Materials Unpacked

Nimes Quilt Cover Set, Natural

Online shopping often means reading all about a range of different materials. But really, what is the difference between linen and cotton? What about elm and aok? We know it can get confusing keep all of this straight, so let’s break it down a little…

Wood Materials

Acacia

Acacia wood features natural oils that help maintain its own, natural moisture. This oil also helps ensure the wood’s sleek finish. Acacia is often used in bathrooms, kitchens, and even outdoors. This is because the wood is naturally durable and highly water-resistant. This makes it deal for heavy-use items that are likely to get wet. Better yet, acacia is anti-bacterial and resistant to fungi. This, combined with its resistance to scratches, makes it perfect for food prep. It’s not uncommon to come across a deep brown acacia chopping board every now and then.

Bamboo

Bamboo grows really fast. Like, really fast. It’s technically a grass. It’s an evergreen little beauty that can even become a pest for some gardeners. The reason we bring this up it because the harvesting of this wood has almost no negative environmental impacts due to bamboo’s renewability. It’s a very green, eco-friendly wood. On top of that, this plant is so hardy that its wood is resistant to a lot of scratching, warping in temperatures and humidity, and moisture. Bamboo is also hypoallergenic and anti-microbal for a safe choice.

Charging Tower Set, Bamboo

Elm

Elm wood is hard. It’s tough. Elm wood stands up for itself. It has a twisted, interlocking grain means it’s unlikely to split, even when screwed or nailed. It’s also completely odourless. This may not seem like a big benefit at first. Who doesn’t love the natural scent of wood? But after a while that natural scent will get old. Trust us, scentless wood is a secret magic. Beyond this convenient, unobtrusive aspect, elm also often showcases beautiful grains and patterns. So that even if you can’t smell the natural wood, you can surely see it.

Mahogany

Mahogany is one of the strongest woods available. It’s extremely resistant to shrinkage, along with a natural strength against bugs and infestations. This, combined with its resistance to water damage and the unmissable good looks of the wood make it highly sought after. Unfortunately, all these things can lead to an intimidating price tag. But mahogany is often considered one of those materials that is an investment. Any furniture or wood pieces made of mahogany should have a long life in your home. Plus, there’s a sense of a luxury that accompanies mahogany pieces so you can create enviable interiors.

Oak

Good old oak. Oak is one of the classic woods we often use in furniture. It’s really low-maintenance and really strong. We’ve been using oak for centuries because it’s so useful. Generally, you can find red oak and white oak varieties, but white is the more popular of the two because white oak often has a more attractive grain and finish than its red cousin. Oak is often resistant to moisture which means you can use it outdoors if you like, though its not as resistant to moisture than some other woods.

Plywood

Plywood isn’t technically a type of wood, at least not in the same way all these other woods are. This wood is a sheet material, made from thin layers of wood veneer. These layers of veneer are glued together, each layer rotated 90° from the one before it. This means plywood has a gross grain which can help it retain a stronger structure than some solid woods. It is also lighter than some solid woods which can be perfect if you want wood furniture without the weight.

Teak

Finally we come to teak. Teak is almost the go-to material for outdoor furniture. One of the main reasons for this is due to the natural oils within the wood. It also is highly resistant to insects and termites. This wood is just as, if not more, low-maintenance as oak. There are some issues with the way teak is harvested as it is not as free-growing as bamboo for example. For this reason a lot of people who want teak furniture seek out pieces that are made from recycled teak. Teak has been used in boats and outdoor furniture for a long time so there is a source for recycled wood. Another option is plantation wood as the wood from these sources is monitored to make sure it’s not over-harvested. Unfortunately however, teak has increased in price in recent years, much like mahogany. But again like mahogany it is likely to last and look good for a you a long time.

Tropica Kyoto Stool

Metal Materials

Aluminium

There’s more to aluminium than foil. Aluminium is one of the best rust-free metal materials you could find. A lot of metal furniture contains some traces of iron and it’s iron that causes rust. Aluminium is so averse to rust it’s occasionally included in iron alloys to prevent rust. So you can be sure aluminium on its own is structurally sound, which can make it absolutely perfect for outdoor pieces. On top of this, aluminium is a lot lighter than a lot of other metal materials. Which can be ideal if you like to move and rearrange furniture a lot. Of course, nothing is perfect. The trade-off aluminium faces for these amazing benefits is high malleability. While this itself is a benefit at times, there are times when it is not. Aluminium is more prone to heat warping than some other metals. (Though of course you can always try to warp it back into place.) Regardless of its structure, one thing of which you can be sure when it comes to aluminium is that it’s really easy to clean. Just wet a cloth, wipe, and you’re done. It’s an awesome low-maintenance choice.

Iron

So we just talked about how iron is what causes rust. (Technically it’s iron and water creating a chemical reaction that produces rust.) But that doesn’t mean this material is completely useless. If you take good care of your iron furniture there’s no reason it can’t retain its metallic charm. It’s generally best to keep iron furniture or décor pieces away from water, unless you’re looking to create a rusted aesthetic. If you manage to keep your iron pieces rust-free you’ll be rewarded with a strong, rigid structure that is unlikely to compromise.

