Around this time of year back in 2003, the year we bought our home, the birds chirping and the warmer temperatures signaled the start of warm weather and outdoor living. After a long winter we, as fresh faced newlyweds, excitedly greeted the change in seasons with talks of how we wanted to spruce up our back yard and transform it into a space in which we could relax, dine, and entertain. We launched into a mini upgrade/overhaul that saw the removal of overgrowth, addition of a pond, and a general sprucing that was long overdue. The yard we had when we moved into our home was a far cry from "nice."

A crucial decision and investment at the time was centered around the type of outdoor furniture we would purchase. We scoured stores, ads, and online, before finally deciding on a teak set -- a table, four chairs, and a bench -- from our neighborhood Crate and Barrel outlet that's just a few blocks walk from our place. Short on cash but full of new homeowner excitement and motivation, we scrimped together the greenbacks and wedding gift cards needed to make the purchase. How tight were we on cash? The table didn't fit in our car, and this was before car sharing options, so we went so far as to carry the entire set home the eight or so blocks in order to avoid paying shipping charges. That, was a long walk home.

Just look at my young face and the signature ill fitting clothing of the early 2000s.

While we've greatly enjoyed this set over the years, we found ourselves swearing at our decision year after year, as the maintenance of the wood was truly...high maintenance. However, we justified its worth as it gave us wonderful neighborhood settings like this scene.

Between special teak wash, oiling the wood, and even going so far as to sand it down for a better finish, we've often regretted dealing with this beautiful but decidedly delicate material.

Part of this high maintenance has to do with the material. It's wood, and wood needs a lot of effort and attention when left outdoors unfinished. But another major issue was our own mistake. We applied a teak protectant we thought was a good idea because it promised a longer life and less maintenance. Unfortunately, this didn't allow the teak to obtain that naturally weathered look, and it now looks fake orange in places. We believe this product also trapped water within joints and caused the wood to fail and crack in places. We should have just stuck with periodic teak oil application.

Don't get me wrong, we've loved this set, but with more than a decade spent enjoying this furniture set, we've finally decided to throw in the towel and look for something new. The problem is, we just can't seem to find exactly what we're looking for. I've searched in store or online at the following stores:

  • Overstock
  • Crate and Barrel
  • Pottery Barn
  • Williams Sonoma Home
  • Arhaus
  • Target
  • Smith and Hawken
  • Frontgate
  • Ballard Designs
  • Kohls
  • Macy's
  • Sears
  • JC Penney
  • West Elm
  • World Market
  • Home Goods
  • Lowes 
  • Home Depot
  • And others I'm surely forgetting

Phew! No wonder I'm frustrated. (Or maybe too picky?)

So here we are. We feel like we want to go with an aluminum set that can withstand the weather with low maintenance. Given our desire to do other projects on the house, we don't want the maintenance of our outdoor furniture to require a significant amount of time commitment any longer. I know this means giving up the warmth and aesthetic of natural wood, but it's worth the sacrifice to me.

Of course, Alex would love to build a new outdoor set with a wood base and poured concrete top, like the one below from Restoration Hardware, but we all know that's not likely to happen before 2024, so I think buying a new set is likely advisable. I'll just tell him "honey, it's only temporary until you can build us a new set. Then we can use this one we're buying now when we purchase that farm house without plumbing."

In our search, I'm going to be looking for something that's similar in style to the set we already have. I like the look of a slatted table, and somewhat simple chairs. But I'm definitely looking for aluminum. Perhaps something like this one from Macy's.

I had initially thought about looking for something that is wicker or synthetic wicker, but that just seems like it will catch a whole lot of dirt and bird poop, ending up a real pain to keep clean. If we had an overhang the furniture would live under, like one of those great outdoor California kitchens, it would be more of an option. You know, something modest like this...

...or perhaps...

But since our furniture will live under a tree that is frequented by our neighborhood bird and squirrel population, bombs away means a need for easy cleanup.

