Wood, plastic or metal? Outdoor material guide

The perfect choice for weatherproof garden chairs and comfortable balcony furniture

Gloster Outdoor Sofa Bay smow

Robust, robuster, outdoor furniture

Whether a wooden bench or a beanbag, interior design fans can really live it up of outdoors. In addition to the style, the material sets the tone for open-air living room: which materials are weatherproof? Which garden furniture is stylish and practical? What are the pros and cons of the various outdoor furniture materials?

Traditional robust, weatherproof materials such as solid wood or iron last a long time and require little care; however, the range of possible outdoor materials is huge: HPL, polywood, ceramics and glass have recently been mixing up the seating areas of gardens and balconies. Not that only outdoor seating is crafted from aluminium, stainless steel, polyethylene, Batyline or polyester fabrics: from outdoor carpets to hammocks, everything is possible thanks to modern production methods. And best of all, high-quality outdoor furniture does not weather and can often be left outside all year round. (If it is always advisable to either store garden furniture or cover it with protective covers during the winter and periods of inclement weather).

Which material for garden tables, patio furniture, etc.?

The classic materials for weather-resistant garden and balcony tables are weather-resistant woods such as teak, eucalyptus, robinia and bamboo. Assuming good, regular care, these natural classics impress with their durability and longevity. However, if you don't have the time, or desire, to oil it regularly, it's better to opt for easier care metal tables or plastic alternatives.

Another plus point: Plastic can be used to make furniture in all the colours of the rainbow: whereby, when buying plastic furniture, ensure it is UV resistant so it doesn't fade or become brittle in the sun.

Heavy furniture is more suitable for windy terraces so that nothing can fall over or fly away. Side tables made of light materials - such as aluminium or plastic - are particularly practical if they need to be moved frequently.

Naturally beautiful: wooden garden furniture

The rule of thumb for wooden garden furniture is: Hardwood is more weather-resistant than softwood. In addition they are generally considered to be hardier and very durable. But even "hard" garden furniture made of oak, beech and ash does not remain unaffected by the seasons.

Unlike the softwoods spruce, larch and pine, hardwoods are more robust, and you can definitely see that they have been left unprotected over the winter or exposed to intensive UV radiation. In the best case, the result – the silver-grey layer on the wood – is enjoyed as charming patina. And whether a patina is required or not, outdoor wooden furniture should be treated regularly with a wood preservative and oiled or varnished.

Tip: If you clean wood with soapy water, it must be dried thoroughly with a cloth afterwards.

Teak Furniture

The great thing about teak: It lasts at least 25 years. Its high oil and rubber content naturally protects the wood from weathering and ageing. Teak requires next to no maintenance: dirt usually remains on the surface and can be easily removed. Not even insects, fungi or bacteria can penetrate teak. A positive side effect: teak offers a smooth surface that does not tend to splinter. The smooth, soft material also feels comfortable on bare skin.

As a classic monsoon forest tree species, teak handles moisture and water very well. It has a high dimensional stability and a low risk of warping - even if the furniture overwinters outside. Although teak also develops a patina over time, this can be wiped away or prevented by oiling. If required. To ensure that teak furniture retains its elegant look, we recommend treating it with a nourishing oil once a year.

Mahogany furniture

Mahogany is excellent material for garden furniture: for all its noble, reddish shimmering grain speaks for the hardwood. Although not quite as robust and easy to care for as, for example, teak, mahogany also offers a natural resistance to fungi and harmful insects. The wood warps only minimally under the influence of the weather and generally doesn't tend to splinter. In order to preserve the beauty of the material, mahogany wood has to be treated regularly with special oils or an open-pore polyurethane varnish.

(False) acacia or robinia

Acacia is not just acacia. Acacia is often robinia. This is because both woods have very similar properties. In contrast to the real acacia from Africa, the robinia also grows in south-eastern Europe. The "wrong" acacia is thus also better suited for European winters.

The hardwood is not only weatherproof, but also resistant to insects, fungi and mould and can boast a lifespan of 15 to 25 years. In addition, because it is one of the cheaper types of wood, robinia offers good value for money. Over time, a silver-grey patina forms on robinia; however, this can be counteracted by annual oiling. Real acacia is completely weather-resistant, but also significantly more expensive.

Eucalyptus furniture

Everyone knows the smell of eucalyptus, but what about furniture made of the wood? The typical Australian eucalyptus is the most planted tree in the world with 18.3 million hectares, and beyond its native Australia can also be found in Africa, South America and Asia.

Eucalyptus is a hardwood, making it ideal for outdoor furniture. Slightly more sensitive than teak or acacia, eucalyptus resembles oak. When used as garden furniture, eucalyptus is characterized by its reddish-brown colouration and characteristic grain. Although eucalyptus furniture can ideally last up to 25 years when used outdoors, the wood requires a lot of care: eucalyptus is relatively resistant to pest infestation, but offers only moderate weather resistance - too much sun, frost or moisture can easily damage the wood.

Bamboo furniture

Bamboo is one of the most sustainable woods and is not only very popular in furniture production: for example, chopping boards, floor coverings and even bicycles are also made from bamboo.

Thanks to its high material density and hardness, bamboo has a particularly hard-wearing and cut-resistant surface. Bamboo furniture is therefore the perfect furniture for outdoors: the wood is light, durable and resistant, it is robust and dimensionally stable - even when wet - and easy to care for.

Bamboo plants grow up to 30 meters high - in only about five years. Due to this rapid growth, cultivation with bamboo is extremely sustainable. Domestic hardwoods require almost 50 years for this process. Since the plant is so hardy, hardly any fertilizers, pesticides or artificial irrigation methods are required for cultivation.

