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My Multiple-Seasons Outdoor Furniture Test

There is no category of furniture—besides possibly sofas—that seems to cause as much consternation as what we use outdoors. Maybe it’s because many of us consider our outdoor spaces as bonus rooms that there’s a conception that the stuff that outfits it shouldn’t cost as much as it does, or a lack of awareness of how sturdy things need to be to last year over year in the elements. But the number one thing I hear from friends considering a table and chairs or a couch for their new backyard or patio or fire escape, is “Outdoor furniture is so expensive.”

I get it; there’s a lack of information out there about why home goods cost what they cost, not to mention a market flooded with cheap stuff that isn’t even really worth what you’re paying for it. It’s only been during my time at Dwell that I’ve come to learn what really matters when it comes to outdoor furniture that lasts: material and the trust in quality that the brand represents. So last year, I set out to test both, to look into what was available in the U.S. market for someone who didn’t want to break the bank but also didn’t want to buy something that would only last a season or two. I endeavored to try out a range of good-looking furniture, produced by everyone from household names to new direct-to-consumer brands to design-forward companies the average buyer might be less familiar with. I would use them, reporting on delivery, material, sourcing, ease of assembly (when required) and wear. 

My time visiting the factory for Fermob, the French furniture maker famous for their Bistro tables and chairs, underlined to me that if you couldn’t control how something was made—and let’s face it, some brands are more forthcoming than others—you could at least choose what it was made of. As such, I would only look into furniture that was intended to last years, if not decades. That meant only metals and heavy plastic composites—no wood or wicker. Here’s what I found during my year questing for outdoor rest and relaxation.

The Old Standbys: CB2 and West Elm

My journey started where many people’s do: CB2 and West Elm. My sister had her heart set on a small table and a few chairs for our new deck so she could work outside in the spring, summer and fall. After exploring the West Elm sales section towards the end of summer—when you can find some of the best deals on outdoor furniture—I came across the Wren Indoor-Outdoor Bistro Table (38″), discounted to $179, made in China. A totally serviceable and normal looking metal table powder-coated in white, shipping is where they get you, particularly on pieces that are heavy like this: the table’s total ended up being $296.25. Despite furniture shipping delays from a lot of companies of this ilk that, anecdotally, have not appeared to have improved considerably than where they were at during the pandemic, the table showed up in a few weeks (always check that things are in stock before clicking buy! And making a West Elm account didn’t hurt for shipping updates) and was extremely simple to assemble (just screw the legs onto the tabletop, and flip it over).

My Multiple-Seasons Outdoor Furniture Test

The umbrella, table, and chairs, with our sofa and lounge chair as well, in their new home on our deck.

West Elm didn’t have what I was looking for in terms of chairs that would work with my table at a price point I was willing to spend, so I went to CB2 next. I wish I could tell you more about what this process looked like but I received not even an email from them after purchasing, and the chairs I bought—from what appears to be a limited time collection with Jannis Ellenberger—have been lost to the sands of the internet. (I relied on keeping the order tab open and checking regularly via the order number to make sure it was actually coming.) I can say that, even on sale, they cost $570 with shipping, were yet another powder-coated steel (this time in teal), that I ordered three of them, and they sent me four within a few weeks.

Both the chairs and the table require an occasional wipe-down to take care of them. During the winter, we stored all under a covered pergola in our yard for extra protection from the elements (namely snow). Given that the top of the pergola ripped off during a particularly windy day (a story for another time), that particular mode of protection is now gone, so we’ll be looking into covers for our furniture—even if it’s just an unappealing tarp—come this winter.

The Ubiquitous Option: Wayfair

Now it was time to consider some shade. After consulting with a friend, I came to realize that a lot of the good-looking outdoor umbrellas were some combination of not very sturdy, a little too retro for my tastes long-term, and/or extremely expensive. (Much like regular umbrellas, the outdoor standing umbrella has not evolved far past its original conceit.) My research did lead me to the conclusion that I should go with a brand that uses Sunbrella fabric (for durability), and had a metal frame, and so I chose one from California Umbrellas, a relatively easy go-to. We decided to buy a basic navy blue shade to match our newly blue house, but the fact that I had to buy the base—very heavy and most were hideous—separately stumped me. After spiraling over internet reviews, as one does, I went with an extremely basic, hopefully inoffensive one from a brand called US Weight (great website; highly recommend). Both were delivered a couple weeks after ordering; all together, with a friend’s discount, they cost $370.90, and their countries of origin were unclear.

