Q. We have a little porch just off the living room of our new house. The trouble is, this is a new development, and the neighbors' houses are really close. We put in two poplar trees (they're supposed to grow fast), but what can we do for some privacy in the meantime?
A. Love that you're taking the long view -- Mother Nature designs the best privacy screens ever! I checked: Poplars can grow 6 feet or more a year, so by next summer your problem may be moot.
Meanwhile, think blinds, curtains or an attractive standing screen, like the one seen in this photo of a beguiling outdoor porch. It's a garden that stands guard against the neighbors' eyes, and it's easy to "grow" yourself, according to the clever craftspeople at York Wallcoverings. Just find (or make from half-inch plywood) a three- or four-panel screen and cover it with a joyful pattern (this is "Emma's Garden" from the Waverly Cottage Collection by York, yorkwall.com).
Bamboo or wood-slat blinds offer another easy outdoor option. They filter the sun and block onlookers' eyes to "privatize" your porch in the process. Ditto for outdoor curtains, hung floor to ceiling across the vulnerable "wall" of your porch.
Interior designers use curtains all the time to coax open spaces into feeling and living like a real room. Even floaty sheer fabrics will screen the view. A heavy fabric like duck cloth or canvas will also waterproof your outdoor space, at least against congenial rains.
Whatever material you choose, make sure it's up to al fresco duty: Look for fade-proof, water-safe sturdy goods from a manufacturer like Sunbrella (sunbrella.com), or fabrics with an applied finish that shrugs off raindrops and hot sunbeams with equal aplomb.
Q. We are planning to redecorate our great room, and I'm interested in what's trending in colors, styles and so forth. We won't get started until the fall, so can you tell us what will be "hot" in 2015?
A. Lots of different opinions on that! But you're in luck. I just sat through three days of predictions by top trend-spotting companies, who came from around the world to peer into the future at the SURTEX surface design show in New York last month. Here's one:
• Laurie Pressman, vice president, Pantone Color Institute: "Keep your eye on street art. Street art trickles up. It's a huge, huge, huge, huge influence! Louis Vuitton is now working with street artists.
"We're in a world where lifestyle is the driver. Think of Anthropologie: teens shop there; so does Mom and the 82-year-old grandmother.
"Be alert to two macro-trends: One, the green thing -- it's become a social value. … Never mind the irony, that the pigments used to make the color green are themselves toxic! Never before has green been a fashion color. Now we have green hair, green nail polish. Yellow-green used to be associated with nausea; now even McDonald's European logo is green/yellow.
"Two, the 2008 recession. Grays increase in popularity during a recession. But even now, gray is not going away. It's become a long-term investment color: timeless, dependable. (At the same time) consumers now want bright, bold shades, like red!"
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