All-weather outdoor wicker

Deborah Holmes

Summer Classics glider

This single glider from Summer Classics looks like an antique but is woven in weatherproof vinyl on a welded aluminum frame. Like traditional wicker, it features a diamond back pattern and braided frame. It's available in ebony (pictured), white or natural and is priced at $760, including the cushion.


The old wicker chair sat alluringly in the antique shop, a quilt draped over the arm. Alas, the quilt was lifted and the flaw was revealed. One side of the seat was rotted away.

The problem?

This chair had spent many summers on an open front porch, and natural woven furniture was never intended to withstand the elements.

Sun bakes the fibers, leaving them dry and brittle. Moisture can loosen glued furniture joints and warp frames. Owners of vintage wicker often are advised to vacuum, wash and air-dry their wicker before putting it outside. Better advice, restoration experts say, is to keep antique wicker and woven furniture indoors and use reproductions outside.

A new generation of wicker

Happily, a new generation of woven furniture allows you to have your wicker and use it too. Called outdoor or all-weather wicker, this furniture is woven with polyethylene resin fibers that when coupled with a sturdy frame, will stand up to outdoor use.

Lower-end outdoor wicker is often woven on a rattan frame, a natural material that does not hold up to moisture as well as aluminum, steel or teak. Steel and aluminum won't warp or come unglued, and aluminum offers the advantage of being rust-proof. Teak is a weather-resistant tropical hardwood.

Natural wicker furniture is made from rattan, a tropical climbing palm, or bamboo, a large tropical grass. By contrast, all-weather wicker is woven from resin, synthetic material that can be formed into narrow vine-like pieces that look like natural materials.

Resin wicker can hold up to the elements, and some manufacturers boast that it can be left outside year-round, even in northern climates. Another plus is that because dyes can be mixed right into the resin, the furniture will not peel or flake like painted natural wicker.


Plantation chair

Gloster's Plantation series combines teak with a "Hularo," an all-weather resin wicker with a rich natural finish. The manufacturer says the wicker is soft and supple and resists tears, sunlight, temperature changes, rain, and snow. It backs the claim with a three-year warranty on weaving and a five-year warranty on the teak. Pictured above, the 59-1/2" diameter all-weather wicker table with teak top lists for $1,957. The arm chair, also in the Plantation series, lists for $725.

plantation table


Home Depot chair
The Java Loveseat from Home Depot features a steel frame and resin weaving. Priced online at $129, it carries a one-year warranty.


Pricing and quality options

The price range is as vast, with upper end pieces costing as much as good indoor furniture.

So how do much should you pay for outdoor furniture? That depends on your budget, lifestyle and expectations. In many cases you get what you pay for. For example, a "Classic Resin Wicker Rocker" on Target's Web site is $99. British manufacturer Gloster has a "Plantation Rocker" that lists for $1,299.

Key differences between affordable wicker and expensive wicker:

  • The Target rocker is machine-woven with weather-resistant resin, but is on a rattan frame. The rattan frame is likely to deteriorate long before the resin weaving. Some inexpensive outdoor furniture is on a hollow bamboo frame, which can be identified by surface nodes.
  • The Gloster rocker features a tight hand woven resin. The frame is welded, powder coated aluminum. The chair has a sturdy, "real furniture" feel.

A majority of people surveyed by the Summer and Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association in 2005 said they expected to replace their outdoor furniture every five years. Some view it as an annual expense, in which case the lower priced furniture might be a good choice. Others are willing to put off purchasing outdoor furniture until they can afford they higher quality pieces.


target chair

plantation rocker

Choices are varied, as are prices. At top is the Target Classic Resin Wicker Rocker, at $99. Below it is Gloster's Plantation Rocker, with a suggested retail price of $1,299.


detail
Gloster's polyethylene resin wicker is woven over a powder coated welded aluminum frame. It is through dyed and will not fade, chip or peel.


Other things to look for

Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for resin wicker:

  • Quality pieces will be tightly woven, with no gaps. 
  • Leg bottoms should have protective taps or casters. 
  • Sit on the chair. Does it feel comfortable and sturdy? 
  • How is the frame constructed? While antique wicker often has a solid rattan frame, this material is not meant to be outside, unprotected. The same is true of new furniture on rattan, bamboo or softwood frames. A welded aluminum frame is stronger than a bolted frame. Powder coated aluminum resists corrosion. If the frame is wooden, is it teak or another tropical hardwood that can withstand the elements? 
  • What is your lifestyle? If you have very active, young children, or dogs who chew and climb on furniture, woven may not be a good choice. Or inexpensive pieces that you can replace with higher quality furniture as your family matures might be a better idea than investing in expensive woven furniture to start.

About the Author
By Deborah Holmes, The Old House Web


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