How to choose outdoor furniture - 8 things to consider before buying garden furniture, according to experts

Get your garden prepped for warmer days with this essential guide from the experts

garden with plant in pots and sofaset with cushions
(Image credit: Future PLC)

No matter how adept you may be at interior design, it’s easy to fall short when it comes to your garden. But learning how to choose outdoor furniture is a skill that can transform this space into your very own outdoor oasis.

Yes, the best garden furniture can mould what could be a very boring and useless garden into a true extension of your home. It can become an outdoor dining area, a chilled-out lounging spot, or the ultimate sunbathing space - but only if you choose the right pieces for your space, your needs, and your budget.

Because of this, we’ve spoken to the best experts in the business to help you make the right decisions when buying outdoor furniture. By truly knuckling down on what matters to you and your garden, you can find the perfect pieces to complement your space - and you can even save money in the process.

How to choose outdoor furniture

Whatever size or style your garden is, discover how to choose outdoor furniture with our expert-led guide

1. Consider your needs

rattan bistro set on a patio surrounded by plants

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

There are so many different types of garden furniture out there, from the best garden benches to full outdoor dining sets. And while it can be easy to simply buy the pieces that pique your interest, it’s important to consider your needs before biting the bullet and buying new outdoor furniture.

Kirsty Barton, Marketing Manager at Alternative Flooring says, ‘Our gardens are an extension of our homes. Therefore, it’s important to choose garden furniture that elevates your outdoor area and reflects your personal style.’

Yes, if your main aim is to host dinner parties and summer BBQs, opting for smaller bistro sets or larger dining sets would be your best bet. But if you’re just looking to chill out with your friends and family with a drink, a sofa and coffee table or lounge set would suit you better.

This is echoed by Danielle LeVaillant, Head of Photography & Film at Cox & Cox, who says, ‘Outdoor dining sets are ideal for spontaneously moving family dinner outside on a warm weekday evening, or gathering around with a few friends on a weekend.’

‘Bench seating is versatile and feels more sociable, whereas dining chairs will allow everyone to sit back and relax comfortably after a delicious meal, choose bar furniture to keep the party going straight through from cocktails to food and back again.’

‘If you’re hoping to transform your garden into an entertaining space, a modular lounge set will provide you with the kind of relaxed, versatile style that you want. Some even have luxurious reclining seats, and integrated gas-fuelled firepits to take your outdoor living comfortably from day to night.’

So, take a moment to consider what you’ll be using your outdoor garden furniture for and go from there.

2. Find the right style for your space

garden with plant in pots and white umbrella

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

As with interiors, it’s important to consider the environment when buying furniture. A useful place to start is by deciding whether you want your garden furniture to complement or contrast with your home. ‘If you live in a very modern house, you might go for furniture with lots of minimalist lines or contrast with furniture that provides a cosy and comfy ambience,’ says Simon Hudson, Managing Director of Oxley’s.

For a more cohesive feel, stick with furniture that reflects your home and the garden. ‘A traditional property with a classically designed garden would suit 19th century or early 20th century garden antique furniture,’ notes Caryl Tincknell, founder of Violet Grey. ‘A contemporary property and garden would be better suited to mid-century items. You can get a real sense of the history of a garden and work in pieces from there.’

Style also dictates material choice to an extent. ‘It’s best to consider the overall look you want to achieve and how you’re planning to use your outdoor space,’ advises Jonny Brierley, CEO, Moda Furnishings. ‘Aluminium is best for those wanting to achieve a contemporary look, whereas rattan is perfect for achieving a more traditional style.’

3. Choose the right material

garden with plant in pots and sofaset with cushions

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes)

One of the most confusing aspects of choosing outdoor furniture is the wide range of materials on the market. It can be tricky to know which is best for your needs and which material is more durable, but each has pros and cons to consider. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most important points:

Rattan: ‘Rattan comes in a variety of styles, weaves and materials, that drastically vary in quality,’ says Jonny from Moda. ‘PE is a synthetic Polyethylene resin that opposes a natural wicker rattan. Unlike natural rattan, PE rattan is far more durable and as a result, requires less maintenance, it is also capable of handling much more unfriendly weather with minimal wear and tear. With natural wicker rattan, you will need to keep your furniture inside and likely treat it to maximise its longevity.’

