As we all know, Minnesotans have a way of embracing summer months! As soon as the warm temperatures roll around, everyone wants to be on a stunning patio with a cold drink in their hand. That is when they call on us and our expertise to specify the perfect outdoor furniture.

The presentation, “Successful Specifying of Outdoor Furniture,” was a very beneficial refresher on the different aspects of outdoor furniture. Gloster Furniture, based in Virginia, has their heritage in teak, but also offers products in other materials, such as wood, metal, woven material, slings, fabric, molded plastic, stone, and cement.

Teak is an amazing product to specify for our climate here in Minnesota. It is a very dense, close-grained wood with high natural oil content. It resists tension, compression, and bending. There is no warping or splitting and it is resistant to weather and insects, and we all know Minnesota is known for both! The high level of natural oils repels water. Teak will acquire a grey patina over time from water stripping the color from the wood, although, you can sand off 1/16” to 1/8” to bring back the color. Teak is also commonly used on yachts.

Contrary to some beliefs, teak is actually not a tropical rainforest species. It is ethically sourced from two locations, Brazil and Indonesia. Teak requires about 45-60 years of growth time before it can be harvested. If it were to be harvested before that time, there would be poor color to its oils. It is amazing to note that an astonishing 24-30 dining room chairs can be made out of one teak tree!

Teak is not an ideal material for dining room table tops. Glass or high-pressure laminate, which is used on the side of commercial buildings, is better suited. Long term specifying of low cost outdoor furniture can be a false economy.

As designers, we have a responsibility to ensure the timber vendors use comes from well managed sources. FSC, Forest Stewardship Council, is a third party verification organization that since the 1990s has improved how the worlds forests are managed. Although the FSC has been around for many years, it is still rare to find FSC forests. When sourcing teak, it is important to note that teak from Brazil is FSC and can be imported for commercial projects, but teak from Indonesia is not certified, though their process is to that level of FSC.

The care required for teak is quite minimal. After the assembly of the furniture, the pieces will need to be sprayed or wiped down with a hose to knock off any teak dust. They will then need to air dry for 7 days. At that time, a teak sealer can be applied. This will help keep the color vivid. After that, it is always a good idea to apply a stain protector. This is something that can be found at your local hardware store. It is especially beneficial to apply to tables and should be reapplied every 6 months. Every other time the protectant is applied you should sanding the piece first, whether is be by hand or carefully with an orbital sander.

In regard to outdoor metals, wrought iron was one of the first used in an outdoor setting. Currently, aluminum is the most widely used metal for outdoor use. It is the least expensive and is exceptionally strong relative to its weight. It is most commonly used along with a woven product. Aluminum can be anodized or powder coated. Anodizing increases resistance to corrosion and wear. Powder is applied as free flowing dry powder to a charged frame.

Stainless steel is another metal that is widely used for outdoor furniture. It has different grades and finishes to suit the environment the metal will be used in. it can be brushed or electroplated, which adds a layer of protection from corrosion (3 months vs 3-5 years!) Stainless steel is unfortunately not completely resistant to corrosion, especially in a seaside environment. It doesn’t impact the integrity of the frame, just the appearance.  There are also different welds for metal furniture. The bubblegum weld is not sanded down to a smooth finish. It doesn’t powder coat well and will start peeling off. The water can penetrate the powder coat at the weld causing an issue. This is a typical sign of an inferior product. Extruded aluminum is better quality and the manufacturer will run a support piece in the middle through the whole frame.

Woven outdoor furniture has a lengthy history when it comes to outdoor furniture. In the 1800s, woven products were made of natural materials. In the 1990s, that changed to woven synthetics, such as PVC or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) paper wrapped high tensile wire.  Now, frames are made of stiffer material such as metal. They are light, but sturdy, especially wicker. There is also the ability to powder coat the frame color to match the weave color.

HDPE is another woven outdoor product. This is UV resistant, tear resistant, fully recyclable, weather resistant, and is hard wearing with high elasticity, which makes it insensitive to temperature differences. It is stiffer in cold temperatures, but is ideal around a pool or at a beach. It is very easy to maintain, especially with the heavy use of sunscreen, salt, chlorine, etc. that it is exposed to typically. The amount of UV inhibitors utilized in production of the material will make the most significant impact on the durability of the finished product by reducing the amount of fading and weave breakage. Purchasing from 1 of the 5 reputable companies will ensure you have a reliable product.

Fabrics and slings are a very important element to a great outdoor environment, although, very few offer a UV rating to resist fading when exposed to direct sunlight. The most common fiber type associated with outdoor fabric is 100% acrylic, which is usually yarn or solution died. Solution dyed is more expensive, but it is far superior in terms of fading. A sling is a generic term for a woven, open-mesh fabric. It is made from a vinyl coated high strength polyester yarn. With outdoor furniture, it is best to avoid polyester, even in a blend. Cleaning is easy for these products as you can start with soap and water and utilize a 3 to 1 ratio of water to bleach solution for any difficult stains.

Sunbrella and Crypton are two of the most well-known durable outdoor fabrics. Sunbrella got its start in the 1960s when they set out to create an awning canvas that had a longer lifespan than cotton. Crypton is a little younger than Sunbrella as it was created in 1993 in the Michigan basement of Craig and Randy Rubin as they wanted a durable, touchable, beautiful fabric. They are both rain resistant fabrics with a backing to block water, however, water can still infiltrate at the seams. 30 minutes after wiping off the fabric you can sit on it! It is best to use a foam reticulated to allow water to quickly move through. Be sure to include a vent in each cushion to allow water to exit and air to flow through to speed up the drying time. Dacron, or an open weave wrap, is great to include as a wrap around the foam to help with a firmer sit. Fully upholstered furniture is now available as well.

Open mesh sling is common on dining room chairs. They are a poly with vinyl coating. This product will get cut or damaged over time, so it is best to ask the manufacturer if it is possible to replace just the sling material in the future.

There are some outdoor conditions to keep in mind when specifying these materials. If the project site is prone to heavy winds, then making sure the furniture is heavier to avoid being blown over. Also, folding or stacking products that can be consolidated can help with that. There are several lines to check into that carry great outdoor products such as Gloster, Dedon, Brown Jordan, and Summer Classics. Be sure to remind your clients that regular maintenance is required for ALL outdoor furniture as the elements can take a toll.

Hopefully this information makes you more at ease with specifying outdoor furniture. Now off we go to create beautiful outdoor living spaces!