A core piece of any backyard will be your patio furniture, specifically your seating and dining furniture. Not only will this furniture be a focal point of your backyard and highly used by you and your guests, but this will also likely be one of the most significant expenses for your backyard. So, it is vital to appropriately plan and research these items to identify the right choices for your backyard.
The hard part is knowing if you are getting the right piece of furniture for your backyard because you may not be familiar with all the features and types of outdoor furniture. Luckily, this guide details all of the main options you may face when shopping for outdoor furniture.
So, read below to learn all you need to know about your next outdoor chair, sofa, sectional, or table purchase!
Table of Contents
Location: Where can I put my outdoor chairs, sofas, sectionals, and tables?
You can put outdoor seating and tables in nearly any place in your backyard. Many options are designed to endure the elements outside, whether you plan to put the furniture under a patio or in direct sunlight.
Knowing your goals for your backyard area is an essential aspect in determining where you want to put outdoor seating and tables. For example, do you want to host large parties, or do you want to have a quiet area for relaxation? You can have many goals, and different types of seating options can fill one or multiple goals. If you haven’t used it yet, we have put together a detailed guide on how to plan your backyard based on your goals.
In our Backyard Planning Guide, we also discuss identifying “functional” areas of your backyard or outdoor space. Functional areas are the different areas in your backyard that you plan to do various activities that align with your goals. Within each functional area, you should identify your seating and table expectations based upon your planned activities for those areas.
Size: How much outdoor seating (or how big of a table) do I need?
Before buying any furniture, you need to know how much physical space you have for the furniture. For each functional area you identify in your backyard, simply use a tape measure to measure the perimeter of each area where you need seating or a table.
Next, you need to assess how many people you expect to use each functional area. A general rule is that each person needs about 24 inches of width for seating space. Additionally, each person will also need about 24-36 inches of length in most seating options. Use these dimensions to guide how much seating could potentially fit within each functional area. With these measurements, you should be able to calculate how many people you can seat in each area.
But, lastly, you should also assess what size furniture is appropriate for the space. For example, even though you can physically fit a 7ft x 4ft table on a 10ft x 10ft patio, the table by itself will take up a large portion of your patio. So, make sure you scale your furniture appropriately to your space.
Seating Types: What are the different options for outdoor seating and dining?
- Chairs: There are several general types of outdoor chairs to choose from: lounge chairs, fixed or swivel chairs, dining chairs, rocking chairs, folding chairs, stackable chairs, etc. Choosing the right type for you depends on your goals and planned activities for each functional area. Individual chairs can work in both large and small areas.
- Loveseats and Sofas: Loveseats and Sofas provide a larger seating option that can seat 2-4 people. These typically have cushions and are designed with comfort as a priority. Knowing the size of your area is critical to determine which size sofa is right for you.
- Benches: Similar to loveseats and sofas, benches provide a larger seating option than chairs. However, unlike loveseats and sofas, these are not typically designed with comfort as the top priority, as you will be able to find options without cushions or backs.
- Sectionals and Sectional Sets: These are larger seating options that can usually seat 3-7 people (or more depending on the set). These are known for their L-shaped design and may offer some modularity in how the sectional can be arranged. Sectional sets may include additional pieces like ottomans, tables, and chairs.
- Conversation and Bistro Sets: These sets are smaller sets of furniture to place in your backyard. These typically have two chairs plus a small table. These sets are ideal for smaller spaces in your backyard where you would like a seating and table option.
- Dining Set: This furniture option is meant to host meals for many people in your outdoor area. These sets will typically have a medium to large-sized table and chairs to host 4+ people (amount of chairs will vary depending on the size of the set). In some cases, these sets will come with an umbrella that can be placed in the middle of the table. You will typically need a large backyard area to have a dining set.
Climate Considerations: How can climate and weather affect my furniture?
Everything you buy for your backyard needs to be evaluated based upon the climate of your backyard – some materials will perform better than others in some climates. Knowing these material advantages will help guide your outdoor furniture purchases.
Rain and Moisture
You should expect rain to cause wood to rot and metals to corrode if these materials are not properly treated. If you want to purchase wood-based items, look for product details that mention natural water resistance or weather-resistant treatments like ‘sealing’ for woods and ‘powder coating’ for metals.
If possible, place your furniture under a covered area to help protect it from direct rain to improve the lifespan of your furniture. Additionally, consider a cover for your furniture if appropriate.
Humidity / Proximity to bodies of water
Humid climates and areas close to bodies of water will likely cause metal materials to corrode at a faster rate. This is especially true if you are near saltwater – expect your metal furniture to degrade much quicker than expected. Consider purchasing plastic, wood, or rust-resistant metals.
