Originally Published on February 19, 2020. Last Updated on January 3, 2024.
There’s a lot to love about desert living: Minimal humidity and mosquitos, photo-worthy landscapes, beautiful sunsets, and so on. Of course, with these pros come a few cons, such as intense sun, heat, and dust. You’ll need outdoor furniture that can withstand these elements year-round, but with a little prescience and planning, you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect patio pairings.
Why Is a Desert Climate Hard on Outdoor Furniture?
As anyone who’s ever tried to sit on a metal chair on a hot, sunny day can attest, furniture left out in the direct sun can be too toasty to sit on during the day.
After repeated exposure to UV rays, finishes and fabrics can fade. This means your bright red aluminum lawn chairs may eventually end up a sad shade of pink. Not only that, but damaging sunlight conditions can even weaken the fibers in some materials, causing them to become brittle and prone to breakage.
Changing temperatures can negatively affect your patio set—especially wood and wicker furniture. Sweltering days cause these materials to expand, and the shift to cooler nights causes them to contract. Over time, this cycle of expansion and contraction leads to warping and cracking.
Dust & Wind
Arid climates are dusty, so outdoor furniture collects dirt quickly. Plus, there aren’t many trees in the desert to act as natural windbreaks. This gives strong winds the freedom to blow your bistro set off your deck if it’s lightweight and not securely anchored.
Deserts aren’t known for rainy weather, but if you live in Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas, you’re familiar with monsoon season in late summer, leading to major climate changes in these ordinarily dry areas, including increased humidity, thunderstorms, and hail. Lightweight, fragile, or unprotected furniture doesn’t stand a chance in this harsh weather.
How Materials Handle Arid Conditions
Before shopping for outdoor furniture, let’s talk materials. Some hold up in desert climates better than others. Browse the following pro and con lists for various outdoor furniture materials to determine which is best for your desert patio.
Outdoor Cushion Considerations
Outdoor cushions are ideal for bringing extra softness and color to a patio. Just be sure to pick fabrics that can withstand sun, dust, heat, and wildlife. Here are a few tips to help you select the right cushion materials and extend their lifespans:
- Choose pillows tailored in performance fabric designed to handle outdoor environments.
- Fading is inevitable; if possible, flip cushions regularly to even wear and color changes.
- Store cushions and pillows in console tables, sheds, or garages when they’re not in use.
- Shield fabric from damaging UV rays, stains, and dirt with a spray-on protectant.
Caring for Desert Patio Furniture
Follow these tips to keep your outdoor furniture safe in a desert environment:
- Regularly clean your furniture with soapy water to remove accumulated dirt and dust.
- Store furniture in your garage or shed or use weatherproof covers to protect it in the off-season.
- Anchor furniture to the floor to protect it from strong winds.
- Keep furniture in shaded areas to shield it from the sun.
Styling Your Desert Patio
Outdoor furniture is about much more than function. Form is also essential to create the most welcoming space. That said, there’s no right or wrong when styling your desert patio. It comes down to personal preference and a few factors:
- Aesthetic: How do you want your patio to look and feel?
- Existing architecture: Which materials complement your desert home’s exterior and decorative elements?
- Utility: How do you want your outdoor space to serve your family?
- Protective barriers: Do you have umbrellas and awnings shading your space and retractable screens to keep dust and wind out?
- Location: Is your patio exposed to full sun from dawn to dusk or just part of the day?
From a practical perspective, your needs will vary from space to space. Use the ideas below to inspire the design for your desert oasis.
Shade is essential for your dining area so your guests can stay cool during brunch or afternoon cocktails. Outdoor umbrellas block the sun during the day and can be closed at night to give you an unobstructed view of the star-spangled sky. Choose a dining set in a lighter shade that complements the colors of the surrounding desert, and lean into drought-resistant plants like cacti and agave for hints of greenery that contrast with the warmth of the space.
Fire Pit Area
Starry summer evenings and long winter nights are ideal for deep conversations around the fire. Surround a low-maintenance fire pit table with coordinating Adirondack chairs and side tables where family can lean back and gaze at the glittering sky while keeping drinks and s’mores supplies within reach. If the patio surface is flat, place a pair of rocking chairs by the fire so grandparents can have a place to sooth sleepy babies and share stories with the grandkids.
A pool is the centerpiece of many desert homes. Make the most of this space with waterproof outdoor furniture. Chaise lounges are perfect for working on your tan or dozing off after sunset. Add a small dining set nearby so the kids can enjoy a quick snack or popsicle break before cannonballing back into the pool. Incorporate an Adirondack set fitted with a large umbrella so you can oversee the fun while relaxing in the shade.
Additional Styling Ideas
Lean Into Green
Drought-resistant cacti, agave, and palm trees bring beauty to your patio area while creating soft places for the eye to land. We also love the charming look of a tabletop succulent garden. Style a large terra-cotta bowl on an outdoor coffee table, filling it with desert-loving succulents.
Implement Unexpected Statement Pieces
Mixing unexpected pops of color and energetic statement pieces throughout a neutral color scheme adds visual interest to outdoor desert spaces. For a striking contrast, hang a weather-resistant painting or graphic print on an empty exterior wall, or select seat cushions in bright hues for your outdoor dining chairs.
Go With the Boho Flow
If the bohemian lifestyle and striking landscapes are what attracted you to the desert, then let the Wild West influence your home’s decor. Look for Southwestern-inspired patterns and upholstery in earthy tones of sienna, umber, and ochre to complement the warm landscapes.
Accentuate your seating areas with geometric kilim rugs and regionally important materials like terra-cotta, leather, and brass. Local artwork and bohemian accessories such as macramé will give your space an authentic feel without being overwhelming.
Master the Art of Minimalism
When designing a desert getaway, less is always more. The sleek modernity of Southwestern architecture pairs perfectly with the minimalist design style. Steering clear of collections of knick-knacks lets you cut through the clutter to make a big statement. Stick to straight lines and simple geometric shapes to complete the theme.