Rattan, polyrattan and loom outdoor furniture

Rattan furniture brings classic charm to the garden. Crafted from natural wood fibres such as the so-called jungle vine or the aerial roots of the palm species Calamus Rotan. These fibres are processed into rattan or cut into flat sticks and brought into the desired shape using a braiding technique.

Armchairs, tables and other rattan furniture combine rustic naturalness with elegance. They are available in their natural state as well as clear or coloured lacquered and stained. However, rattan is barely weatherproof! Thus for the seating lounge in the garden, it is better to use rattan alternatives.

Loom offers a worthy replacement for the delicate rattan weave. The almost indestructible Lloyd Loom furniture does not really consist of a wickerwork, but is laid on a framework in several work steps in the form of mats. The process was developed around 1917 and still offers a contemporary solution.

Polyrattan, on the other hand, is a plastic mesh that repels rains and that retains its appearance even under strong UV radiation. The light furniture looks similar to real rattan, but is much more robust, easy to care for and therefore perfect as patio furniture.

Colorful variety: comfortable plastic balcony furniture

What is the best material for outdoor furniture? The most practical solution for the balcony or seating areas in the garden is plastic furniture. The technology for manufacturing the all-round material is constantly being further developed and offers optimal solutions for various purposes with maximum flexibility. Plastic is inherently easy and relatively cheap to produce, while thanks to special additives, high-quality models offer integrated sun protection that slows down the fading of colours under the effects of UV radiation - and makes plastic furniture long-lasting companions.

Polypropylene outdoor furniture

All shapes are beautiful: From the monobloc to the cantilever chair, almost anything can be made from polypropylene. Squeaky bright colours and unusual shapes turn plastic furniture into sunshine on the balcony. Stackable models also offer space-saving reserve seating. 

Polywood outdoor furniture

Polywood is an ideal compromise between the elegant look of wood and the practical properties of plastic. The modern composite is a mix of artificial and natural fibres, the latter generally being wood, cotton or coconut. The material can take on any wood look, colour gradient and grain. Due to its natural components, polywood does not offer complete moisture resistance in contrast to real plastic; howwever, a simple protective cover is sufficient for this type of "wooden" seating group in the garden. Polywood garden furniture can spend the winter outside - without having to fear material damage or mould growth.

Rope outdoor furniture

Garden chair designs with cord coverings, such as rope, are very popular. With plastic ropes, a wide variety of design details are possible, from sophisticated patterns to casual retro looks. However, rope is not just rope: nylon, polyethylene, polyester or polypropylene can be used to make the plastic. But regardless of from what it is crafted, the material is ideal for outdoor use. In addition, rope is easy to clean, offers good seating comfort and cuts a fine figure as lounge garden furniture.

Hay Palissade outdoor furniture smow

Noble shine: metal furniture for outdoors 

Wrought iron benches and garden chairs are a classic for outdoors - and not without reason. The robust materials are weatherproof and will last for many years. The heavy furniture can often simply overwinter outdoors. They impress with their timeless elegance. Modern designs made of stainless steel or aluminium also create a cool contrast to nature and can also be easily stowed away in winter due to the lightness of the material.

Iron outdoor furniture

The rustic charm of (wrought) iron garden furniture exudes a satisfying vintage flair. Thanks to modern powder coating, the furniture classics look like even after ten years without special care. Iron is not susceptible to rust and can therefore be left outside in all weather conditions. And best of all: the black furniture does not get so hot that there is a risk of burns, even when exposed to the sun for long periods of time.

Stainless steel outdoor furniture

Stainless steel is the light alternative to iron, while the silvery material is in no way inferior to the traditionalist when it comes to durability. Moisture, cold and even weak acids cannot harm stainless steel. The material is also insensitive to UV radiation and even in the blazing sun, stainless steel garden chairs do not get hot. However, it is advisable to use a stainless steel cleaner or polish once or twice a year to prevent so-called “rust film”. Metal garden chairs are available in foldable and stackable models and since stainless steel is not quite as light as aluminium, the furniture can also be safely left outside in the wind.

Aluminium outdoor furniture

As a light metal, aluminium is the best choice when you need stable outdoor furniture that needs to be put away on a regular basis. Aluminium is easy to care for, resistant and durable. The matt silver look is super modern and is available in many variants. A small disadvantage: aluminium garden chairs can get hot in the sun -so be careful when you come into contact with bare skin! In terms of sustainability, aluminium stands out among the metals as a recyclable material.

Vitra Landi chair for outdoors smow

Sustainable outdoor furniture

The same applies to outdoor furniture as to all furnishings: long-lasting and visually timeless furniture is always an investment in sustainability. In addition it should never be forgotten that materials such as wood, stone and metal are alive and garden furniture produced from them becomes a part of nature over time and should ideally be allowed to age gracefully.

For wooden seating groups in the garden one easy sustainability option is to use local materials such as spruce and larch instead of tropical wood in order to minimize the CO2 consumption caused by transport. Alternatievly, furniture made from the fast-growing bamboo can score with a positive climate balance - especially if the wood comes from sustainably managed forests. Look for the "FSC seal" (Forest Stewardship Council) when buying. When using FSC wood, the environment is not harmed and the people in the growing region are supported with social projects. In the case of plastic and metal, care should be taken to ensure that resources are used responsibly and that they are recyclable.

When it comes to sustainability, the type of production plays a particularly important role, i.e. where and how the furniture is manufactured under what conditions. In which context is also well worth looking at brands such as Moormann or Fermob who attach great importance to regional production that goes hand in hand with fair working conditions. The Acapulco armchairs from Acapulco Design, for example, are traditionally handcrafted in a factory in Mexico City. The OK Design brand is involved in all production steps on site. In this way, OK Design guarantees that people with a lack of prospects can be granted a secure job and fair pay well above the minimum wage and in a safe working environment.

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