Any melt from snow and ice can cause wood to rot and metal to rust, just like in rainy climates. Additionally, if wood material is not sealed properly, moisture in the wood can freeze and cause cracks in the furniture.
If you live in harsh winter areas, ensure that you maintain and protect your furniture in the winter months, especially when your furniture is not being used for long periods.
Heat / Direct sunlight / Dry conditions
While heat or direct sunlight will likely not affect the integrity of a metal material, metal will absorb heat, so any furniture with these materials will probably feel hot to the touch. Additionally, expect plastic materials to be damaged by UV exposure though they may not absorb heat like metal materials. For wood in drier climates, this material may crack over time if not properly treated.
Additionally, darker color materials will noticeably fade faster than lighter color materials in direct sunlight unless noted that the material is fade resistant.
If you live in areas with high winds or storms that can bring high winds, you may need to consider heavier furniture. For example, aluminum is an excellent material to protect from rain and moisture; however, it is lighter than other metals. If heavier material options do not appeal to you, make sure you plan to secure or store lighter items (e.g., cushions) for high winds.
General recommendation: Review our detailed complete outdoor material buying guide that explains how different materials are expected to perform against different factors like these above. Additionally, review the product information of every piece of furniture to assess how it has been treated to withstand the elements better.
Frame Materials: What are frame material options for my outdoor seating and table?
There are several common seating and table frame materials options: Metal, Wood, and Synthetic Resins and Plastics. We encourage you to read our detailed complete outdoor material guide that explains each material type’s various options and advantages. This guide is an excellent resource to help determine what is suitable for your backyard.
For metals, you will typically find Aluminum, Steel, and Iron options, with Aluminum and Stainless Steel being very popular and readily available design options. If you are looking for a metal option, we recommend that you consider powder coated metals as these will resist corrosion better than non-powder coated metals.
For woods, you will find many different wood types to include options like Teak, Eucalyptus, Mahogany, Shorea, etc. Some varieties are more weather-resistant and durable than others, so it is essential to review the characteristics as we have laid out in our complete outdoor material guide.
For synthetic resins and plastics, there are some common types like Polyethylene, High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), and Recycled Plastics, with HDPE and Recycled Plastics being very durable and weather-resistant options.
The material that will be right for you will be based upon the ‘look’ and design you prefer, your budget, the suitability of the material to your backyard climate, and your furniture maintenance expectations. Carefully balance these factors as you make your decision.
If you are looking for a set of our general recommendations of materials and other features of outdoor furniture, use our shopping guide as your go-to reference in your outdoor furniture search.
Cushions and Fabric: Should I get cushioned seating, and what is the right fabric for cushions?
Outdoor seating products will come in two forms: 1) cushionless or 2) cushioned. Like the frame material choice, the right option for you depends on the ‘look’ and design you want, your budget, your backyard climate, and your furniture maintenance expectations. See our detailed complete outdoor material guide to better understand the characteristics of fabric and cushion material, and use our shopping guide that offers our recommendations for various outdoor materials and features as your go-to shopping reference.
In some cases, it may be perfectly acceptable and comfortable to use the furniture without cushions. This option can be found for metal, wood, and synthetic resin, and plastic frame options. The choice is ultimately up to you. However, if possible, try the feel of the cushionless furniture before you purchase to make sure you like how it feels.
There are several factors to consider for cushion options, but the two main components to evaluate are the fabric types and the cushion material. Understanding the durability and weather resistance of the different alternatives should be a key consideration in your ultimate purchase.
- Solution-Dyed Acrylic: Sunbrella is the popular form of this fabric. Often the most expensive option, but is fade-resistant, waterproof, and mold and mildew resistant.
- Olefin: This option is known for being fade-resistant, waterproof, and mold and mildew resistant. Although this material has similar characteristics to solution-dyed acrylic, this material can be found at a lower cost.
- Vinyl: Very inexpensive, but becomes very hot in the heat and does not absorb water well.
- Cotton Canvas & Duck Cloth: A popular option for many, but it is not waterproof and will require extra maintenance as a result.
- Textilene: This is PVC-coated polyester fiber known for being durable and waterproof. However, these are more susceptible to fading over time.
There are several main types of fill material listed below. When making your purchase, it is recommended that you purchase a filling that is mildew resistant.
- Foam: There are various types of foam used to fill cushions that can come in a range of densities. A prevalent type of foam is Polyurethane Foam, which typically holds water and can be slow to dry. Other foam options allow quicker drying (Open Cell Foam) or complete resistance to water (Closed Cell Foam).
- Polyester Fill: This is a loose filling that will flatten over time but can dry quickly reasonably despite its ability to absorb water.
- Dacron: This is a firm material that will not flatten like a polyester fill. In some cases, Dacron may be used to wrap other types of filling to hide imperfections and provide a more smooth and uniform look.