Long term, my sister has been annoyed by what she’s identified as a slight wiggle on the umbrella, due to its adjustable-ness (the top purposefully pivots at an angle for use as the sun shifts) and the vagaries of the elements. Like many who find themselves with umbrella troubles, we may need to weigh the base down with rocks. And like the table and chairs before them, the parts of the umbrella were shipped with a lot of packaging. In the winter, we put both the umbrella and the base in the garage for protection from the weather (the company recommends keeping the box for storing the former).

The Reliable Direct-to-Consumer Choice: Room & Board

Room & Board Westbrook Sectional

Room & Board Westbrook Sectional

Our Westbrook outdoor sectional features rounded edges and an elegant modern profile that blends with any outdoor space. Along with a durable frame, Westbrook has cushions that are comfortable, plush and removable for easy maintenance.

With the “regular brands” tackled, I branched out, and started exploring what the DTC space had to offer in metal-framed sofas. This led me to Room & Board, one of the more dependable additions in the space. (In a world full of dramatic sofa acquisition stories, particularly involving DTC brands, people seem to like theirs.) After conversing with a publicist with the brand, I was told I’d be sent a test model of the Westbrook, one of their sectionals that comes in a ton of colors of fabric and a few shades of, yes, powder-coated stainless steel. We went with a 104 x 69 four-piece sectional in a graphite frame with mist grey pillows; the site has a lot of guides to help you figure out which configuration will fit your space. The pillows are foam with water-repellant, fade-resistant covers; had I paid for this piece, it would have cost $4,300.

The sofa was in stock, and they use “white glove delivery service,” making delivery basically seamless (Room & Board uses a flat shipping rate, which helps the buyer too); we got to schedule a day and window it would be delivered, and were called in advance so we’d be ready when the truck arrived. Once it arrived, it was unpacked and assembled by the team within minutes.

As an aside: one thing that has plagued me throughout this entire project is how bad most furniture looks in pictures online; there’s a flatness to the color and shape of everything—a process not helped by the computer screen—that makes furniture look CGI, or at least photoshopped to death, even if it’s not. What I’ve ended up spending a lot of time doing is looking at user-uploaded photos in the reviews, or on the brand’s social media pages, for staged but at least slightly more situationally accurate photos. In any case, I’m happy to report the Room & Board sofa looks great in real life; the frames are surprisingly lightweight, making it easy to move around if you want to reconfigure it, but also sturdy and comfortable. The fabric, which is slightly nubby, feels good to sit on but like it’ll last a long time. It’s also been easy to brush dirt off of. (One thing I particularly liked about Room & Board was their very detailed care pages.)

Like many brands, Room & Board sells covers for their furniture to protect it from the elements; also like many brands, once you’ve spent the time purchasing your furniture, it can be tough to stomach buying ugly-looking covers to protect it. My sister found ours on Amazon for $50 (she bought one intended for a table because it fit better), and though she’s reported it’s annoying enough to take on and off, she’s not sure it’s any more annoying than what we’ve been doing so far when the forecast calls for a lot of rain—throwing the large pillows into our sunroom so they don’t get fully drenched. In the winter, we’ll put them away somewhere in the house and cover just the frame. And, unlike our Amazon cover, Room & Board’s furniture is made in the U.S.

The Plastic Newbie: Tupelo Goods

Tupelo Loop Lounge Chair

Tupelo Loop Lounge Chair

The modern Loop Lounge Chair is the perfect addition to your outdoor space. With its everlasting durability, superior comfort, and timeless aesthetic, the Loop Chair will elevate any landscape, patio, fire pit, or gathering space.  

