Eco-friendly garden furniture: relax in your own great outdoors

Eco-friendly garden furniture: relax in your own great outdoors

Sunny days shift our focus outside. But to enjoy our gardens, balconies, terraces and patios, we need at the very least something to sit on. Kay Hill seeks outdoor furniture that looks great, is comfortable and has green credentials

Tibbo teak collection by Barber Osgerby for Germany's Dedon

Great for gardens and terraces, the Tibbo collection by Barber Osgerby for high end German manufacturer Dedon is made from slow grown premium teak from sustainable plantations. Garden furniture has traditionally been made from wood or metal, while Spanish brands such as Gandía Blasco, Kettal, Expormim and Vondom have introduced contemporary designs made from high-tech fibres combined with aluminium or stainless steel, or recyclable rotation-moulded polyethylene. New to the UK from the US is stylish wood-look recycled plastic POLYWOOD® furniture. For quality reclaimed teak furniture, see Garden Furniture Centre

Whether you have rolling lawns or a small back yard, the odds are that when the sun is shining you'll want to be able to sit out. On a lounge chair perhaps, or at a table for alfresco eating. But don’t leave your scruples at the doorstep; the sustainability of your garden furniture is every bit as important as what’s inside your house.
Traditionally most garden furniture has been made from wood, which of course can be sustainable and is biodegradable, but brands such as Spain's Vondom do incredible things with rotation-moulded polyethylene, which is fully recyclable. And Poly-Wood is new to the UK, strong, colourful furniture made from PET (recycled plastic bottles) plastic.
It's the favourite choice for garden furniture, both at the affordable and luxury ends of the market. Teak is extremely hard-wearing and gets better with age, weathering to a gentle silver grey that, like male newsreaders’ hair, only makes it look more distinguished. 
Teak is a deciduous hardwood tree from the highlands (rather than the rainforests) of Southeast Asia, which because of its high oil content is resistant to rotting, making it the traditional choice both for ship decking and English garden furniture. The only country still logging natural teak forests (officially, at least) is Burma; much of what is used for garden furniture is grown on Java in sustainable plantations owned by the Indonesian government.
Plantation-grown teak, offered by companies such as high end Bristol-based Gloster, is a pretty good choice as in general it avoids deforestation - although it does have to be shipped to Europe. 
Spanish modern outdoor furniture company Gandía Blasco's recent Atlantic collection has an anodized or thermo-lacquered aluminium frame and surface slats made from Nowood, a recyclable material that resembles wood produced from natural and plastic fibres.
These sturdy wooden benches are made in UK from English oak and traditionally built. From £395 without personalisation, £425 with up to 30 characters.
Bali Majestic Daybed Bench is made from reclaimed teak, put together, carved and decorated by Indonesian craftspeople. Has recess for cushion storage, £1,000.
Celtic Forest furniture is made from oak & larch trees up to 300 yrs old growing on a Celtic battlefield site in west Wales. Trees selected are at the end of their natural lifespan & permission from the authorities is needed before felling. Pembroke oak bench £995.
Zinc-galvanised steel and oak Willow Leaf bench, £925 by Victoria Govan & Richard Warner of Iron Vein in Powys. Steel is recyclable and usually contains a fair amount of recycled metal.
Windsor classic contemporary teak collection from Bristol-based Gloster,
Sculptural Flow green oak bench by Shropshire-based Chris Nangle, £690 .
Ripple green oak bench with charred finish, £2,150, by
POLYWOOD® furniture looks like wood but is made from recycled plastic.
Green oak Love Seat by Marnie Moyle’s Green Oak Furniture is held together with wedges, £3,200.
Gaze Burvill’s wooden furniture is made from European oak with a clear supply chain. Shown is Broadwalk oval table, available in three sizes to seat 10-14 people, from £6,240.
Nautica real rattan swing chair, made in Spain by Spanish manufacturer Expormim. Comes with own stand for indoor use.
Reclaimed teak
It's also a good option. The Garden Furniture Centre in the West Midlands has one of the largest ranges of reclaimed teak in the UK and staff member Phil Aston says that 'in more than 20 years of buying garden furniture, some of the most satisfying products we buy are reclaimed teak. The ingenuity of the craftspeople who make the furniture is inspirational and the raw materials and processes used make each piece in our catalogue unique.'
He adds: 'A further benefit is the reduction in de-forestation associated with making reclaimed teak furniture.'
Nonetheless, an increasing number of designers feel that European wood offers a more eco-friendly alternative to teak. Chris Nangle Shropshire-based Chris Nangle Furniture makes beautiful outdoor furniture from green (unseasoned) oak, a traditional British material. 'I took the environmental decision to use only locally-sourced native hardwoods, never tropical woods from the Far East,' he says.
'All our hardwood comes from well-managed woodlands and is sawn by our local mill, ensuring a minimal carbon footprint. We never use teak, as even with certification I'm not sure you can ever trace its provenance. I'm far happier using green oak, the vernacular building material of England. Oak is naturally strong and resistant to decay, making it maintenance-free and the natural choice for eco-friendly outdoor furniture.'
Green oak is also championed by Marnie Moyle of Berks-based Greenoak Furniture, whose collection includes chairs, tables and benches, such as the whimsical Love Seat. 'All my furniture has massive environmental considerations,' says Moyle. 'I choose not to use foreign timber - local feels right for me – and I like my relationships with the sound and knowledgeable professionals that harvest and convert my timber and can even tell me where the tree once stood.'
Solid English oak benches, personalised with a name or special message, are available from Gift Wrapped & Gorgeouswhile wonderfully robust, characterful hand-made oak and larch furniture can be found at Glamorganshire-based Celtic Forest.  
Nathan Phipps, director at Celtic Forest, says the company uses wood from trees up to 300 years old growing on the site of an ancient Celtic battlefield in West Wales. The trees have reached the end of their natural lifespan, and once selected, they're physically marked, and permission must  be given by authorities for it to be felled. 
Another fan of oak is Caroline Burvill, of high-end Hampshire company Gaze Burvill. 'We choose it for its environmental aspect – it doesn’t have to be shipped half way around the world. Oak is strong, durable and has a transparent supply chain of timber from well-managed forests close to home.'


