Originally Published on October 6, 2022. Last Updated on October 2, 2023.
No garden, patio, or front porch is complete without seating from which you can comfortably relax and enjoy the fresh air. Available in a variety of designs and lengths, benches offer room for two or more guests. They’re also a great option for solo relaxation, a place to go when you want to get lost in a good book or listen to the peaceful chorus of chirping birds. A comfortable, well-designed bench can bring form and function to any underutilized space or forgotten corner.
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Is an Outdoor Bench Right For You?
Choose the Right Materials for Your Garden Bench
Choose the Right Size for Your Outdoor Bench
Choose the Right Style Bench
Choose the Right Color for Your Bench
Choose the Right Accessories for Your Bench
Step 1: Is an Outdoor Bench Right For You?
When choosing a patio bench, you want to look for high-quality designs, durable materials, and a style that plays well with your current decor. You may want to set a budget ahead of time to prevent overspending. Before we dive into different materials, sizing, styles, and accessories, let’s decide: Is an outdoor bench right for your space and lifestyle?
Points to Consider
Durability: How well will it stand up to rain, sun, snow, and repeat use?
Maintenance: How much effort is required to keep it clean?
Design: Does the bench work with the current layout and look of your space?
Comfort: Is it designed with a contoured seat or cushions?
Weight: How easy is it to move the furniture, and can it withstand strong wind gusts?
Price: How much value (i.e., frequency and years of use) will you get from your bench?
Step 2: Choose the Right Materials for Your Garden Bench
If you want something that will last for years and require little maintenance, materials do matter. If your outdoor space is subject to inclement weather or if you have kids and pets, look for durable, moisture-resistant materials. If the area is covered or you don’t mind the extra maintenance, less durable materials could work.
In short, the good looks and longevity of your bench is largely dependent on the material you choose. Below we’ve listed the most common materials used in outdoor benches and rated each by how much maintenance is required to keep in great condition.
Aluminum (Maintenance: 2/5)
Aluminum is favored for its durability and rust-resistant properties, especially when it’s powder coated. These benches can be left outside year-round but may become hot to the touch if exposed to the sun. Some frames are made with lightweight hollow tubing that may blow over in windy weather conditions.
Cast Iron (Maintenance: 5/5)
Cast iron is a traditional patio furniture choice, and a bench in this metal material may feature a simple design or more ornate appearance. Susceptible to rust, cast iron will require a higher level of maintenance. Iron is heavy, which is ideal for enduring wind gusts—but not so great if you want to move your furniture. These styles generally require cushions to sit comfortably.
Concrete (Maintenance: 3/5)
Concrete benches are widely popular for outdoor use and readily available at most garden centers. They are attractive, heavy-duty, and relatively easy to maintain—especially in drier climates. This material may not be suited to regions that experience significant rainfall, as it’s susceptible to mildew and moss. However, this can typically be remedied with regular cleanings using soapy water or a diluted vinegar solution.
Softwood (Maintenance: 5/5)
Some outdoor seating is made of cedar, pine, or other softwoods, which are abundant and typically inexpensive. Since these woods are quite porous and don’t do well against moisture, it’s recommended to cover them during inclement weather or when not in use. Softwoods need to be restained or revarnished on a semi-regular basis, and they are susceptible to scratches and dents.
Hardwood (Maintenance: 3.5/5)
Solid hardwood—like teak, oak, and acacia wood—is a better choice than softwood for long-lasting outdoor furniture. Hardwoods are relatively durable and resilient against scratches and dents. But if you plan to leave it uncovered when not in use, your wood bench will need to be varnished and regularly maintained.
All-Weather Wicker (Maintenance: 3/5)
Wicker furniture is woven of natural materials like willow, bamboo, or rattan. While they are loved for their breezy, resort-inspired look, natural wicker furniture simply won’t do well if exposed to the elements. Resin wicker, also known as all-weather wicker, is far better for outdoor furniture. Keep in mind that the weave can trap dirt and debris, making wicker styles harder to clean.
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Lumber (Maintenance: 1/5)
As you may know, we’re big fans of HDPE lumber for outdoor seating, and ours is made from sustainable materials, including ocean- and landfill-bound plastics. This option is the most durable thanks to its fade- and weather-resistant properties. Plus, it’s exceptionally easy to clean. While more expensive than some materials, HDPE is the longest lasting—making the initial investment worth it.
Step 3: Choose the Right Size for Your Outdoor Bench
When deciding what size bench is best for your space and seating needs, you want to consider your square footage, the number of people you want to accommodate, and how you plan to use it.
Width: Small-space-friendly designs typically start at 48-inches wide, a comfortable width enough for 1 to 2 adults. If you’re working with a large space and have a bigger family or like to stretch out, look for a larger seat that’s between 60- and 80-inches wide.
Height: Bench seats will typically be between 14 and 19 inches above the ground. If you want lumbar support, look for ones with backrests that extend at least 16 inches above the top of the seat.
Depth: Referring to the distance between the front and back of the seat, the depth of your bench will ultimately be determined by your space and family members’ heights. Deeper seats are best for larger patios and taller folks.
Step 4: Choose the Right Style Bench
The easiest way to decide the best style and color for your new outdoor bench will be to take inventory of your current patio furniture. Since benches are used as additional seating—and not necessarily a space’s focal point—you should shop for something that plays well with your layout and its current color scheme.
A garden bench is typically designed with a supportive backrest, perfect for settling in with a cup of tea and admiring your natural surroundings. Depending on the width, it can usually seat between 2 and 4 friends.
A backless bench is, yes, a bench without a backrest. This style is truly versatile as you can sit on one in any direction and easily tuck it under a dining table. The biggest downside is that they don’t offer back support, so they aren’t as comfortable as other styles.
If you want to maximize a corner, a curved bench might be your perfect fit. These space-savers can be positioned with a table in the middle to create a cozy breakfast nook or conversation area.
Another space-saving superstar, storage benches are great for maintaining a neat and tidy backyard. You can use this extra storage space to stow accessories during stormy weather or keep the kids’ pool toys out of sight.
Step 5: Choose the Right Color for Your Bench
You really can’t go wrong with a neutral-hued bench. Tan or dark brown tones easily blend into natural surroundings, while white, grey, or black all pair well with most color schemes. These easygoing colors can be brightened up with vibrant accent pillows or nearby planters with colorful blooms. Depending on the material you’re opting for, there may be more vibrant options (think cheery yellow or turquoise blue) at your disposal.
Step 6: Choose the Right Accessories for Your Bench
Last but not least, it’s time to think about accessories. If you want to add extra support for those long coffee talks or a pop of color to your porch, bench cushions are a perfect way to do so. Some online retailers will provide the option to add on a cushion when you purchase your new bench. If not, you’ll need to measure the seat width and depth and find one that fits.
Side tables are another great way to round out your outdoor seating—and offers a place to set your coffee mug down between sips. Look for one in the same material and color for a cohesive look or try something unexpected if you have a flair for the eclectic.