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IF THIS is the year to replace the outdoor furniture, plan on dealing with a full deck. Shopping for lawn chairs, deck chaises or patio tables isn't a matter of deciding between real or resin anymore.

Technical improvements such as vinyl-dipped wicker and powder-coated wrought iron make the choices so vast that a confused shopper may make a speedy exit, mumbling something about having to go home and stain the deck.

Even cushions have gone high-tech.

Where to start? Consider your needs. And if you don't know, find someone in sales who can help.

"A knowledgeable salesperson will ask questions they need to know in order to help you select furniture that will suit your needs," said Bruce Kramer, president of the seven-store Pleasures & Pastimes Inc.

For example, will the furniture be situated on concrete or a deck? Near the pool or under an awning?

Another point to remember is that garden furniture should look decorative but be tough enough to stand outside -- possibly year-round.

The alternative -- particularly in Western New York's climate -- is to buy furniture that can be stored easily above the garage, in the basement or in the shed.

With that in mind, here's a breakdown of some of the most popular types of outdoor furniture.

Wooden furniture

The big picture: When it comes to the all-natural look, nothing quite beats real wood.

Advantages: It's handsome. Has nice grain. Easily adapts to most settings.

Disadvantages. It's heavy, especially if it has to be moved every time you mow the lawn. It's bulky to store, unless it folds or dismantles. And it requires maintenance.

The news: Teak alternatives, for the ecologically conscious.
Jarrah, a rich mahogany-colored timber from western Australia, is one of them. Major resorts such as Disneyland use it for bridges, pathways and seal tanks because it withstands high traffic and constant moisture. Furniture by Jensen Jarrah of Australia is available at W.G. Arthur's Home Furnishings in Orchard Park.

Buying tips: Buy the sturdiest wooden furniture you can afford. A hardwood chair at Pier 1 costs $130. A love seat from Jensen Jarrah costs $266; a table and four chairs, $899.

Care tips: Tung, linseed and teak oils lubricate and protect most wooden furniture. Apply one of these once a year. For redwood, use a clear oil-based stain or a pigmented stain if you prefer the red color.

Wrought iron furniture

The big picture: Metal furniture is very fashionable -- for indoor and outdoor living. Wrought iron, in particular, is in vogue right now, said Bruce Kramer.

Advantages: It's durable and strong and often is left outside year-round.

Disadvantages: The old stuff rusts and needs to be painted every few years.

The news: New frame colors -- such as Olympian green or sienna -- and interesting textures.

Buying tips: To cut down maintenance, choose metal furniture with a baked-on powder coat finish. Prices vary, but you can pick up a peacock metal chair from Pier 1 for $100.

Care tips: Remove rust marks from iron furniture immediately with steel wool or a wire brush to keep them from spreading. Seal with a rust-inhibiting primer and top coat.

PVC furniture

The big picture: PVC furniture is made from a versatile plastic called polyvinyl chloride piping. This is the same piping used in plumbing in new homes.

Advantages: PVC is maintenance-free and does not peel, chip, crack, warp or splinter, according to Carmella H. Caruana, owner of Clarence Casual Furniture on Main Street.

Disadvantages: Not everyone loves the look of PVC.

The news: Casualine, the largest manufacturer of PVC pipe furniture in the country, has introduced a new line of fluted PVC called Premier, which emulates wicker or bamboo.

It has graceful lines and is more sophisticated looking than the company's popular Classic group.

Buying tips: Prices vary depending on manufacturer and style. A chair and cushion from Casualine's Classic group begin at $70; a Premier chair and cushion begin at $100.

Care tips: Manufacturers recommend cleansing with a non-abrasive cleanser.

Wicker furniture

The big picture: This old-fashioned garden look has never lost its charm.

Advantages: The all-weather wicker from manufacturers such as Lloyd/Flanders can be used indoors and out.

Disadvantages: Cheap wicker can snag clothing and become your cat's best friend because it makes such a nice scratching post. It also requires care -- cleaning, painting, etc.

The news: The blending of wicker and iron, especially for casual dining, said Linda Boldt, manager of W.G. Arthur's Home Furnishings.

Also, Brown Jordan recently introduced a new group for next season called Resinweave that looks exactly like wicker -- but isn't.

Buying tips: Decide if you want to invest a substantial amount of money in all-weather wicker or fork out less than $50 for a wicker chair that you can pull out on the porch for a few seasons.

Care tips: All-weather comes with its own care instructions. Traditional wicker should not be exposed to excessive moisture or dust. Old wicker in need of repair may need the expert hand of a professional. Or grab a good book on the subject.

Aluminum furniture

The big picture: This very popular style comes with strap, swing or cushion seats.

Advantages: It's rust-free. Easy to clean. And most of the better aluminum furniture is American made, says Bruce Kramer.

Disadvantages: It's generally lightweight. If you leave it outside on a windy day, you may have to fish it out of your neighbor's yard.

The news: More great frame colors. Also new seating pieces -- especially two- or three-seat gliders. "Men come in and ask for three-seat gliders for the porch because they want to stretch out on them," said Linda Boldt.

Buying tips: Again, prices vary. A higher-end table and four chair sets from Telescope costs less than $500, but most aluminum is moderately priced.

Care tips: To clean aluminum furniture frames, use a nonabrasive cleanser and apply a coat of car wax for a glossy finish.

Steel furniture

The big picture: Some call it the ultimate in comfort. Available styles include swivel rockers you want to spend the entire day in.

Advantages: It's heavy. A steel rocker will not tip over when a hefty Uncle Ralph sits in it. Nor will either of them blow away.

Disadvantages: Steel furniture requires care.

The news: More styles; new finishes.

Buying tips: You can spend about $700 for a table and four chairs.

Care tips: The durable finish on most steel furniture is similar to automobile paint. When nicks and scratches appear, touch up the furniture by cleaning the surface area, using fine sandpaper and then applying a few thin coats of paint. After the paint is dry, polish the piece with car wax.

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