Wood: The best wooden furniture is often considered to be the most traditional and classic option. However, it can require a fair amount of maintenance. ‘As it's natural, spores, lichens and stains grow on it so it needs annual sanding and oiling,’ notes Simon from Oxley’s.

Although garden furniture comes in a variety of woods, one of the most popular is teak. ‘A naturally good-looking material, teak contains high levels of oil, making it weather-resistant and able to withstand exposure to the variable British climate,’ points out Tim Penell, Head of Sales and Marketing at Bramblecrest. Left untreated, teak furniture will mellow to a silver grey colour over time.’

Metal: Aluminium and steel are the two most widely used materials for metal outdoor furniture. The latter, although more traditional, has more potential issues. ‘Steel is extremely robust and can look stunning in a minimalist setting,’ says Simon from Oxley’s. 'But it is very heavy and, as a ferrous metal, will eventually rust.’

For these reasons, aluminium is a more popular choice. ‘Aluminium furniture is likely to be favoured by those who prefer a more contemporary look to their outdoor space. There is a wide choice of styles available with frames and cushions in a variety of colours,’ says Tim from Blamblecrest. ‘Aluminium furniture is lightweight, rust-free and easy to maintain.’

‘With aluminium’ adds Jonny from Moda, ‘it is vital that the frame should have fully welded joints and be finished with multiple coatings of high-quality paint to ensure longevity and durability.’

Glass: Glass isn’t used overly widely in outdoor furniture, but if you do select a table with glass, keep in mind some safety aspects. ‘It’s important to look for toughened safety glass,’ says Moda’s Jonny. ‘Look for 8mm toughened safety glass to ensure product longevity.’

4. Keep the environment in mind

balcony with plant in pots and dining table with chairs

(Image credit: Violet Grey/Tom Hargreaves)

As with every other area of our lives, it’s our responsibility to consider the eco-impacts of our garden furniture.

There are a few ways to ensure you’re taking care of the planet while creating a stylish outdoor space. For instance, like we do with interiors and fashion, look to buying second hand or antiques. Even with restoration, antique pieces have a very low carbon footprint when compared to new,’ says Caryl from Violet Grey. ‘We are seeing more and more customers choose antique garden furniture for this very reason.’

Aluminium is another eco-friendly choice. ‘It is infinitely recyclable and can be reused to make new furniture sets, making it one of the most sustainable resources there is,’ notes Simon from Oxley’s.

Wood can be eco-friendly if from a managed plantation, so try and choose items which are FSC assured.

In terms of rattan and PE rattan products, speak to your supplier for information. Many are made from recyclable materials and can be recycled in specialist facilities.

5. Measure your space perfectly

sloping roof house with exposed brick walls and garden with trees

(Image credit: Bramblecrest)

‘The size of your garden will be the biggest limitation on what furniture set you choose,’ says Simon from Oxley’s. ‘You will need to marry the amount of space you have available and how you need it to work for you. As a rule, try not to fill more than two-thirds of your patio area with furniture, as this can look cluttered.’

And while the perfect outdoor furniture can make a patio look expensive, be careful not to over or underwhelm a patio area. 'You may want to keep a clear area for other accessories such as planters and lanterns,’ advises Bramblecrest’s Tim. ‘You may also want to allow space for a storage box for cushions and covers when not in use.’

Remember that less is more. You need space for everyone to be able to be comfortable, but also leave space so that guests can walk around with ease. Corner and L-shaped sofas are a good way of making good use of available space, for example.

6. Think about maintenance

balcony with wooden flooring and plant in pots

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

When you buy outdoor garden furniture, you also need to accept that this garden furniture requires maintenance and upkeep. That’s why knowing how to clean garden furniture is key, and why you should always consider using outdoor furniture covers.