Vondom polyethylene furniture is lightweight and made in Spain. Doux collection by Karim Rashid. Prices from £250.
Vondom's Roulette chairs by Eero Aarnio swivel on their bases. Made in Spain from fully recyclable rotation moulded polyethylene.
Tough colourful  POLYWOOD® furniture from the US, now available in the UK. www.
Minimalist Solo FSC certified Iroko wood dining set by Viteo from Encompass, table £3,508.
Lucca table with steel frame and powder-coated steel top by Neptune, around £1,420.
Teak Cross bench from Bramblecrest, £274.99.
Chunky, air-dried FSC certified oak benches and tables are a speciality at Benchmark Furniture. Oscar table £3,100.
Beech Folding Rocking Chair made in London by WAWA. Sunbrella water-repellent fabric can be returned to WAWA for recycling, £298.
 Authur table top made from a recycled cart wheel, chairs from reclaimed fence posts. Table+10 chairs, £4,160.
Organic cotton deckchairs from The Eden Project shop. Beech frames, cotton fabric by local artist Ley Honor Roberts. Pair £65.
With all that summer sun it's no wonder Spain is a main producer of outdoor furniture. Vondom is based in Valencia and has put some funk into outdoor furniture. It started out making planters but in recent years has worked with leading designers including Karim Rashid to develop outdoor furniture collections that are lightweight and come in unconventional shapes. Vondom pieces are made in Spain from recyclable rotation-moulded polyethylene.
Another top Spanish brand, Gandía Blasco, is experimenting with new materials including one it's calling Nowood, which is made from natural but predominantly recycled plastic fibres that it uses to make the slats on its contemporary aluminium-framed daybeds. It's latest Atlantic collection uses Nowood.
Another alternative to wood is wood-look POLYWOOD®, a material made from high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic from recycled milk containers. Pellets of processed, recycled bottles are extruded into plastic 'timber' which is then used in the same way as wood to make furniture that can withstand all weathers and be left out year round. Poly-Wood is based in Leicestershire and its parent company is in the US. Furniture comes in bright colours, as well as as white, teak and mahogany.
Metal furniture is a good choice since the raw materials, while not abundant, are not in short supply and are easy to recycle as they have a good scrap value. Garden furniture can be made of cast iron, wrought iron, steel and aluminium - the latter is the lightest and most resistant to weathering. All metal garden furniture should be long-lasting and fairly tough.
You'll love the designs of Powys-based Victoria Govan and Richard Warner of Iron Vein. They use metal and wood to make unusual contemporary outdoor furniture and metal to make wonderful sculptures for the garden. They combine traditional blacksmithing skills with high-tech metalwork techniques such as CNC plasma and laser and water-cutting.
French manufacturer Fermob gives us those wonderful classic bistro sets, which are very slender and fold up almost to nothing, yet are very strong. They're made from recycled steel and are recyclable. Other Fermob products are made from recycled aluminium - indeed according to Fermob, more than 90 per cent of metals in the world are recycled. You can find Fermob products in many good garden centres around the UK.


French Fermob slender recycled steel bistro sets are hugely popular. Around £250 for table and 2 chairs.
Steel Costa High Table, 80x80cms, by French manufacturer Fermob,
Atlantic stools made from aluminium and Nowood by Gandía Blasco
Washington Skeleton chair by David Adjaye for Knoll is made from aluminium with a green, grey or black finish, safe for outdoor use. Available from Chaplin’s.
Compact EOS aluminium table and armchair from Matthew Hilton's Case Furniture, £299,
Reconstituted stone Callanish dining table from Oka. Seats 12. £2,600.
Pine is inexpensive but will rot and get eaten by insects more quickly than harder woods - meaning that good protection is essential. Farrow & Ball has a new range of outdoor paints which can help with durability.  And a new patented technique, Kebony Technology, can turn softwoods into wood as strong as teak using a heat treatment and an alcohol solution derived from agricultural crop waste. Kebony is being used mainly for decking, but garden furniture is on the horizon.
Rattan...real not not?
A word of warning about inexpensive garden furniture labelled 'rattan'. Look up rattan in the dictionary and you’ll find it’s a natural fibre that comes from various types of palm.
This is not, however, what much of the low-cost furniture is made from. Real rattan would quickly discolour and rot if let outdoors year round, so while conservatory furniture IS often still made from the real thing, over the years manufacturers have switched to weaving furniture using traditional techniques, but replacing the natural material with a plastic substitute. Some manufacturers have the honesty to put the word rattan in inverted commas, others don’t – so don’t be fooled.
Finally there is stone and concrete furniture. Concrete contains cement which has a fairly nasty manufacturing process, along with sand which is quarried, but both materials are made in Britain so there is seldom many product miles involved. Stone is also quarried and is a limited, although not generally scarce, resource. If you have your heart set on a stone bench then consider buying one made from stone quarried from the UK or mainland Europe where environmental and safety standards are higher.