Throughout history, teak has been prized as a luxurious wood for its natural lustre and superior durability. Today, it remains a sought-after furniture material for alfresco settings around the world.
Lucy Mackey talks with Gabrielle Baker of Cosh Living about how to choose and care for your teak outdoor pieces.
For centuries, wood of the teak tree (tectona grandis) has been a popular construction material for its ability to withstand harsh weather conditions, decay and pests, thanks to its natural oils. From outdoor benches and shade umbrellas, to the decks of ships, teak is the perfect choice for environments that are heavily exposed to water and unruly weather. Not only does it resist weathering, it also offers a sleek and timeless aesthetic.
Native to Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, teak has a long history of being used to furnish homes with doors and window frames, and ships with decks and finishings. In the 17th century, the British navy set sail on ships crafted with teak, and though we don’t have an official record, it is likely that the esteemed timber was used to finish Henry VIII’s famous river barge. The burgeoning Victorian-era trend of outdoor entertaining saw benches made of teak adorning lush estates and public parks, some of which are still in service today.
Read on as Western Australia Pool + Outdoor Design uncovers some pearls of wisdom for ensuring your teak remains at its peak.
THE NATURAL CHOICE
The same properties that made teak the historical wood of preference for sailing ships makes it perfect for your outdoor furniture. Not only does it provide a warm, timeless and elegant aesthetic, but it will last longer and require less maintenance than other options.
“Beyond its beauty, teak possesses some natural properties that other woods just don’t have,” says Gabrielle Baker. “Due to its high levels of natural oils, teak has minimal moisture absorption, giving it great stability. Moreover, the wood is extremely resistant to fungi, parasites and insects.” These valuable properties are so potent that archaeological digs have uncovered boats crafted from teak that had remained intact after two millennia. Unlike most other timbers, teak does not require waterproofing, and will continue to look stunning in your outdoor setting for decades.
BEFORE YOU BUY
Buying an outdoor piece made from teak is an investment that requires careful thought. Baker says the most important consideration is the position of the piece. When left in the sun, teak weathers to a fine silvery grey. This process is entirely cosmetic and does not impact the strength of the wood.
“If you are happy for the furniture to silver off in the sun – perfect,” says Baker. “If not, you must be prepared to clean and renew the teak each year to keep the warm golden colouring.”
Once you have decided on positioning, it’s also important to make sure your furniture is made from sustainably sourced and properly prepared wood. It takes up to 80 years for teak trees to mature and reach optimal quality for harvest, as younger trees do not have the same oil content and high-tensile strength. Correct preparation of the wood involves ‘ringing’ the tree, which involves cutting away a band of bark to remove much of the tree’s sap. After two years, the tree is felled and sawed.
“Drying the wood is a very important phase and will determine how it reacts later on,” Baker says. “Ideally the level of moisture remaining lies between 8–12 per cent.”
Companies like Cosh Living ensure that their teak comes from sustainable, government-regulated plantations in Java. Baker also advises that you seek a manufacturer that “ensures no furniture is produced using teak with imperfections, or teak that has not gone through the proper ageing and dying process”.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
Extremely hard-wearing, teak can last well over 25 years. “It can be left outside all year round, surviving even the most extreme weather conditions,” Baker says. “Teak left in its natural state is virtually maintenance-free.”
Owners can expect their teak pieces to undergo natural oil surfacing, which will appear like a watermark or irregular pattern on the surface of the wood. “This is part of the natural maturing process and can be easily removed by gently washing with a bristle brush and diluted pH-neutral soapy water or [a cleaning agent such as] Tribù’s Teak Super Cleaner,” says Baker.
To extend the life of your teak product, Baker suggests applying a teak sealer which provides UV protection to slow down the cosmetic silvering, as well as a fungicide to help the teak’s natural properties repel mould and mildew. Be mindful that teak sealer is not the same as varnish; the specially formulated sealer lets the natural oils escape without bubbling or cracking. Baker warns that varnishes and oils can actually damage your product and take vigorous sanding to remove.
“Oiling teak does not prevent the wood from greying,” she says. “Instead, it often results in mould and mildew growing on the furniture. Authorities in the timber profession tend to advise against the use of teak oils.”
Instead, if a teak sealer is applied annually, all that your teak furniture will need to keep looking fantastic is a quick wash with pH-neutral soap and water once a year. Baker also recommends applying a teak protector yearly to avoid food and wine stains.
Blending seamlessly with both modern and traditional designs, teak furniture is a great addition to any outdoor space. For centuries, the premium wood adorned the homes and gardens of the wealthy and influential, and teak furniture pieces were often handed down as a family heirloom. Today, the popularity of teak furniture continues, with items such as table settings and lounges being incorporated into modern alfresco areas. While teak typically has a high initial cost, you’ll find that your furniture will retain its visual appeal for many years to come, making it a worthwhile investment.
“Teak furniture looks fantastic with outdoor cushions in textured fabrics and neutral colours, such as taupe and linen,” Baker says. “Once the teak silvers off in the sunlight, the cushions stay nice and rich, contrasting beautifully with the wood and keeping your furniture looking fresh.”
Whether you’re after a stand-alone piece, or have your eye on an entire outdoor setting, teak is a unique timber that will look equally at home indoors and outdoors, and will leave you pining for more.