STYLE AT HOME: Redo your deck

Mary Carol Garrity tells you how to decorate with style:

Q: We never use our back deck because it's boring and bare. How can I make the deck a place where we want to hang out?

A: The deck is finally coming of age, and I couldn't be more thrilled. Gone are the days when we stuck a grill, a few lawn chairs and a citronella candle on the deck and called it good. Today our outdoor spaces can be every bit as beautiful, fun and functional as our most beloved indoor rooms.

During my annual spring open house, where I open my home for public tours, some guests remarked about my front patio, which was all dressed to show.

"I'll bet you just live out here in the summer," they said. As I nodded my head yes, it dawned on me that I don't spend nearly enough time relaxing on my front patio -- or anywhere else, for that matter. So that night I grabbed Dan and a glass of wine and headed for the porch. No sooner had I put my feet up and let out a long sigh of relief than a bird dropping landed on my leg.

That indiscreet bird illustrates the first golden rule of outdoor decorating: Don't use anything on your deck that can't stand up to heat, wind, rain, birds, bugs or anything else Mother Nature can dish out. Otherwise, you'll be a slave to your patio, forced to bring in your deck decor every time a storm cloud floats overhead.

Before you dig in on your deck redo, do a little dreaming. How do you want to use the space? If you want to chill out during the summer months, make sure you have enough shade to protect you from the blistering sun. If your yard is tree-challenged, make your own shade with a playful market umbrella, a romantic gazebo or a vine-covered arbor.

Do you want to entertain dinner guests on your deck or spend lazy Sunday afternoons there reading a good book? Invest in outdoor furnishings that will help you meet your goals.

Dan and I like to dine al fresco, so we put an iron cafe table on our front porch. But mostly we wanted to lounge under the stars, so we decided to invest in a super-comfy grouping of outdoor wicker pieces, including a sofa, side chairs and ottoman. I'm crazy about all-season wicker because it combines the romance and beauty of the real thing with the durability of a synthetic.

True confessions: I've never been a big fan of outdoor fabrics. So when it came time to pick material for the cushions for my faux-wicker grouping, I opted for off-white canvas. I know white sounds like a cleaning nightmare, but it's been just the opposite. When the cushions get dirty, I wipe them with a diluted bleach mixture, and they look good as new.

Once you've picked your furnishing, it's time to think about lighting. If you host dinner parties under the stars, you'll need something besides the porch spotlight to illuminate your events. How about hanging a simple chandelier from your arbor, dotting the corners of your market umbrella with funky hanging votive cups or stringing festive party lights around your gazebo? Be sure to use battery-operated candles so you don't have to worry about the candles blowing out in the wind.

Now it's time for the accents. Be careful when you accessorize your deck. It's easy to get carried away and make the space seem cluttered or overdone. I'd advise sticking with just a few well-placed pieces, like a simple but tasteful centerpiece. If your table is in the sun, find a beautiful riser, cover it with a ragged sheet of moss, then top it with a piece of garden statuary. My front patio gets oodles of shade, so I created a lush, living centerpiece by filling a two-tier wire stand with maidenhair ferns.

Now it's time to have some fun making over your new outdoor room. I predict that once you dress your deck in comfort and style, you won't be able to keep your family inside.

Mary Carol Garrity is the proprietor of three successful homefurnishings stores in Atchison, Kan. She is the author of several best-selling books on homedecorating. Write to Mary Carol at