And finally, I want to stay away from any sort of faux wood looks. We're not buying a wood set, so I don't want to pretend we're buying a wood set. If it's aluminum, I'm embracing it and all of its low maintenance glory. Besides, the faux wood items I've seen simply aren't convincing.

My search for our aesthetically pleasing yet affordable furniture continues through the dark corners of the Internets, but I'd love your two cents on the subject. We'll hopefully be buying something very soon, but any last minute words of encouragement or advice that may help to steer my decision would be wonderfully appreciated. 

Comments 23


Brandon Sargent
5/16/2014 at 1:29 PM

we just bought this one a couple weeks ago, so far so good.

5/16/2014 at 3:39 PM

We've had this ikea set (in gray) for a few years and have been happy about how it's aged. Esp for the price. Outdoor furniture is expensive!


Super cute!

5/18/2014 at 11:33 AM

We have the same set in gray. Just got it earlier this year on huge sale!

Jan Hunyady
5/16/2014 at 2:21 PM

What about vintage Woodard furniture? I've seen it in photos taken at the White House. If you find pieces that don't have cushions you can have them made. In the past there were few options but Sunbrella has a lot of choices.

5/16/2014 at 2:28 PM

Lowe's has two options, we bought a similar one from them last year and have loved it.

5/16/2014 at 2:44 PM

Stay away from synthetic wicker. Despite the adverts and promises it ages really fast. And by that I mean, it falls apart after two summers if you are not one of those freaks who keep it under covers as long as no one is sitting on it - which takes more time than the maintenance of teak.

5/16/2014 at 3:32 PM

I'm glad you're not leaning towards the wicker or faux wicker. Unless you (and your guests) are really gentle with it, it will end up braking in all the high wear spots. Once it starts unravelling, it's nearly impossible (and expensive) to fix. The plastic versions aren't much better either. I've seen quite a few busted ones.

Aluminum seems like a great choice. I'd only worry about scratches, and having chair legs bend/break if some idiot (like me) tried to lean the chair back onto its back legs. Aluminum is a nice light metal (and fairly strong) but it's also fairly soft. Definitely beautiful and low maintenance though.

FWIW I love your teak set, but I'm lazy and I couldn't deal with the high maintenance, so I see why you want to get rid of it. I would think that if you clean it up nicely one last time, you can turn around and resell it for a nice price.

5/16/2014 at 3:56 PM

We actually have that set from Macy's and have been quite happy with it. We're not too hard on it and don't have pets or kids that would likely contribute to faster wear though. Being aluminum, it is light and definitely different from a heavy wood table, especially while trying to cut something on your dinner plate! The low maintenance was key for us though, and in that respect, it has done us well for two years so far.

5/16/2014 at 7:33 PM

Do you have Room & Board in your area? The quality is excellent, worth the price.

5/16/2014 at 7:39 PM

Craigslist! We picked up a Homecrest set three years ago for 10% of its retail value. 60-inch glass-topped oval table, 4 high-back sling chairs (two swivel), a glider, umbrella, base, and two extra Sunbrella fabric chair slings. We could never have afforded the set new, and what a sweet upgrade from the plastic crap Alt grinning

5/17/2014 at 1:30 AM

It sounds like you are set on aluminum, but I purchased LL Bean's All Weather Porch Rocker, Garden Bench & Folding Side Table in the mid-90's that still look brand new. They are left out to the weather year round (Northern Illinois & northern Wisconsin) and clean up with a hose. When we were looking for a new patio set & couldn't find anything we liked back in 04, my then husband said we should find patio furniture like it since it held up so well. I poked around on the net and found a set that matched from an outfit in Florida.

Now everyone has recycled milk carton patio sets (polywood) including llbean. The furniture I have is dark green and it hasn't faded a bit that I can tell. It is very heavy stuff which is great now that I live in an open, very windy area. The bench sat on a dock at the cabin and was completely buried in snow and ice for a couple months each winter and is still like new even though it's almost 20 years old.

If you go this route, find something you like because you will have it a long time. Good luck!