Because of this, you should also make sure to choose garden furniture that works with the level of maintenance that you’re realistically able - or willing - to provide. It’s essential to research how your choice of furniture needs to be cleaned, and how it should be stored when not in use.

‘During periods of non-use, we suggest that furniture is covered to protect from garden debris and to keep the furniture clean,’ advises Tim from Bramblecrest. ‘We also recommend that cushions are removed to a dry garage, outbuilding or loft space. If that’s not possible, cover your furniture with the cushions on but check weekly to prevent a build-up of condensation.’

7. Keep your heating in mind

balcony with garden and sofaset with cushions

(Image credit: Moda Furnishings)

The best fire pits are a must-have addition to gardens, so make sure to consider this when deciding how to choose outdoor furniture for your space.

‘We recommend thinking about the look of the fire pit to make sure it compliments the furniture,’ says Jonny from Moda. ‘For example, concrete fire pits go beautifully with grey aluminium contemporary collections.'

‘Spaces with fire pits create a really intimate feel, so think about your experience whilst you’re in that space . You want everything to hand so you don’t have to go back into the cold,’ continues Jonny. ‘Think drinks coolers, storage boxes for blankets and so on. Reclining sofas and chairs can be a great way to transition from day to night when you’ve lit your fire pit.’

8. Decide on a budget

grass field with round table and chairs

(Image credit: Oxley's)

When you’ve considered all of the above, you then need to decide on a budget for your new outdoor furniture. With so many affordable high-street options and garden furniture deals out there, it’s easy to pick up a bargain - but you should also proceed with caution when setting a budget that’s too low.

Caron Grant, Brand Manager at Bridgman explains, ‘Opting for premium pieces guarantees unrivalled durability, comfort, and quality that’s instantly apparent.’

A major advantage of investing in quality furniture is that you really do get what you pay for. Although less expensive furniture may appear the same on the surface, they tend to show signs of wear and tear much faster and within a couple of years may need replacing.’

Premium furniture is designed to stand the test of time. The materials used in their production are not only sourced more sustainably, but also chosen for their durability, ensuring they last for many years to come. By moving away from fast-fashionesque pieces that you’ll replace much more often, you’ll be contributing to the demand for more environmentally-conscious furniture to be created.’

Of course, we don’t want you to bankrupt yourself in the process of buying new outdoor furniture, but being able to spend a little more on high-quality furniture can actually save you money in the long run as you won’t have to replace it as often.

The best garden furniture - our top picks


What kind of outdoor furniture holds up the best?

Most experts agree that hardwood outdoor furniture and aluminium garden furniture hold up the best in the garden.

Ideal Home’s E-Commerce Editor and garden furniture aficionado, Amy Lockwood, happens to agree. She says, ‘If your budget allows, then I always recommend looking for garden furniture constructed from lightweight and rust-resistant aluminium or weather-resistant hardwoods like teak, acacia, or eucalyptus.’

'These materials are more of an investment, but will weather the elements for years to come so are good value over the longterm.'

Of course, you can opt for cheaper options, but you may have to spend more in the long run. Amy adds, ‘Powder-coated steel or soft woods offer a budget solution, but these materials are less weather-resistant, so you'll need to factor in somewhere to store the furniture over winter, or opt for an outdoor furniture cover in order to prolong your furniture's lifespan.'

What is the first thing you should consider when selecting patio furniture?

The size of your patio is the first thing that you should consider. After all, there’s no pointin buying new patio furniture that is too big or too small for your space.

So, it’s always a good idea to measure your patio and decide, realistically, how much of that space you want to fill with garden furniture. When you’ve done that, you then need to consider what you’ll use the furniture for - lounging around or outdoor dining?

Now you know how to choose garden furniture, it’s time to start shopping!

Thea Babington-Stitt
Assistant Editor

Thea Babington-Stitt is the Assistant Editor for Ideal Home. Thea has been working across some of the UK’s leading interiors titles for nearly 10 years. 

She started working on these magazines and websites after graduating from City University London with a Masters in Magazine Journalism. Before moving to Ideal Home, Thea was News and Features Editor at Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc and Country Homes & Interiors.

With contributions from