Warm weather beckons that we spend more time outdoors. This is the time of year when you suddenly, and often desperately, notice you have inadequate accommodations in your yard, deck or balcony area.
Lots of us just rush out and buy whatever we can get our hands on quickly before an outdoor celebration. Often we never plan our outdoor spaces carefully, and instead we treat them like stepchildren in fairy tales.
However, outdoor rooms can dramatically increase entertaining space for any small home. For the best results, begin before you need to utilize the space. Plan and evaluate the basics such as lighting, heating and cooling.
Lighting can range from a switch-controlled spotlight to a motion-sensor type light. You can easily string twinkle lights or European-style clear light bulbs across a patio area for drama. Of course, landscape lights can add another magical sort of artificial lighting. Know that there are battery-operated outdoor rated floor and table lamps sold where regular indoor lighting is sold.
You can buy electric heaters that are either wall mounted or ceiling mounted to take the edge off a cool evening. Floor and tabletop propane heaters are also readily available. Dozens of fire pits are available as well as tables with a fire source in the middle. Generally these are fueled by a gel cylinder or propane.
Both floor-standing fans and misters can be used to cool off extremely hot places. Professional misters, such as those used in commercial buildings, can be mounted on fascia boards or on the structure of a patio cover.
By considering the comfort level in your outdoor space, you increase available entertainment space for the small home. The more luxurious the feel of your outdoor living room, the more frequently you will use the area.
Shade is a constant need for most outdoor rooms. No one enjoys sitting for hours in brutal sun, so shade is an imperative if you want to create usable space. You might start with a traditional umbrella and in super-tight spaces utilize the half umbrella style that stands right next to an exterior wall of your house. Investigate cantilever-style umbrellas that often offer a larger coverage area in a round or square shape.
Electrified awnings are another way to instantly create a sheltered space on a balcony or deck. I've noticed that the interior room is enhanced by an exterior awning because you can leave window treatments open without fear of overheating. The room appears much larger when you are able to include the outside view.
Furniture is just as important for outside rooms as it is for the traditional inside lounge areas. Fortunately modern patio furniture includes glider/rockers, pub chairs and sofa sectionals. Double chairs with attached shade covers are whimsical, as are curved sofa sectionals.
You can buy stacking arm chairs for dining or comfortable lounge chairs with matching ottomans. Outdoor recliners exist. There are hammocks, chaise lounges and daybeds.
Serving pieces, bars and ice chests add to the function of an outdoor space.
Fully functional outdoor kitchens are popular in sections of the country with months of good weather. Such kitchens include barbecues, refrigeration, ice makers, pizza ovens and fireplaces. Outdoor kitchens allow for complete sharing and keep the mess outside!
For the ultimate finishing touch, I've seen outdoor television sets that make the exterior spaces just as compelling as any interior great room or den. Speakers complete the relaxing feeling by delivering background music to an afternoon or evening gathering. Finally, small water fountains can complete any arrangement by introducing the calming sound of water.
• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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