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By Marla Caceres, Tribune Content Agency
Living out on the lanai is one of the perks of being a Florida resident. The covered outdoor space, which shares its name with Lanai, a tiny, privately-owned Hawaiian island off Maui, has become many Floridians' favorite living space.
"People are bringing their living rooms out to their patios," says Sonia Najman, director of window treatment sales for Baer's Dania Design Center, part of Baer's, a collection of fine furniture stores with 15 locations throughout Florida.
"Just like they've extended the living room into the family room, people are extending the family room to the lanai or the patio."
Some Florida homeowners are even putting big-screen TVs and other electronic gear out on their lanais. Others install complete outdoor kitchens featuring refrigerators, cooktops, ovens and more.
"They can get pretty high-tech," says Baer's designer Syril Lebbad. There's no limit to what you can do.
Here are tips from designers to help you turn your lanai into your family's favorite space.
1. Keep it cool. Summers in Florida can be brutal, but that shouldn't keep you from enjoying time in your lanai. Ceiling fans can make spending time in your outdoor space during the summer months more comfortable.
Sun control can also have a big impact. Hanging a shade or curtain on the sunward side of the lanai can keep it cooler. Or you might want extra privacy.
First, figure out exactly how much sun control you might need. "If you have an eastern exposure, you would treat the lanai differently than if you had northern exposure," says Helene Brown, a licensed interior designer with Baer's, who cautions that coverings for lanai windows should be geared to the climate. "There are window treatments made for outdoors now that can handle humidity," she says.
But don't cover up your view. Lebbad suggests bar-height tables and swiveling chairs that make it easy to see the beauty of the landscape.
2. Take your furniture up a notch. The days of shoddy aluminum patio furniture are over. Today's outdoor furniture not only stands up to the element but looks great, too.
Of course, you want a table and chairs for dining out on the lanai but you can still eat and relax in comfort – no need to neglect cushy furnishings when considering your options.
Look for upholstery that can stand up to sun exposure. Also, well-constructed outdoor furnishings can hold up well to water and salt as well, says Lebbad. New technology has created fabrics and cushions that don't hold dampness.
"There are fabrics, like Sunbrella fabrics, that are geared for outside," Najman says. "It definitely has to be a fabric that is geared for outdoors, and if it's geared for outdoors, then it has sun protection."
These fabrics are kid proof, says Lynn Goral, a Baer's designer. "If something spills, you can wipe it off with soap and water. A lot of the major manufacturers are putting this type of upholstery on inside furniture because it's so durable."
Outdoor furnishings now are so beautiful and well-made, Lebbad says, "I've actually taken outdoor furniture and put it inside."
"There are just so many different new products that are on the market, and new technologies that make furniture look more indoor-looking than outdoor-looking," Brown says.
Wicker has come a long way in recent years, Brown says. Outdoor furniture with metallic frames hold up to wear and tear.
3. Don't forget the little touches. Small changes to your lanai can have a big impact, too. A new area rug — in an outdoor-ready material — can instantly transform your outdoor space, as can new lighting.
"A lot of the lights right now look like they're indoor lights, but they're actually made for outside," Brown says. "There are also the candles, the dripless candles that are electric candles, in all kinds of shapes and sizes."
4. Keep it consistent with your interior design. Consider your lanai your outdoor living room — in terms of comfort but also in terms of design. Choose furniture and accessories that coordinate with the pieces you've chosen for your indoor living room.
"It's important to have consistency of fabric, and also the same kind of look there is in the lanai as there is in the living room," Brown says. Particularly if you have glass patio doors leading out onto the lanai or large windows looking toward it, you want everything to blend together.
"It's another extension of the house," says Brown.
Leah A. Zeldes also contributed to this article.
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