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How to Buy Outdoor Furniture

By Tanja KernSHOP.COM For the Home Editor

As the weather heats up, you'll want to spend more time in the great outdoors. Comfortable, stylish outdoor furniture is a must, but choosing the right pieces can be a challenge. Outdoor furnishings come in a myriad of materials and are sold at price points ranging from less than $100 to several thousand dollars. How do you know what's a smart investment? SHOP.COM has put together the info you need to buy the furniture that will make your outdoor spaces a stylish, relaxed extension of your home.

The Basics

Step 1Outdoor Furniture Use: Take a close look at your lifestyle and the outdoor space you want to furnish. Are you looking for alfresco dining, or a cozy spot to lounge? How will you spend the majority of your time there? Outdoor furnishings today come in a variety of types. Choose from dining sets, deep-cushion seating, outdoor bars and lounges.
Step 2Outdoor Furniture Size: Always measure before you shop so that you buy outdoor pieces that are the right size and scale for your space. For larger areas, map out how you will divide the space for different purposes before shopping. Furnishings with heftier construction, like wood tables, will often take up more visual space than lighter pieces made of aluminum or rattan.
Step 3Outdoor Furniture Materials: Outdoor furniture is exposed to harsh elements like hot summer heat and drenching rain, which will wear the pieces over time. Choose furnishings made of strong, durable materials like teak, eucalyptus, aluminum, recycled resin and wrought iron that can withstand the seasons. Weaker materials, like wicker and rattan, do better on covered patios and screened porches where they're out of the way of the sun's harmful rays and strong summer storms.
Step 4Outdoor Furniture Style: Traditional, contemporary or transitional, the outdoor furnishings you choose should blend with the overall style of your home. Approach decorating your deck, porch or patio as you would any other indoor room. Think about colors, textures and how different pieces work together.
Step 5Outdoor Furniture Care: Some outdoor furnishings need more maintenance than others. Woods like teak will gain a gray weathered look over time if not coated with a teak oil. To maintain that new wood look, apply oil seasonally and drape the furnishings with a protective cover during the winter months. Iron furnishings can chip paint color over time, which can create rust spots. Touch up chipped spots with paint regularly to help avoid rusting.

The Lingo

FSC-Certified: Wood furnishings carrying this label by the Forest Stewardship council let consumers know that the wood was harvested from ecologically responsible sources.
Teak: The natural strength of this wood makes it a darling of patio furniture makers around the world. Teak is naturally more resistant to water than other woods, making it ideal for outdoor spaces. Furniture made of teak is heavy-and pricier-than other woods.
Eucalyptus: A more affordable alternative to teak wood.
Post-Consumer Recycled Resin: Resin that has been recycled following use by a consumer, such as soda bottles.
Rattan: This solid timber vine grows in tropical rain forests and is one of the oldest natural materials used to make furniture.
Wicker: Is a weaving process, not a material. Wicker furnishings are made by weaving rattan.

The Experts

Treehugger.com says Etra makes outdoor furnishings with sustainably-forested certified Ipe wood that naturally resists rot, insects, UV exposure, ice, salt, abrasion, and splintering. Shop Etra now.
Treehugger.com says Poly-Wood furniture, made of recycled milk bottles, requires minimal care to stay looking like new. And because it's weather resistant, you can leave it outdoors year-round - eliminating the hassles of moving and storing it. Shop polywood furniture now.

The Brands

Alfresco Home Known for its fresh casual living furniture that offers consumers style, function and value.
Etra Makes modern outdoor furnishings out of responsibly-forested woods and durable steel.
Kettler German-engineered furnishings known for cutting edge design.
Polywood Once destined for landfills, milk jugs are transformed into recycled plastic lumber used to create this company's line of casual outdoor furniture.
Sabbia Built a reputation for supremely comfortable outdoor furniture.

The Price

$: Entry-level outdoor furniture can last a few seasons if you cover it during the winter months. Choose sturdy materials for better durability. Try the Tropico 5-piece Iron Outdoor Furniture Set
$$: Mid-priced patio furniture sets come in better quality materials for lasting durability and often come with extra features, like umbrellas. Try the Vista 7-piece Dining Set
$$$: High-end furnishings are made of the finest materials, offer comfort and high style. Check out this Alfresco Home Outdoor Vento Patio Daybed