In the market for outdoor furniture? New technologies have created an array of weather-resistant, durable varieties you can safely plunk by the pool or group in a green glade for years - even decades - to come.
But brace yourself for sticker shock: Good-quality outdoor furniture that is comfortable and durable doesn't come cheap. A dining chair, for example, will cost anywhere from $100 for wrought iron to $500 for teak. If you want cheap, stick with the $4.97 resin chairs at Wal-Mart.You can distinguish the good from the not-so-good by comparing workmanship, style and heft. For instance, a good-quality piece will generally weigh more than a lesser-quality piece of the same material; the finish will be more even, the welds less obtrusive, the plastic straps, if any, more resilient, and the cushions nicely tailored and full.
The design of a piece also indicates its quality, says Charles Hessler, of Barlow Tyrie, a maker of teak furniture.
"When a company starts to cheapen a design, the proportions of that design go to pot," Hessler says. "It just doesn't look right."
Across the spectrum, the "sit-ability" of most outdoor furniture has improved in recent years with the introduction of cushion fabrics that are as soft as those used indoors but can withstand sun and rain and dry within minutes. New acrylic fabrics, typically covering cushions of water-repellent foam or filling, come in an array of colors and patterns and, at the high end, with as many braids, cords and tassels as a high school marching band.
Equally innovative and even more popular is vinyl-coated polyester, another quick-drying material often used in an open weave for sling-style furniture. Durable and cool, it has a sleek look and requires virtually no maintenance. Plain old polyester repels water but feels a mite stiff compared with the newer varieties.
At best, furnishings can highlight the features of a house and garden or provide a focal point for an outdoor space, says Joel Lerner of Chevy Chase, Md., past president of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers: "Many times the furnishings can create a garden, if they have a nice sculptural quality to them."