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12 tips to bring the outdoors in

These days, you don't have to leave home to get a taste of the great outdoors.

From garden flowers to patio kitchens, some green thumbs have a few favorite tricks to bring summer warmth and sunshine into their lives.

"There are a variety of things you can do," says Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, author of "Apartment Therapy" and frequent makeover expert on HGTV's "Small Space, Big Style." And whether you're outside kicking back or inside looking out, "it makes it much more inviting."

It should be fun. "Don't be afraid to play," says Sharon Hanby-Robie, an interior designer based in Lancaster, Pa., and author of "Decorating Without Fear."

Bring the outdoors in:
Here are 12 tips on easy and relatively inexpensive ways to bring the warmth and beauty of summer into your living style, whether it's out in the yard or up on the windowsill.
1.Use plants inside.
2.Select natural materials.
3.Try window boxes.
4.Plan ahead.
5.Install planters.
6.Look for versatility.
7.Follow your nose.
8.Use containers.
9.Hit the lights.
10.Create a sanctuary.
11.Think about the view.
12.Use bright colors and favorite themes.

1. Use plants inside. "Plants are the biggest thing that I try to get into people's homes," says Gillingham-Ryan. "They do put you in touch with the earth. You have to take care of them; you have to water them." They also clean and humidify the air.

Choose plants that will thrive in the room's available light. Some good choices for strong light: geraniums and palms, says Gillingham-Ryan. For lower light: Chinese evergreens, rubber trees, ferns and pothos ivy. Peace lilies, which are hardy, will do well in almost any light, he says.

2. Select natural materials. Balance out your electronics and plastics with furniture or accessories made from natural materials.

"Any place you have the option of using natural materials or a natural finish is a way of bringing the outdoors in," says Gillingham-Ryan. Look for asymmetrical shapes, rather than perfect circles and squares.

Got the polyester wall-to-wall blues? Use a grass cloth runner or cotton area rug to break up the space.

3. Try window boxes. "Your perception of your space" is governed by "where your eye can travel," says Gillingham-Ryan. With window boxes, "you extend your sense of the space, and you've brought the outside in."

You can find them in all sizes and prices to fit just about any need. If you're not handy, some versions will mount on a patio railing with minimal installation. For a few dollars each, you can buy plain wooden boxes and paint or stain them yourself, or you can spend a little more and buy the finished product. If you're worried about weight, look for faux terra cotta made from light, strong plastic.

4. Plan ahead. When it comes to the yard, "What do you want to do out there?" asks Hanby-Robie. "Dinners for two or entertaining for 10 or 12?" Once you decide that, if you have a big yard, you also have some choices. Evaluate which areas would be best for the activities you have in mind. If you want a garden, which areas have the best sun and drainage? If you're planning a fragrant garden, which rooms do you want to catch the aroma?

When you're making plans for a yard, especially a big yard, "look at it as rooms," says Hanby-Robie. "If you try to look at the whole yard, it's like trying to look at your whole house. It's easier to break it down."

Next: "Think of outdoor space as another room in your house."
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