Cheat Sheet | An outdoor chair is more than just a place to sit

Posted: June 01, 2007

Outdoor seating doesn't just mean teak pieces cushioned in all-weather fabric. Think lawn chairs you can lug to the beach or to the spot where you watch the Fourth of July fireworks - chairs that stand up to all kinds of weather, are easy to pack up and don't stretch out of shape the first time someone sits in them.

Need to know: What you expect out of the chairs. Too often, we ask a chair to fit into more situations than it was meant to handle. Camp chairs, for example, are fairly versatile because they fold up small, fit into easy-to-carry, durable cloth or canvas bags, and often have cup holders on both armrests. They're fine for sitting around the campfire and for lawn seating, but they don't work well on sandy beaches. And they're not necessarily comfortable enough to doze in.

Practical points: The chair you choose should be easy and safe to get in and out of, for you and all your guests. Most people don't ease into a lawn chair gracefully and leave it the same way. They sit down hard, usually with a cup in one hand and a plate in the other. Make sure you check the capacity of the chair before you buy - 500 pounds should be enough.

For picnics in the backyard or the park, you'll want chairs with sturdy armrests, for balancing those plates of food and cups. Some chairs come with trays for dishes, in addition to cup holders; others let you add these features later.

Size matters: Make sure a chair to be used for picnicking is a reasonable height off the ground, to keep you and your food away from the ants. Beach chairs, however, are often low to the ground so the chair can use the sand for support, and to let you stretch out a bit more. They also typically have backs that adjust from ocean-watching level to napping mode.

Comfort zone: Consider cushions for harder lawn chairs, but make sure those cushions can stand up to rain and sun and dry quickly, rather than become mildewed and tough to clean. For real relaxation, buy a chaise longue that's also light enough to transport.

Material world: Some people like the look of a wood Adirondack chair, but they aren't all that comfortable if you plan to lounge for hours, and they're hardly portable (though if you take care of them, they'll last forever). Plastic and nylon chairs tend to have short life spans, though they're longer on comfort and easier to carry. Metal chairs get hot in the sun; cloth can stretch and tear after awhile.

Be sure to ask: Can I try out the chairs before buying them? This is especially important if you're considering a higher-priced perch. And check whether the chair comes with a warranty or guarantee, especially if the seat in question is no cheap, one-season throwaway.

What will it cost: Lawn chairs range from about $12 to a few hundred dollars for higher-end models.


Want Alan J. Heavens' advice on a home-improvement project or purchase? E-mail him at aheavens@phillynews.com or write to him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.

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