Take advantage of nature's lively backdrop by creating a comfortable, colorful outdoor room--perfect for escaping in your own backyard alone or with friends.
With new weather-hardy furniture, fabrics and accessories to choose from, it's never been easier--or more fun--to outfit your outdoor spaces. You don't even need a patio or deck. Just set up a chaise or two and you'll have the start of a perfect place to enjoy the summer scenery.
Guests will get a kick out of kicking off their shoes to lounge on a sofa in the yard. And this furniture--with its indoor-worthy looks--can handle life in the great outdoors: Low-maintenance, gold-tone teak has oils that resist mold and mildew. (Be aware, though, that it weathers to silver-gray unless treated with sealer.)
The best weatherproof tables have easy-to-wipe tops, such as glass on all-weather wicker or an enamel-finish wood. To liven up your setting, add summer-color cushions or chairs, and deck the table with bowls of fruit, beach glass or pebbles.
Lightweight powder-coated aluminum is best for often-moved outdoor furniture pieces, such as stacking chairs. But remember to move your lightweight furniture inside when strong Midwest winds are coming!
Prefer the look of wicker? Opt for an all-weather version made of durable resin. You'll find colorful, contemporary pieces as well as traditionally styled versions that look more like you borrowed them from Grandma's porch.
Eating outdoors doesn't have to mean balancing plates on your lap or perching at a picnic table. Move a table to a scenic spot to create an elegant dining space that feels like an extension of your home.
Create temporary shade for parties with a weatherproof fabric canopy and wood drapery rods (tent poles work, too). For a permanent solution, cover a deck or patio with a pergola, umbrella or awning.
Landscaping also provides shelter, but before you put the table under a tree, make sure it doesn't drop messy seeds or fruits.
Flexible-use outdoor furniture gives your guests dozens of easy ways to enjoy alfresco living. This wicker ottoman, for example, can be a casual seat, a place to rest your feet or a table to hold a refreshing drink.
Lebello (ottoman) 
The latest weatherproof acrylic fabrics for outdoor furniture have the look and feel of indoor textiles--soft chenilles, silky sheers, luxe velvets and textured boucles--yet they won't mildew or fade. Plus, you'll find them in an ever-increasing variety of colors and graphic, oversize patterns for personalizing a comfortable outdoor retreat.
Celebrate your outdoor locale by using versatile planters to add color and oomph anywhere in your yard. Group coordinating pots of different sizes, and fill them with bright flowers that complement your outdoor decorating scheme.
For a party or special day, hang lanterns on trees. Add votive candles to your outdoor tables, or fill glass votive holders with water brightened by food coloring.
A blue ceramic water bowl gives a cool, fresh accent to your outdoor room. Float colorful blooms in it, or use it as a vessel for dramatic nighttime floating candles.
Better yet, incorporate a burbling fountain into your landscape to give guests soothing background sound.
Bring your brightest-colored towels outside and spread them in the sun or shade to anchor an alfresco picnic or provide a place for a summer read.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2008.)