Be it ever so tiny, there's no place better than being outside in the spring or summertime.
Who doesn't enjoy sipping a cup of coffee and reading the morning paper in the open air, or a casual dinner while you seek relief under the stars as the evening cools?
Whatever space is available to you - a narrow back porch, a balcony, courtyard or small garden - take steps to ensure that your family will be able to fully enjoy being outdoors.
Before you think about the aesthetics for your outdoor spot, however, give some thought to protecting your family against disease-carrying mosquitoes and other insects.
Start by cleaning up any potential breeding sites. Keep your yard free of standing water. Work with your neighbors since fences mean nothing to the pesky mosquito.
Learn about the wise use of repellents, and check with your local health authorities to see if there is an organized mosquito control program in your area.
Consider a protective enclosure. One possibility is a stylish mosquito curtain that can be custom-designed to fit any area, such as the one shown in the photo (right). It comes in three neutral colors - white, ivory and black - and it's easy to wash and keep clean. It attaches using a choice of Velcro or a sleek aluminum tracking system similar to those used for hospital privacy curtains.
The curtains are at once handsome and economical. They deliver an 80 percent cost savings when compared to professionally installed framed screens.
Hang the curtains from March until September, then remove, wash and store them for the next season.
A typical 40-foot-by-10-foot curtain costs about $320. The optional tracking is about $160 more.
Now that you've thought about the practical issues, you can focus on how to outfit the space with furniture and lighting.
Stacking chairs are more comfortable than folding chairs, and they come in dozens of models and easy-to-clean, lightweight materials such as aluminum or hard plastics.
Sunbrella fabrics are a popular way to add a splash of color to your outdoor decor. Potted plants are also a way to introduce texture. Use the same color in all your planting containers. They don't all have to be the same size, but continuity in the containers keeps the focus on their more interesting contents.
Add drama with solar garden lighting available through catalogs, at home-improvement retailers and in garden shops. You might even dig out your low-voltage mini Christmas tree lighting and add twinkle lights to the porch or patio.
Be sure to use citronella candles that can burn in a wide variety of decorative hurricane-type lanterns. If your yard is too windy for a candle to remain lighted, push citronella torches into your lawn or into a large potted plant instead.
Numerous outdoor furniture companies also offer battery-operated outdoor lamps. These enable you to place floor lamps or table lamps wherever you like since you don't have to worry about tripping over cords or the lack of outdoor electrical outlets. *