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    Create an Outdoor Living Space in Your Backyard

    Cathy and Ron Burkdoll love the soothing sound of the waterfall flowing into the swimming pool in their screened- in pool and patio room almost as much as they enjoy watching the sand hill cranes that walk across their property.

    "Anytime we have anyone over we sit outside," Cathy Burkdoll says.

    Adding a screened-in room makes their house seem larger, she says. "We can really open up the back of the house. We have large sliding glass doors that open the whole wall of the family room to the patio, and French doors from our bedroom."

    The Port St. Lucie, Fla., couple's outdoor room is comfortable — which is crucial in extending your living space outside, decorator Kay Schulz says.

    "The big mistake is not to make it comfortable enough so you are drawn outside. The more comfortable you make it, the more likely you are to use it," says Schulz, who owns Chesterfield Designs in Scottsdale, Ariz., as well the Design Doctors in Minneapolis, Minn., and Phoenix, Ariz.

    Your options are as simple as benches underneath a shade tree or a seating area with cushioned chairs and a table, or as elaborate as a complete kitchen outdoors — something that she's seeing more and more, Shulz says.

    In deciding how to set up an outdoor area, keep in mind outdoor elements — bugs, the sun, and temperature. You wouldn't want to place a bench or swing where the sun would be in your eyes. And if you have to contend with lots of mosquitoes, consider screening it in.

    The first step in outdoor living is to clean and spruce up the area you have in mind, Shulz says.

    "You can't start creating until you've got the area clean," she says. And while you may want to tie in the outdoor area to the inside, it's also fine to create a totally difference ambiance outside, she says.

    For example, a much-loved piece of furniture that doesn't quite fit your interior decor might work beautifully in an outside, more casual, room. "If you have a favorite rocking chair that a grandmother had, that might become important outside," Shulz says.

    On the other hand, some people prefer to tie the indoor and outdoor design so that the indoor living space seems to flow into the outdoor area. The Burkdolls repeated the gold, green, and brown colors of their indoor rooms in the tile around the outdoor room. Others use the same flooring in both areas.

    "We're doing a lot of stone inside, then completing the look outside. You come in the front door and the patio looks the same. The big plus is it extends the visual space, everything looks bigger and more tied together," Schulz says.

    Improved materials have made it much easier to decorate outdoors, she says. "I think that's made all the difference in outdoor living. People used to get tired of taking heavy cushions in and out, but now we have fabric that you can literally hose off, rain won't hurt it, and snow won't hurt it. It doesn't stain and it doesn't fade."

    That means iron or wood chairs have been replaced with a more comfortable upholstered look for seating areas, which can then be spruced up with area rugs and pillows.

    Using water in decorating is much easier than it once was, too. Many people are adding a waterfall over a boulder into a swimming pool, creating a more natural look, or adding the trickle of a fountain for sound.

    "There are so many do-it-yourself ponds with plastic or rubber liners," Schulz says. "Even a bird bath attracts birds and water always makes you feel cooler."

    Getting started

    People who want to extend their living space outside should keep in mind a few things, Shulz says.

    Appeal to all the senses. Use plants for both color and smell; get pleasant sounds from flowing water, wind chimes, or recorded music.

    Use nature. "Remember to feed the birds because birds singing in the trees add to your enjoyment," she says. Birdfeeders are now available in a wide range of styles to complement any decor.

    Plants are important. Even non-gardeners can use container plants to add beauty.

    Decorate on more than one level. Add height with a baker's rack, some kind of chest or bookcase with dishes, plants, or art to make the area look more like an outdoor room. Hang pots from the ceiling if you have one.

    Use your imagination. String chili pepper or parrot lights in trees or along a fence in the backyard. Use whimsical outdoor art sculptures.

    By Vicki Brown