Powder Coated Metal

Powder coating is a process which is relatively self-explanatory. It involves layering a protective coat of powder over a metal (often iron) to increase its life and resistance to damage. Don’t worry about loose powder about your house though. The powder coating is often applied electrostatically (using particles that have electric charges to paint the piece with the powder) and it’s highly unlikely to ever come off. This protective layer creates a barrier between the metal and water. Which, if your metal is iron, can prevent rust. Of course, even if you’re not using iron powder coating can makes things generally stronger.

Nomad 7-Piece Outdoor Dining Set

Steel

On the topic of altering iron, we come to steel. Steel is an alloy of iron, usually created by adding carbon to the metal. This addition can be useful for many reasons, but a lot of the time it’s to help create longer-lasting structures. Steel is used in buildings and civil structures a lot more than iron. In the same way, steel is a lot more popular for furniture than iron.

Stainless Steel

An extension of steel, stainless steel is even further tempered. All the benefits of regular steel are present in stainless steel, but will a little added bonus. Stainless steel is sometimes called inox steel or even just inox form the French inoxydable meaning unable to oxidise/produce rust. This comes from the extra material added to the alloy, often chromium. The chromium reacts and forms a tiny film of chromium oxide along the edge of the stainless steel. This basically acts as a barrier between the water and the iron and thus it is stainless and rust-less.

Fabric Materials

Cotton

Cotton is a very common material in upholstery, cushions, throws, and so much more. One of the main reasons for this is because of its natural attributes. Cotton is very soft and highly breathable. This means comfort in any season. Cotton’s breathable nature is perfect for throws, especially for those of us who love to have a blanket on, even when it’s not cold at all. This same feature makes it a popular material in a lot of bed sheets and quilt covers as well as cushions (discover all the different types of cushions here). Add to that the fact that cotton is hypoallergenic and you might have found your new favourite material.

Faux Leather

Faux leather comes in a lot of forms, but the most common is PU leather, so let’s focus on that. Polyurethane (PU) is a polymer (plastic) but don’t worry that doesn’t mean it’s rigid like a lot of the plastics we can come across. PU leather can be just as comfortable and soft as genuine leather. The main point in favour of PU leather is of course the fact that it’s artificial. While it doesn’t have that earthy, ‘real’ appeal that genuine leather can have, it’s animal-friendly.

Linen

Just like cotton, linen is really soft. Like, really soft. In fact, where some other materials may get a little rough and starchy after a lot of use, linen is the opposite. With each wear and with each wash linen just gets softer. It’s also highly breathable just like cotton, but it is often credited with being able to wick away moisture. This can make it the perfect option for upholstery to ensure your comfort in the cold and warmer months.

Nimes Quilt Cover Set, White

Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic polymer, just like polyurethane . The term ‘polyester’ is generally a bit of an umbrella term but all iterations of this material share the same properties. One of the most important elements of polyesters is their durability. Polyester can be more resistant to general wear and tear than a lot of its organic fabric cousins. This by no means indicates a less soft texture though. You can find polyester velvet that’s a plush and soft as anything.

Wool

We all know wool is cosy as anything. We most often encounter wool in our jumpers, but that’s not to say we won’t find wool throws, rugs, and cushions. Wool might be comfy, but on top of that, it’s fire-retardant, and resists mould and mildew for your peace of mind. Plus, wool is a renewable resource that’s ethically harvested. The sheep from whom we get wool will just grow and grow the material forever if not shorn. Wool is an ethical resource that just keeps giving and giving. The material is highly durable to general wear and tear and is organically strong so that your comfort lasts.

Misc. Materials

Marble

Marble is one of those materials that always looks in style. It’s an evergreen aesthetic that just beams luxurious good looks. Which is great, but on top of that it’s really strong. It doesn’t decay or warp at all. It does take a little more upkeep than some other materials, but it’s arguably worth it. The natural patterning you find in marble brings organic glamour to any space.

Nelson Marble Console Table

Polypropylene

That’s right, another polymer. This time that image you have of rigid plastic is a bit more accurate. Polypropylene (PP) is the most common plastic in structures. In terms of how you might use it in your home, you can often find it in kitchen essentials as well as in kids’ spaces. PP is lightweight, easy to move, and resistant to wear and tear so it is perfect for kids’ furniture. As a general rule, PP pieces might not look as good as pieces made from some more organic materials but they are designed to last you a long time. Plus it’s easier to paint and restyle PP than it is steel so you can use PP pieces to create your own aesthetic if you’re so inclined.

Rattan

You might think rattan belongs in the wood section, but we decided to keep it separate as rattan is less a solid wood, more a woven vine structure. A little bit like bamboo, rattan is really fast-growing for a sustainable product. Unlike bamboo, rattan is very popular in outdoor structures. Outdoor armchairs or sofas with rattan bodies are very common. This is because rattan is strong against warping in changing temperatures and humidity levels. This stability, plus the organic and natural good looks of the material, is what makes it a common choice for strength in any season.

Paige Riddiford is a writer and editor from Sydney, NSW with a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wollongong. When not writing, Paige is often found reading, baking, playing video games, playing board games with friends, or binge watching whatever's new on Netflix.