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let's take it outside
make an outdoor living space 
by Kelly Beachell Gasner
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Ahhhh…warmth. After a long, cold winter, what a relief it is to feel the first signs of spring in the air -- warmer breezes, signs of green, longer days, maybe even the first crocus buds peeking through the lawn. The birds are returning from their southern vacation destinations, and their song fills the air. The flowers are preparing to make their debut, and the insects are impatiently waiting to get busy making honey. With this kind of natural seduction going on right outside your window, who wants to stay inside? Get out there and take a deep breath -- spring has arrived!

This year, don't limit yourself to just stepping out for a quick glance at nature -- take up residence in your own outdoor room. The first days of spring are a great time to start planning and preparing an outdoor living space. Creating an outdoor room lets you take advantage of the gorgeous days of spring, summer, and early autumn without having to do a lot of prep and planning every time the weather beckons you outside. Best of all, creating an outdoor space is the most inexpensive home-expansion project you can do -- no contractor required. But there are a few things to consider before you get started.

assess your space
The kind of outdoor room you create depends most of all on how much space you have -- so take stock. Where do you live and what kind of outdoors do you have to work with? The outdoor room on a hundred acre farm will be very different from the one extending from a house on a quarter of an acre in a subdivision. Those living in an apartment complex with a six-by-eight slab of concrete to work with face limits of space and scale. Whether you want to carve an intimate space out of a big field, lure people out to lounge around the patio, or create a dining room on a tiny terrace, think about scale and take your measurements first.

Now let's think about that space a little more carefully. Where exactly are you? Consider the conditions in which you'll be enjoying the outdoors this year before you make any purchases. The weather (and the insects) will influence the type of furniture, fabrics, and structures you include in your living space. A napping hammock in Florida is enchanting with a romantic mosquito net canopy draped over it -- and it keeps away the bugs. The sound of spring rain on the awning over your patio is the perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of morning coffee in Seattle. The vagaries of spring and summer weather shouldn't keep you huddled inside; instead, make your room as inviting as possible by building in elements to keep you comfortable outside no matter what Mother Nature throws your way.

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