Buyer's Guide, Resources + FAQs

Everything You Need to Know About Outdoor Living

Spring is just around the corner–with summer hot on its heels–which means it’s time to get ready for outdoor living. As the weather warms, the desire to get out and enjoy the outdoors becomes irresistible. One of the best ways to enjoy a warm lazy day is in your own outdoor space. With some well-chosen furniture and accent pieces and thoughtful placement, the design of your outdoor living space can create the feeling of a high-end resort.

Outdoor Furniture

The foundation of any outdoor living space–apart from the space itself–is outdoor furniture. The right types, size and arrangement of outdoor furniture will determine your level of comfort and enjoyment outdoors, with designs to help you carry through your modern indoor style.

Configurations

When it comes to arranging your outdoor furniture, you want to take into consideration the same things you would when arranging a room inside your home. Whether you’re arranging a porch, balcony, or deck, you want to think about how you want to use the space and decide on a focal point. For example, if you want to create an outdoor lounging space, you’ll want to create a seating arrangement that supports conversations and socializing. For a dining space, you’ll want an outdoor dining table and coordinating chairs that can comfortably accommodate your guests.

When deciding on the furniture placement in your outdoor space, it’s also important to consider traffic flow patterns. You want to aim for a clear unobstructed path from the entrance to the space through to the exit. A handy rule of thumb for lounge areas is to place the longest piece of furniture along the longest wall or railing facing the focal point of the space.

If the space is large and open, you can use the largest furniture piece, usually an outdoor sofa or sectional, to help define the seating area. Don’t forget to include coffee tables, side tables and an ottoman or pouf, so there are plenty of places to rest a drink, a snack, a book and your feet! For a dining space, you want all your guests to have easy access to their seats and plenty of legroom, so place them accordingly.

For more advice on how to arrange outdoor furniture, go to “5 Ways to Make a Great Outdoor Room” and “5 Tips to Create the Perfect Outdoor Dining Space.”

Materials & Care

Material options for outdoor furniture have come a long way over the years. From the beauty of natural teak to high performance materials like high density polyethylene, your outdoor furniture can provide years of enjoyment with the proper care.

Teak is one of the most popular choices for outdoor furniture, and my personal favorite. Hardy and resilient, teak has historically been used in boat building. Starting off a beautiful warm brown tone, teak turns a silvery gray as it ages. When properly cared for, teak furniture can last up to 100 years. If you want to maintain the wood’s brown color, you’ll need to apply a protector to the wood once a year. I also recommend you look for FSC certified wood, so you know the materials were harvested in a sustainable manner.

Another popular option, and one that you frequently see in public spaces, is metal furniture. You can find a wide selection of outdoor furniture in aluminum, wrought iron, stainless steel and powder-coated steel. Powder-coated steel furniture offers the ability to bring lots of bright pops of color to your furniture choices. No matter what metal you choose, you want to make sure they have rustproof hardware and seamless welds to prevent oxidation.

If you want something fun and unexpected, molded polyethylene (and other types of plastic) furniture provides all kinds of interesting shapes. Other advantages this material provides are light weight, durability, drainage holes for those summer showers, and ease of maintenance. Some of these pieces incorporate internal illumination, adding a whole new colorful dimension to your spaces once the sun goes down.

Finally, you can opt for woven furniture, referred to as wicker or natural wicker, and created out of natural materials or synthetic materials. Both products share a smooth texture and woven pattern. Either option is great for the outdoors and will provide many years of enjoyment when cared for properly.

To find out more about outdoor furniture and how to care for it, read “The Best Materials for Modern Outdoor Furniture” and then “How to Maintain Outdoor Furniture.”

Outdoor Accessories

Once you’ve decided on your furniture materials, pieces and placement, you want to infuse your outdoor living space with personality and warmth. This is achieved through the use of outdoor accessories. Incorporating weatherproof textiles, planters and/or fire pits will complete your space and take it from sterile to lively and inviting.

Weatherproof Textiles

When it comes to outdoor friendly pillows, poufs, rugs and furniture cushions, there is a wide range of colors and patterns available. Outdoor rugs are a great way to define a seating area. Rugs woven from natural materials like jute and sisal provide a lot of texture, are durable, and are sound absorbent. If you want something that offers extremely easy maintenance, a rug woven from polypropylene or plastics will give you plenty of bright colors and patterns to chose from and can be quickly hosed off when needed. Flatweave rugs out of either material are your best choice for outside. When it comes to selecting rug size, the same rules apply when selecting a rug for the interior of your home.

Weatherproof pillows, cushions and poufs add softness and comfort to your outdoor furniture. When selecting these pieces you want to make sure that, not only is the exterior fabric weatherproof, but so is the fill. Sunbrella brand fabric is a popular option for outdoor pillows, but 100% acrylic fabrics are also a good option. These pieces are a great opportunity to bring in color and pattern. Changing these pieces out is an easy way to give your outdoor living space a new look without the expense of replacing your furniture.

Planters

No outdoor space is complete without elements of nature. You can strategically place plants and flowers in your space by using outdoor planters. Outdoor planters are available in ceramic, plastic and powder-coated stainless steel. Plastic planters are more lightweight, making them easier to move around, while ceramic styles can provide a distinct mid-century modern vibe. Look for planters with drainage holes for easier plant care.

Fire Pits + Fire Tables

Last but not least, nothing beats hanging out by a lovely fire. Fire pits not only provide warmth, they can extend the enjoyment of your backyard by keeping the space comfortable once the weather begins to cool. There are different types of fuel options to choose from, including wood burning, propane, gel fuel, bioethanol and natural gas models. To learn more about eco-friendly fire options, read “Ask an Expert: Can I Have a Fireplace and Still be Eco-Friendly.” 

For a little more accessorizing inspiration, check out “4 Fresh Inspirations for the Urban Garden” and “Adding Color to Outdoor Spaces.”

Outdoor Lighting

Finally, you can’t talk about having a complete outdoor living space without mentioning outdoor lighting. From string lights to wall sconces and landscape lighting, there is a wide range of options for keeping your backyard well lit, so you can enjoy it late into the evening. Torches and lanterns are another option for lighting up your yard if you have spaces that need light but don’t have electrical access. If you would like to learn more, be sure to check out “Everything You Need to Know About Outdoor Lighting.”

Nicole Tatem

Nicole Tatem

Nicole is the Sr. Site Merchandiser for Accessories, Kids, and Textiles at YLiving. She is obsessed with great design in all forms with a special love for jewelry, wine bottle labels, and tableware. When she’s not exploring the many museums and art galleries of the Bay Area, Nicole spends time looking for and visiting obscure and unusual destinations (locally and abroad) while practicing her photography skills.

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