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Today’s Outdoor Furniture:
Planning Your Choices Among Today’s Many Styles and Materials

Summer is almost here. Just thinking about relaxing in your backyard is exciting. Sitting on the deck on a sunny afternoon, watching the kids squeal with delight as they frolic in the swimming pool. Sipping frosty-cold ice tea as the sun lingers in the west, ready to set for the night. Even better, lounging in the cooling backyard, chatting and laughing with friends, waiting for the hamburgers and corn-on-the-cob grilling on the barbecue. All this would not be nearly as enticing if there were no lawn or deck chairs available for your relaxation. Do you really want to drag the kitchen stool or folding chairs of dubious age outside? Not an attractive picture.

It is possible to find lawn furniture fabricated of one, or many, of a multitude of materials. Your choice of style is only limited by your personal preferences and budget.

When planning the acquisition of outdoor furniture you need to take into consideration the amount of space available and the effect you would like to create. The setting should match your wants; only the sky is the limit.

Your first consideration is to decide upon the setting. How much space do you need? Do you want to go formal or casual? How large is your budget? Do you want to start with only a piece or two of furniture, perhaps two or three chairs or some chairs and a small table?

Next, draw your proposed setting, preferably on graph paper so that everything is drawn to scale. Include plants, water features, the barbecue (especially if it is built-in), etc., as well as the desired furniture. Plan for walking-around space - too much crowding will spoil the effect you are attempting to create, not to mention being uncomfortable with your knees tucked up under your chin.

Now that you have decided upon your ideal setting, it is time to think about which materials appeal to you. There are three major categories here: wood, metal, and miscellaneous.

Let's take a look at Category 1, various types of woods. The choices range from those very light in weight, up to the extremely heavy. For expediency's sake, we will concentrate on outdoor lawn chairs, specifically the Adirondack chair, perhaps the best known example of the lawn chair genre.Varieties of lawn chairs, range from the rather flimsy plastic folding chair to the profoundly heavy Adirondack of teak wood.

Woods used in manufacturing outdoor furniture include the almost fly-away weight of bamboo to the solidity of Indonesian teak, which generally must be moved by elephant because of its extraordinary weight. Some teak is on the lighter side; however, the quality tends to decrease as the weight does. In between the two extremes of bamboo and teak comes a number of other woods which can also be used in fashioning outdoor furniture.

This intermediate grouping of woods encompasses several that are not familiar to many Westerners; this group includes southern pine, oak, red cedar, hemlock, redwood, mahogany, eucalyptus, white cedar, Douglas fir, maple, and basswood, plus the relatively unknown woods balau, ipe, jarra, Nyatoh, and kempas. The last sub grouping of woods are also known for being warp and rot resistant, fairly hard, and are finely grained.

Let us examine those properties of teak which make it so ideal a wood for the manufacture of outdoor furniture, especially the Adirondack chair. Teak is virtually impervious to rot, mold, mildew, and splintering. Care for the chair consists merely of "normal" wood care; no special polishes are needed. Properly cared for, a teak Adirondack chair should easily last, at a minimum, 60 to 75 years. A piece of teak starts out its life light to dark brown in color but will naturally end up a light silver gray. It begins to turn gray within its first year. Its longevity alone, even with teak's high cost, makes teak a perfect wood for outdoor furniture.

A second major category of materials includes various metals, such as wrought iron, cast iron, wrought aluminum, cast aluminum, and anodized aluminum. All aluminum is unparalleled in strength and is used in the construction of commercial airplanes. Durable and corrosion resistant, aluminum has a natural oxidation that helps prevent surface damage. Aluminum is a lightweight metal made into outdoor furniture by one of three methods: extrusion. casting, and welding. Cast aluminum is made by pouring extremely hot, liquid aluminum into a cast; the cast is made by pressing a wooden mold into sand. Wrought iron outdoor furniture is very heavy and can be very uncomfortable for sitting purposes.

The third, and last, major category is, to some extent, a catch-all. Here we find all sorts of miscellaneous building materials that can be used to form an outdoor chair. These include stone, plastic,and resin; rope, string, and fabric for hammocks, wicker, and even recycled plastic milk containers.

Wicker is an intriguing material unto itself. The word "wicker" is defined as "slender, flexible twigs or branches." The art of weaving rattan and wicker has been practiced for many years. The skill, much like basket weaving, has been handed down from generation to generation. Wicker furniture can be used indoors and out. Many unusual materials can be used to weave wicker: naturally growing malleable canes, willow branches, and reeds and grasses, not to mention synthetic materials that might include spiral twists of paper. It is important to make sure your woven wicker is protected against the elements. Reeds and canes are prone to mildew or rot when left outside; it is a must to protect these items with resin or paints. To insure sufficient strength, you will find wicker furniture that is woven with strong paper fibers that have been twisted over a base of metal wire.

No matter what material is the basis of your new outdoor furniture, you will be able to select your favorites with no trouble at all. Some chairs might be built entirely of wood, or entirely of stone, but your choices will only be limited by your imagination.

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