Emily Mathiak
5/17/2014 at 12:15 PM
I still love the idea of making your own set! Ana White has some great options and terrific patterns.
Mike Howard
5/17/2014 at 12:35 PM
Have you thought about cast iron? It does need painted, occasionally, and may be a bit municipal, but there's plenty of Victorian park furniture that is still going strong. It may suit the period of your property. Aluminium is OK. We have a set in our garden that we bought in the late '80s and it's been outside every day since. The finish is peeling off in a few places to show the metal underneath. Some of the fastenings are iron and rust up. If I have time this year I will make a wooden garden set and put the metal stuff on Gumtree.
5/17/2014 at 2:56 PM

I love the look of that metal set. One thing to keep in mind though- if you get a lot of direct sunlight in the backyard, that furniture may be hot Hot HOT when you want to use it!

5/18/2014 at 8:43 AM

I hear you on the teak. It looks so nice, but man - what a pain. I'm finally throwing in the towel on our Ikea set as well, despite freshening it up last fall with the teak oil, etc.

I like the aluminum approach. Sometimes you just have to go for the sensible, easy approach.

PS: Loved the quip about the old house with no plumbing ;)

5/18/2014 at 7:53 PM

My husband and I live just outside Old Town in Rosemont and we purchased classic black wrought iron furniture from Home Depot and a black and sand stripe umbrella from Ballard Designs. We wanted classic furniture that was low maintenance and in the style of our house. Our moms both have this patio furniture and it never looks dated and fits our 1937 house. I scoured Craigslist and estate sales, but the classic black wrought iron is hard to find so I wound up buying at Home Depot and after trying to find a black and white striped patio umbrella decided to go with Ballard.

5/19/2014 at 6:19 PM

You cat's expressive face just cracks me up, lol! I'm with the others on the wicker, way too expensive and the legs on mine are already starting to unravel at the bottom. Ticks me offAlt smile

5/19/2014 at 6:29 PM

Can't go wrong with classic black wrought iron. We have had our set since the 90's. It needs to be painted occasionally (like this year), and you can always add to the set because it never goes out of style. It's really a keeper!

5/22/2014 at 6:29 PM

Teak oil shouldn't be used on outdoor furniture. Teak needs nothing and is almost zero maintenance. Just an occasional scrub with mild soap and water. If you were to sand it down removing the finish it would eventually gray naturally. If you still want a new set you should be able to get a good chunk of change for your old one. Have you looked at bjs/sams/costco? Our bjs has a decent selection of outdoor sets. Maybe try wayfair as well.

5/28/2014 at 2:09 PM

So, um. I think my best friend and her husband might have gone to look at your historic farmhouse without plumbing as a potential buy. After bringing in several restoration experts, they decided against it because it needed about $100k of immediate work.


TOTALLY WORTH IT! I'm so jealous that they were even considering it, I haven't even gotten Wendy to go that far.

6/5/2014 at 7:44 PM

Pretty late here, and I know the choice has been made, so am just offering this as information to others who may be considering it -- all weather wicker comes in many different qualities and prices.

I was hesitant, at first, about 4-5 years ago when I found a set I liked at an online (and brick and mortar) wicker furniture store. The set was on sale but still almost $900 for loveseat, table, and rocker. However, once I shopped around in all of the local "hearth and patio" stores I found that this was a good deal after all.

While our furniture is on a covered porch it stays outside year round and gets a lot of use (also our neighbor's cat scratches on it all the time -- no bueno). The frames are aluminum and sturdy and the wicker looks very real (true to late 19th century style). We aren't fans of plastic anything trying to emulate natural materials, so this furniture impressed a picky purist!

OTOH when my mom downsized last year I got her outdoor modern-style wicker chairs of about the same vintage as our furniture, also kept out on a covered balcony. That sh** is nasty and falling apart or rather disintegrating. And it came from Frontgate so it wasn't the cheapo option. The advice offered is to check online wicker specialty sellers -- they have much more selection and better prices and quality.

I love any and all pictures of Mel -- I just want to hug him. But maybe he's not doing such a great job (nor is sweet Lulu) of getting the pooping birds to fly away and relocate.

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