As any manufacturer will tell you, the quality of a product depends fundamentally on the materials it is made with.
When it comes to garden furniture, there is always a broad spectrum of choice. At one end of the scale, if you want affordable, budget friendly options, there is plenty of garden furniture on the market made from plastics like polyethylene and polypropylene, aluminium and pine. There’s even a booming market for furniture made from recycled crates.
That’s great if cheap and cheerful is what you want. But the flipside is that you are only likely to get a couple of years use out of your furniture. The lowest cost materials are also the least durable and will quickly succumb to regular use and the elements.
At the other end of the scale, when you get into the luxury furniture bracket, purchasing priorities are different. When people are willing to invest more money in their garden furniture, they want pieces that will last for years on end. There is a strong focus on build quality and craftsmanship, with the aesthetic appeal of the furniture just as important as durability.
The materials used underpin all of these things. There are many factors to consider when building a premium quality piece of outdoor furniture. To achieve the desired longevity, you need a material that can withstand all the elements. It needs to be water resistant and not prone to warping or developing rot when exposed to rain and moisture. Equally, it should be able to withstand variations in temperature, neither warping and cracking under a hot sun nor becoming brittle in freezing temperatures.
In addition, you need a material that is tough enough to withstand the inevitable bumps and knocks that come from regular use. And to top it all off, something that can be crafted to look sophisticated and tasteful, while having the flexibility to suit a variety of styles.
So what are the best materials that fit all these criteria? Here’s our pick of the top three options for luxury garden furniture.
In any discussion of the best materials for garden furniture, it’s hard to look past teak. This fabulous tropical hardwood is coveted by furniture makers the world over because it fulfils all the main criteria you want for garden furniture – it’s strong, incredibly durable, supremely weather resistant and it looks great, too.
The secret to teak’s super powers is its naturally high oil content. Teak trees have evolved very dense, oily wood as a way to withstand the monsoon season in their native India and southeast Asia. When used as timber, that translates into a range of benefits. The dense grain structure makes teak very strong, while its oily nature means it fends off waterlogging and rot without being treated.
This is perfect for garden furniture. You can leave teak tables and chairs outside uncovered in all weathers without any ill effect. They will last for years and years. In fact, teak is so durable and hard-wearing that timber used in construction decades or even 100+ years ago is still robust enough to use in furniture. There is a huge resource of reclaimed teak available to furniture manufacturers, making it one of the most eco-friendly options available.
To top it all off, teak is one of the most attractive timbers around from an aesthetic point of view. While many hardwoods traditionally used for household furniture, such as mahogany and walnut, are characteristically dark in colour, teak has a lighter but equally rich hue, variously described as sandy, honey brown or even golden brown.
If teak is a timeless classic of outdoor furniture making, polished concrete is more of a modern innovation. And what is most innovative about it is the way it has rehabilitated a material with a less than glamorous reputation into something that is genuinely refined and sought after.
Little needs to be said about concrete’s qualities of durability and strength. The very fact that concrete is such a dominant feature of our urban landscapes is largely down to the fact that it is incredibly tough and lasts for decades. That means it can be trusted as a safe option for major infrastructure.
But what polished concrete adds to this is style and elegance. It’s a simple idea – take a piece of concrete and buff up its surface until it has a glossy, almost liquid sheen to it. The effect of polishing concrete is not unlike marble. It literally shines.
One other advantage of polished concrete is that it is a moulded material, rather than something you have to cut or carve. That makes it much more flexible than stone, or at least easier to render into more or less any shape you want.
So polished concrete can come in classical shapes, like simple rectangular blocks used as table tops, or solid cubes and cylinders that make for beautifully minimalist coffee tables. Or it can be moulded into more abstract or organic shapes that serve as modernist features to your garden. Classical, rustic, cubist, industrial, contemporary – polished concrete achieves them all.
Earlier in this piece we spoke about plastics being one of the low-cost options for garden furniture material. But plastics are available in many different types and forms, and some of them do make very good options even for luxury garden furniture.
For achieving that combination of durability and style, synthetic fibres are the best of them. Synthetic fibres are simply plastics moulded into long strings. A large proportion of the clothes we wear contain synthetic fibres. The types used for garden furniture are simply thicker versions.
The classic example is synthetic rattan, which is now widely used in wicker weave garden furniture. Unlike natural rattan which is brittle and needs a lot of ongoing care to extend its shelf life, synthetic rattan is tough and will last for many years with minimal maintenance. The plastic resins used to make synthetic rattan like high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are virtually immune to the elements. And not only does weaving allow manufacturers to achieve very stylish results, it also increases strength.