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Getting Ready for Spring Use of Outdoor Spaces

Mar 21, 2017
Photo Credit: Solus Decor North America

Want to shake the winter doldrums? With rain and snow sticking around, anticipating how you might invigorate outdoor areas for warmer weather could be good for both your spirit and creativity. No matter how small your available space might be, look at what is possible from a fresh viewpoint. Have you always craved a specific amenity but avoided an action plan to achieve it? Today is the day to begin!

High-rise living in apartments and condos presents the most restrictive outdoor spaces: balconies, small porches and decks. Many neighborhoods of row houses, townhomes and standalone structures began as highly desirable locations and often featured small yards boxed in by other buildings. As time passed, backyards were often sacrificed to accommodate more structures. Think of quarters like Georgetown in Washington, D.C., Beacon Hill in Boston or the village of Carmel, California.

Do the most with what you have by first identifying the top item on your wish list. Any addition could transform your appreciation of your outdoor space. For example, if your spring and summer nights are cool, you might entertain a portable small fireplace.

Obviously, this would be impossible on a balcony, but implementing some type of heating element creates a uniquely cozy atmosphere that automatically draws people close. Here we see an elevated 36-inch square fire table that delivers the dual function that is so vital in cramped spaces. However, before you race out to buy a fire pit or a chiminea (which is popular for rustic settings), research local guidelines. It's essential to review regulations and restrictions of insurance company policies, pollution and fire bans, so you don't get into trouble with the homeowners association. Chimineas and some fire pits are considered "open fires" and are illegal in many urban settings. New York Illinois, California and Washington require burners in fire pits to be certified and the units to be placed in noncombustible materials, such as brick, stone, concrete or metal. So do your homework before getting excited about a product. You might end up having to use a gas or infrared freestanding heater.

When you endure extreme heat, shade is obviously the first element to be desired. Practical solutions include portable umbrellas and shade screens with grommets that can be stretched from a structure to a tree, between a fence and the house, or from the house and a garage structure. In the sizzling desert climates of the southwestern U.S., the humid Midwest and the South, a freestanding oscillating fan or ceiling fan could move the air enough to make sitting outside tolerable on warm, sticky nights. Another key comfort and safety amenity is mosquito netting or a porch screen. It is easy to research made-to-order netting that can be temporarily installed for a porch or deck. Most counties offer mosquito-control information online. It is imperative to take the practical suggested steps in insect control.

One final upgrade for any outdoor space is the restorative sound of water. There are innumerable ideas on the internet for freestanding water fountains, including tiny tabletop versions and standalone designs of greater importance and size. These generally require an electrical outlet to operate the recycling pump. An exterior electrical outlet may not be available to renters, but installing an outdoor electrical outlet is not a prohibitive expense if you have an interior outlet from which to draw power through to the outside.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego based interior designer and author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at


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