TORONTO -- It's a party spot, play area and private retreat rolled into one -- all nestled within the cosy confines of home.
And with the arrival of warmer weather, many will be inclined to spend time revelling in their outdoor oasis, adding incentive to spruce up their backyard, patio, porch or balcony for summer.
But whether you're entertaining, child-minding, curling up with a good read or settling in for a snooze, giving your exterior space a stylish seasonal makeover can be accomplished without busting your budget.
"There are the easy facelifts," said Aaron Furfaro, co-owner of Toronto-based design company Free My Interior.
"Say you have your big-box store patio set and it has really neutral seat cushions on them and you don't want to change them? You could make a few throw cushions -- and you definitely don't have to be a seamstress to do it."
Furfaro said standard pillow forms can be covered with outdoor fabrics that are water and UV-resistant and have a stiffer feel to them. What's more, such fabrics are currently available in far more varieties and prints than previously, with a range of rich hues and geometric prints on offer, he noted.
Outdoor fabric can also be used to craft an outdoor canopy in the form of a shade sail, noted Heidi Richter, stylist on the HGTV series Decked Out.
"If you have some basic sewing skills, you can sew yourself a nice big either triangle or square," she said. "If you already have a fence on both sides of your yard, it's very easy to attach a shade sail to your fence to use as your braces."
It's key to position the shade sail on a steep enough angle so that water will drip off the end rather than pool inside, she noted. Don't have a fence? Do-it-yourselfers can purchase four-foot (1.2-metre) spikes at a local build-it centre to support four-by-four posts, she added.
Cushions and shade sails aren't the only way to crank up colour. Dishware and table linens are another alternative -- particularly for those with fickle fashion tastes.
"If you love blue this year, fantastic. If you decide a year from now you want to go for orange, it's a very cost-effective way to switch up the entire look with something like the cutlery or the napkins or the toss pillows," said Richter. Beverage dispensers, charcoal grills and lanterns are also available in colourful hues, she noted.
Aside from gingham, she is seeing more bold botanicals and graphic patterns emerging in summer fabrics.
"You forget how much larger people's outdoor spaces are than inside their homes," said Richter, who owns Toronto design and project management company HR Design Inc. "Sometimes you need a larger pattern to carry that larger space."
If you don't regularly flex your green thumb or want something more low-maintenance, Richter suggests settling on one choice of plant to add pop to your space. Filling a pot with petunias all in one colour offers a great, bold statement, she noted.
Another option is to consider housing multiple plants in one container.
"You can have a nice big pot, you can have a taller plant in there, but you can also intermix your herbs in the same pot," said Richter. "You can put the basil and oregano in there, so you get the aromas -- which is nice -- but you also get the visual interest in the very tall plants."
For those who own a home, Furfaro suggests making investments in fixed objects such as fences and decks. For condo owners with balconies, flooring is key.
Furfaro said there are a number of different wooden systems featuring floor tiles from lower-priced interlocking systems to more expensive versions like Designer Deck which is fashioned from natural wood or recycled plastic resembling wood.
"Invest in those permanent things that will raise the value of your home," Furfaro said.
"If you rent, you should spend the money on the things you can take with you," he added, such as cushions and furniture. "When you do have the space, you have all that stuff with you already."
Furfaro said assembling a good room is much like piecing together an outfit, and styling your backyard or balcony should follow the same fundamental principles. As such, individuals will want to select items that will flatter the space as they would their body, so it's important to look at the shape, scale and size of items.
Furfaro sometimes has clients take him to their closets to point out favourite articles of clothing to get a sense of their personal style.
"It shouldn't be about executing what you see in a magazine. It should just be about getting the perfect combination of the space itself -- so your home and your style -- and it should meet somewhere in the middle."
He suggests if you have spots for indoor pieces in your outdoor space, consider bringing them into the mix -- provided they will be protected.
Free My Interior worked on a client's balcony where they brought a console table designed for use indoors onto the balcony in a place that would be unaffected by the weather.
Around the base of the wall outside, there was a thick cement band that was painted white to conjure the feeling of baseboards. They also found a clearance outlet selling teak outdoor furniture and were able to find a bench, four dining chairs and a lounge chair for $500.
"Don't break the bank to do it, but create a space that you love for those three or four months a year," said Furfaro. "This can be your own private oasis."
-- The Canadian Press