Brands love to beget more brands, so when we at Dwell learned that some of the founders of YETI had branched off and started their own outdoor furniture company, we were interested, if not surprised. (So interested that we featured them in our recent May/June outdoors issue.) You can tell by the colorways—which includes Seafoam Green and Vintage Orange—that Tupelo Goods comes from Texas, and their wares are made in the U.S. What’s notable about them is that everything can be used in water, like on a baja or sun shelf in your pool (the chairs fill with water so they don’t float). Like YETIs, they’re made of a glossy polyethylene, so they’re virtually indestructible and you can power wash them. They make plastic seem cool, the way it felt in the ’50s, basically.

Tupelo’s products are surprisingly chic for plastic furniture.

Tupelo’s products are surprisingly chic for plastic furniture.

While I haven’t yet gotten my baja shelf, or a pool that would fit one, the semi-retro feel, and all those swooping curves, of their several seating offerings, were right up my alley—and when they sent over the Loop Lounge chair and matching side table to test, my family and my guests were loving it. (So much so that we even tried it in our plunge pool, just to do it. It wasn’t needed!) There’s no assembly required, and the lightweight nature makes these easier and cheaper to ship than some of my earlier metal furniture was. Ergonomic indeed, and almost strangely chic. We also stored this under our pergola, and this spring I simply wiped it down, good as new. We’ve even taken to using the plastic tote they sent along to schlep things around the house, like dish rags to the washer or for gardening.

The Design-Forward Piece That Will Also Last Forever (Literally): Loll Designs

Metals may scream chic, but plastic furniture decidedly does not, which is why it’s taken brands like Tupelo to get people excited about them for outside. But when it comes to plastics, there’s been a great go-to for decades, and that’s Loll Designs (not to be confused with the thing you do when you’re trying to express emotion over text—my family did indeed get confused many times in the making of this piece). We’ve long been big fans of their work here at Dwell, particularly because of how frequently they use recycled materials, that they’re made in the US, and how sturdy their products are. Plus, their offerings range widely—aHigh-density polyethylenes they should, given that they’ve been around since the ’90s.

Loll Designs Adirondack Chair

Loll Designs Adirondack Chair

This modern update to the classic Adirondack chair from Loll Designs brings superior comfort to outdoor living whether relaxing in your backyard, poolside or deeply engaged in fireside chats with dear friends.

There’s a ton of directions to take with Loll, but one popular style is their take on the Adirondack chair, particularly because it can be delivered flat-packed, and is made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), with, as Loll explains it, color pigments that help reduce fading—most of their products, in fact, are made of milk jugs. After some discussion with the team at Loll, they sent over two such chairs in navy (each typically retails for $695) plus a small side table ($245) to check out for testing. They came swiftly, within the week, and easily, in some large, but easily moved flat boxes as promised. All the packaging was paper (appreciated!).

Easy to assemble, easy to look at, and easy to care for.

Easy to assemble, easy to look at, and easy to care for.

If you’ve put together Ikea furniture and lived to tell the tale, you can absoutely put together their pieces; the chair and table required no additional materials aside from the Allen wrench they provided, and have pretty clear instructions once you ID all the parts you’re dealing with. (There are also videos online you can follow.) Did it take me three hours to do so over three days? Yes, but that is partially because it got dark before I realized I wasn’t able to see what I was doing two nights in a row, and I worked very very slowly, yet again burned by previous scary Ikea experiences, careful to make sure I didn’t screw anything anywhere it wasn’t supposed to be screwed. The chairs are sturdy, but the company recommends you put them together on a protected surface, like the box they come in or a blanket, so as not to scratch the surfaces. Did I have a couple of calluses on my hands after all that work? Yes, but it made my accomplishments that much sweeter. In fact, Loll recommends against using actual power tools to put together the pieces, so as not to over-tighten or strip the screws. These are similarly incredibly easy to care for—just a wipe down and you’re good to go, for life it seems. We’ll store these partially covered for winter, but per the company, you don’t even really need to unless you get a ton of snow.

All in all, my test proved was somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy: that searching for well-made, well-designed outdoor furniture in the right materials is worth it, that you will have to spend perhaps more money than you want to, but that that money is far better spent in this capacity than in something you’ll throw out or try to foist off to someone else less than a few years later. There apparently is something nicer than just looking out at your outdoor space and thinking about being out there: knowing you practiced consumerism the right way.

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