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Favorite Summer Picks!

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In my part of the country, the approach of summer can vacillate between dreary sunless days and sun-kissed perfection. On those days, I think back to my own childhood here and how faultless the summer weather always seemed.

Here are a few of my favorite picks that work in the smallest homes as well as the most extravagant but are guaranteed to expand outdoor living space. The unique half umbrella is my first choice for a hardworking summer addition to any urban or beachfront balcony. Brought to market by Grandinroad and named Outdura, the umbrella extends 54 inches out from the door or windows on a pole with a crank. It's a great solution for creating shade at a pair of French doors. A slider for under $300, which is much less expensive than a more permanent solution, such as an awning or retractable shades, can also work.

Microclimates around the country can deliver downright chilly summer evenings, so patio heaters can become a must if you want to enjoy outdoor gatherings. Know that both propane and natural gas heaters come in tabletop and floor standing options. A circle of radiant heat can be up to twenty feet in diameter. J.C. Penney offers a 93-inch high stainless steel heater for $350, and Home Depot offers several models, including a stainless steel and black heater by Fire Sense for $229. This floor model heats up to 113 square feet and can be outfitted with wheels to make moving the bulky heater easier.

Many homes have patio covers with wood fascia boards that mounted electric heaters are popular on because they are less obtrusive. Infared electric heaters deliver heat instantly, have no odor and appeal to those who are squeamish about using gas. You can expect to pay more for an electric heater, and prices hover around $500 for a typical 30-inch wide model.

Outdoor living rooms begin with duplication of all the cozy elements from your indoor rooms like pillows, area rugs and even reading lights. Even a front porch might be turned into a comfy play area for kids by utilizing outdoor friendly carpet squares.

A balcony, deck and porch can be easily and quickly transformed. Outdoor rugs make a distinct impact on your outdoor space and have become available in amazing designs in recent years. The high-end elegance of Liore Manne outdoor rugs are a cut above anyone else's product for unique contemporary design and color combination, but you can expect to pay up to $600 for one of her 5-by-7 outdoor rugs locally at Macy's or Outrageous Rugs. Check out Pottery Barn's Senna indoor/outdoor rug with vibrant Turkish motifs of an antique kilim that is available in convenient sizes from 2.5-by-9 to a generous 8-by-10 and ranges in cost from $59 to $499. However, there are dozens of sources for durable alternatives at even lower price points from Target to Walmart to online sources such as Ballard Designs. As a comparison, Target Home offers the Florence 5-by-8 for just under $60 that is fade resistant, mildew resistant and completely waterproof. A garden hose easily keeps outdoor rugs clean, but I still roll mine up during the winter so that I can skip the spring cleaning entirely!

Outdoor textiles have made advances in the past decade too and are now available in very soft and plush fabrics that are leagues ahead of the original Sunbrella fabric. Sunbrella yarns are now used by other manufacturers, and all can be cleaned with bleach and are resistant to mildew, rot and fading. Common sense dictates that you not leave your cushions out year-round if you wish to extend the life of your favorite accent pillows and furniture cushions. And finally, a portable trolley that can fill in for a full outdoor kitchen is available from KitchenAid in the Mobile Refreshment Center. The cart brings chilled beverages anywhere you wish and is 30 inches wide by 26.375 inches deep and also offers a cutting board, filtered water and an ice bin. Made of durable stainless steel, this unit is priced at around $2,200. While there are many mobile refreshment carts on the market at around $250, few are as durable or offer refrigeration on wheels.

Photo Credit: FLOR

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at christinebrun@sbcglobal.net. To find out more about Christine Brun and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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