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updated: 6/1/2012 11:13 AM

Attractive and easy-care outdoor rooms

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  • If your outdoor room is only partially protected, use furniture and cushions that can handle a bit of stress.

      If your outdoor room is only partially protected, use furniture and cushions that can handle a bit of stress.
    SHNS photo courtesy Nell Hill's

 
By Mary Carol Garrity
Scripps Howard News Service

One of my favorite things to do in the spring is to get my porch spruced up for a summer of entertaining and relaxation.

This season, why not make your outdoor room your favorite spot to hang out? The secret to creating outdoor spaces you will really use is to make them so beautiful that they fill your senses and so easy to maintain that they don't add stress to your life. Here are some ideas.

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My historic home is outfitted with a few patios, a necessity back in the days before air conditioning. These open areas are lovely, but they are woefully exposed to everything Mother Nature dishes out, from high winds, beating sun and torrential rains, to birds that leave their droppings right where I want to sit. I've learned the hard way that everything you place there needs to be tough enough to take on the elements and win.

When I designed the furniture grouping on my front patio, I wanted a relaxed, gracious feel, so I chose weather-resistant outdoor wicker furniture. Summer after summer, these chairs stand up to the elements, and they still look beautiful. It may sound crazy, given the amount of debris that falls down on the chairs from the trees and neighborhood wildlife, but I outfitted them in white cushions. Here's why: Even though white shows dirt, it's super-easy to clean up. When the cushions start to look dingy, I slip off the covers, wash them in a bit of bleach, place them back on the cushions when they are still damp and they look like new.

Last fall, I added a group of iron chairs to my courtyard, and I am completely smitten by them. I tried fitting them with indoor cushions at first, but it was a nightmare. To keep the cushions looking good, I had to store them inside. That meant that every time we wanted to use the chairs, we had to drag out all the cushions. Needless to say, this was such a hassle we almost never used the chairs. This spring, I'm making weather-resistant cushions out of outdoor fabric.

If you're still babying your outdoor furniture, give yourself a break and invest in furnishing and fabrics that are made to withstand the weather. You'll be amazed at how far outdoor furniture and fabrics have come. I was. I'm particularly blown away by the range of colors, styles and patterns available now in outdoor fabrics.

One of the best pieces of furniture I've gotten for my courtyard is an eye-catching concrete table. I've had it for about five years, and I reinvent it every season, using it to hold a variety of accents, surrounding it with chairs for a dinner party or using it as a buffet when I entertain. It's regal and elegant and can't be destroyed by the weather or rough use. Guests to my home love it so much, I've started selling similar pieces at Nell Hill's.

I really like to use indoor furniture in my outdoor rooms because it's so unexpected to have refined pieces in rugged, natural environments. But I also live in a part of the country that sees some pretty severe weather during the summer. So I place my more delicate pieces, like my antique daybed and wooden hutch, on my covered screened porch, where they aren't exposed to rain, wind, direct sunlight or the neighborhood wildlife. I have indoor cushions on my furniture, and even though they get damp during some of our Kansas storms, they dry nicely.

Dan and I practically live on our screened porch during the summer, so our cushions get a lot of wear and tear. Every few years, when I need to recover the cushions, I usually try a whole new look. But I am so over the moon about the blue and cream ticking on my cushions right now that I'm repeating it. The ticking acts like a neutral, allowing me to use a host of different colors and patterns in pillows, area rug and other accents.

If your outdoor room is only partially protected, use furniture and cushions that can handle a bit of stress.

Adapted from Mary Carol Garrity's blog at nellhills.com.

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