Home & Garden

The great outdoors

BEFORE YOU START creating an outdoor living room, think about the materials you want to use to furnish it.

There is wicker and teak, aluminum and wrought iron -- and even some quality plastic products.

This month's Savvy Shopper tackles outdoor furniture materials -- the substance more than the style.

Something to remember: Like shopping for anything, there are grades of materials within each category. For example, the more UV inhibitors in a piece of outdoor wicker, the longer it will last when left in the elements. "If a manufacturer is using

good stuff, it will last," said Dottie Reynolds of Casual Living on Forest Drive. "And I've seen others that will break in three years."

Another thing: Pay attention to details. As in, not all wood advertised as teak is true teak.

"True teak is from Indonesia. Look at the fine print," Reynolds said. "True teak is what they build ships out of. It has the longest life, and it's also the most expensive."

Which brings you to the cost of outdoor furniture, which can vary greatly depending on materials and quality.

Some people expect to replace outdoor furniture every few years -- making lower end pieces a good choice. Others see outdoor furniture as they do pieces for inside their homes and will spend more for furniture that lasts.

-- Megan Sexton

Outdoor wicker is a general term for a variety of materials that are weather resistant and forgiving of sun and rain exposure. There are three basic types:

-- * Natural wood sealed so moisture won't hurt it. This should be used in a sheltered area such as a screened porch. A high-end basic chair with cushion will start at about $600 at Tropic Aire.

-- * Woven resin on an aluminum frame. This is similar to old-fashioned patio furniture except it is covered in extruded wicker. Most of these are handwoven and can go directly outside. Chairs with cushions start at about $259.

-- * All-weather vinyl wicker loomed over an aluminum frame. This is recommended for a sheltered area. A chair starts at $349 with a cushion.

Things to look for:

-- * Tightly woven pieces with no gaps.

-- * Leg bottoms with protective taps or casters.

-- * A sturdy feel when you sit in the chair.

Plastic outdoor furniture can now be found made of the same manufactured materials as fences and decks.

The recycled plastic lumber (plastic, but it looks like wood) is a good choice for furniture that will sit out in the elements.

"It's great. If people want some rockers at the coast, that's where we take them. To that and to the teak," said Judy Singleton of Tropic Aire in Cayce. "(Poly-Wood) is much, much better" than standard plastic chairs.

An Adirondack-style chair made by Poly-Wood starts at $300.

Wrought iron has been around for generations, although its popularity has dropped some because of the improvements in aluminum furniture.

Higher end products have a finish to retard rust, similar to undercoating on a car. Still, if you leave a piece directly in the rain, you eventually will need to paint it. If it stays in a covered area, it will be fine for a long time.

It is heavy (so it won't blow over in a wind storm) and is available in a wide variety of styles. A wrought iron chair will start at about $99.

There are different types -- and grades -- of aluminum. Extruded aluminum is lightweight, typical pool-side furniture. It doesn't rust and typically has vinyl strapping, sling seats or cushions. Chairs can run from $150 to $600.

With cast aluminum, a metal is poured into a mold, formed and designed. Large strides have been made in cast aluminum. Fifteen years ago, very little was available;

now it's a large part of the market. Cast aluminum

is known in the outdoor furniture business as "hose and go" furniture.

The casting of the metal also allows manufacturers to add more decorative detail on furniture.

It runs the gamut in the price, with the quality determined by the metals the aluminum is mixed with. High-quality chairs start at $159 and can go up to $700.

SOURCES: Judy Singleton, Tropic Aire in Cayce; Dottie Reynolds, Casual Living, Forest Acres; American Home

Furnishings Alliance; www.oldhouseweb.com;

Better Homes and Gardens; www.polywoodinc.com

This all-weather wicker chair and ottoman are part of the Grand Cayman collection found at Lowe's.


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Each month The State's Home&Garden section

will offer a consumer's guide to buying an item for your house or garden.

Find previous buying

guides at thestate.com.

Have a suggestion? Send it

to Megan Sexton, msexton@thestate.com