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updated 4/30/2008 6:33:17 PM ET 2008-04-30T22:33:17

Looking for a way to give your home a fresh new look? Well, look no further. This time of year, a great way to dress up your home is from the outside in. Lifestyle expert Elizabeth Mayhew offers some ideas for creating a beautiful backyard oasis.

With all home purchases, you have to consider questions of design, budget and lifestyle. Buying outdoor furniture is no exception. You want your outdoor furniture to not only reflect your own personal style, but also to stand up to the elements and your family’s activities. So, before you rush out on the next sunny Saturday to outfit your patio, backyard, deck or pool, take into consideration the following things:

  • Buy outdoor furniture that is a natural extension of your indoor décor and your house’s architectural style. If your house is modern, then purchase modern-styled outdoor tables, chairs and chaises. If your house is styled like an English cottage, then choose similar-styled outdoor furniture. Luckily for all, there is so much available on the market, from color to shape to style, that you can find any and all trends represented.
  • Consider your budget. It is possible to find very inexpensive outdoor furniture, but realize that often less-expensive furniture does not wear as well. You will be better off buying the best quality (usually more expensive) pieces you can. Outdoor furniture — like the major pieces in your house — is an investment.
  • Make smart material decisions. Outdoor furniture tends to be made from three main materials: Wood, synthetics and metal. The style of furniture you choose will partly determine the material you choose, but your lifestyle will as well. The different materials require different degrees of maintenance and care. They also have different levels of mobility — some are quite heavy, while others are dainty and easily moved.

Wood
If you are the busy type who likes low-maintenance, care-free home purchases, then choose teak furniture. Historically used in boat building, teak — a rainforest wood — is hearty and resilient. Left outside, it weathers from brown to silvery gray and can last for up to 100 years. To maintain teak's original brown color, apply teak protector, like Golden Care’s solution (koverroos.com) once or twice a year.

When purchasing teak furniture, look for a Forest Stewardship Council stamp, which lets you know that it was responsibly harvested.

Alternatively, look for eucalyptus and cedar furniture. Eucalyptus furniture is less expensive than teak and can last almost as long, but it needs to be treated several times a year with a water-based acrylic sealant. Cedar (think classic picnic table) is the least expensive, but will only last about 20 years. Cedar should be coated annually with protective oil.

When buying any wood furniture, look for mortise-and-tenon construction, stainless-steel screws (they don’t rust) and dowels and pegs. Never buy furniture that has been glued or stapled.

Synthetics
Plastic furniture is the least expensive, but usually not as attractive or comfortable as other materials. An exception is all-weather wicker, which is made of synthetic fibers that are woven around an aluminum frame. Whereas real wicker is not immune to moisture or sun damage, all-weather wicker can basically stay outdoors all year long. And it is easy to care for: Just hose it down with water and a mild soap. Look for pieces that are tightly woven. You should not be able to see through the weave.

Metal
The most common types of metal furniture are made from aluminum, wrought iron, stainless steel or powder-coated steel. There are varying qualities of aluminum furniture that determine its weight, price and durability. Tubular aluminum is the least expensive and lightest because it’s hollow; cast aluminum is the most expensive and heaviest. Both, however, are a good pick because aluminum is rustproof. Look for furniture that has rustproof hardware, seamless welds and a powder-coated finish to prevent oxidation. Wrought iron sets, like cast aluminum, can be expensive and very heavy. Make sure that sets are powder-coated to prevent rusting, but watch out for scratches to the surface. They will rust. (If this happens, immediately sand the area and apply touch-up paint). Stainless or powder-coated steel sets are durable, moderately priced and easy to care for. One thing to remember: A glass top on any metal table should be tempered glass for safety.

Other things to consider:

  • Always try out furniture before buying it. Comfort should be at the top of your shopping criteria.
  • Buy enough furniture to accommodate your family and guests. Also supply enough shade for all, which might mean purchasing a few umbrellas with sturdy stands (look for weighted bases of at least 50 pounds).
  • Invest in cushions and pillows made of solution-dyed acrylic fabrics. These fabrics come in a huge variety of colors and patterns and are moisture, mildew and UV protected, so they won’t fade (outdoorfabrics.com). Cushion and pillow filling should be polyester, which does not absorb water and dries quickly.
  • If you don’t have room to store your outdoor furniture in a garage or basement, buy proper covers now. You will be happy to have them once the weather turns.
  • Rugs: You really can create fully decorated, “outdoor rooms” by adding a rug. Yes a rug.

What you saw on TODAY:

  • Atuto Rings chair, $179, atuto.biz
  • Cole Chair, $1095, arthurlauer.com
  • Cole Octagon Table, $535, arthurlauer.com
  • Teak Chaise, $870, kingsleybate.com
  • Outdoor Cushion, $242, kingsleybate.com
  • Golden Care Cleaning Products, koverroos.com 
  • Wicker Settee and Chairs, $279 - $599, llbean.com
  • Square Dining Table and Chairs, $899, westelm.com
  • Indoor/Outdoor Rug, $288, dashandalbert.com

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