will not fade, but their customers experience many years of enjoyment from their quality patio furniture cushions, outdoor shade umbrellas, and awnings.
- Christopher Amos
Sling Outdoor Patio Furniture
Sling outdoor patio furniture has a frame typically made of composite, MGP, or aluminum, and a tight fabric or mesh material that is stretched across the piece to create a thin, sleek sitting area. The sling material itself varies greatly, and can be a plastic-type loosely or tightly woven mesh, or a luxurious outdoor fabric.
Because sling is a single layer of fabric or mesh, it is ideal for pool side applications. It can get wet from pool water, rain, and be hosed off without concern. The dry time is very fast, making it extremely easy and convenient to clean as frequently as you like.
The ribs that the sling material is attached to on either side may be shaped as straight lines or more form fitting to your body’s shape. Sling chairs often are curved in the lumbar area and feel form fitting when you sit on them. Even without any cushion, they tend to be quite comfortable. High-back slings are fairly common and some appreciate this neck support that is rarely found in other furniture categories.
Despite the many advantages of sling, there are some less desirable aspects to consider. Sling furniture is typically very light weight, because the fabric itself (or lack of) doesn’t add any weight to the piece. The frames are also often light weight. Swivel rockers spin in the wind and your patio can look disorganized with chairs facing in any random direction. The slings can act as sails in the wind and even lift. It’s no uncommon to hear stories about sling chaise loungers being pulled from the bottom of a swimming pool.
Sling chairs often have a weight limit that is prohibitive for some consumers. The fabric, along with very few crossbars, bears all the weight. Slings can sag over time and need to be re-stretched or replaced. The construction of some chairs prohibit repair and require replacement altogether.
Padded slings are an interesting alternative for those wanting a simple chair that can get wet without worry. Rather than a single layer or mesh or fabric, padded slings are double-walled with a very thin cushion in between. The result is a padded chair with extra softness, yet still a chair that can be hosed off and dried quickly. Padded slings are attached to the furniture and the “cushions” cannot be brought inside during off seasons. Padded slings can also stretch and sag over time and may need to be replaced or tightened by the manufacturer or a shop that specializes in sling repair.
- Christopher Amos
Should I Be Afraid of Wicker Patio Furniture?
Like many other categories, wicker outdoor patio furniture runs the gamut in terms of quality, price, how it’s made, and what it’s made of. If you want temporary furniture that looks good for a party, it doesn’t matter what you buy. Buy it for it’s design and pretty color. If you want furniture that’s going to last, you need to carefully interrogate what you’re getting before you pay for it.
The word wicker itself is misleading. There are several words used when referring to this type of furniture that are confusing and sometimes inaccurate. It’s a good idea to know a few terms:
Wicker: To bend; the act of weaving. Wicker does not refer to a type of material, but rather what has been done with the material.
Rattan: The name referring to approximately 600 species of palm trees. Rattan furniture would be made from fibrous, strand-like material from these trees. Wicker furniture could be made with rattan. Many times “rattan” furniture is made with reed, cane, seagrass, or bamboo rather than actual stems from a rattan tree. All of these materials are organic.
Vinyl: A synthetic resin or plastic consisting of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or a related polymer. Vinyl is in powder form before it’s compounded into the material that you see in furniture. During compounding, it’s mixed with various additives and modifiers. How the compounding is done dictates how rigid or flexible the material is, how thick it is, how color fast it is, and how it will react to sun exposure in general.
PVC: Polyvinyl chloride, the world’s third most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer, after polyethylene and polypropylene. PVC is less flexible and elastic than other similar materials. In order for it to be adequately heat resistant for full sun applications, an expensive chlorination process must modify it. PVC is petroleum based and is used in everything from intravenous tubes, underground pipe, flooring, and imitation leather. Exposure to the elements can lead to surface embrittlement and microcracking. PVC carries with it an environmentally unfriendly stigma. Many consumer products today are labeled “PVC Free” to let buyers know that it’s not included in their item.
Polyethylene/Polypropylene: Polyethylene is basically synonymous with plastic, resin, and HDPE (high density polyethylene). There are some technical chemical variances that create different densities and strength of this material. It may be clear, cloudy, or opaque depending on the catalyst used during production. This is a very good type of material to use in the manufacturing of outdoor patio furniture. As with most anything, there are differences in overall quality of polyethylene given the application. For example, would you want clear polyethylene as your base material with a color applied to the surface? No. You would much prefer a product that is opaque and colored all the way through. In other words, all polyethylene patio furniture is not created equal.
Resin: A heat resistant, plastic chemical-based substance that is made from a mold. It begins as a liquid and then hardens. The hardening is irreversible, so there is no concern that resin patio furniture will ever melt in hot sun climates. The word resin is quite general considering it can be derived from petroleum, plants, or insects, and many additives can differentiate one particular resin product from another. You can generically refer to resin as plastic.
Synthetic: Patio furniture is sometimes referred to as synthetic if it’s not made from real rattan, reed, cane, bamboo, grass, or similar plant parts, or metal. Synthetic patio furniture is often used to describe the various plastics
All-Weather Wicker: This is a very general term often used to describe any non-rattan polyethylene, resin, or recycled plastic outdoor furniture. This means it is intended to be used outside without concern for temperature, sun exposure, humidity, rain, salty air, or snow.
Woven: Woven is a newly adopted term that the industry uses to refer to any type of synthetic wicker patio furniture. Since wicker carries with it a connotation of olden days, rattan, sun-fragile furniture that doesn’t hold up well, woven is the new wicker. Customers often say “I don’t want anything wicker” until they start to touch the synthetic woven pieces and discover how durable they are. Then it’s just a matter of style and if they like the more contemporary designs available today. Many people learn to love it once they are comfortable with its durability.
Mixed Media: This term typically means that there are woven panels mixed with aluminum. The piece could be largely woven with aluminum trim, mostly aluminum with woven panels in the seat or back, or a mix of woven chairs and coordinating aluminum tables, or vice versa. Mixing materials within the same set is very popular and attractive. It provides for more versatility in designing an outdoor space that resembles an indoor space. You can even mix materials to help define different spaces, or rooms, within a large space such as a back yard with several sitting areas.
To summarize, wicker furniture is an exciting, versatile category that can be very durable and enjoyed for many years. Real rattan furniture should be considered temporary. It won’t last in the weather. Quality woven outdoor furniture is probably made by hand, and therefore may be more expensive than other sets. If you’re looking at a woven set and it’s inexpensive, it’s probably cheap. It’s made from vinyl, PVC, thin synthetic material, lacking UV stabilizers, the construction may be substandard, and the cushions are probably not Sunbrella. If you’re looking at a high end set, you’ll know it. The quality will be unmistakable. Touch it and examine the materials. You get what you pay for – there really are no shortcuts here.
- Christopher Amos