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friends toasting at party
Now you can entertain outdoors. / Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Corbis

Entertain outdoors

PLANTS: Use them to set a mood.

FIREPLACE: It's a focal point that extends the outdoor season.

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You may think of your stubborn wooden deck or outdated patio as an eyesore jutting out in your yard, but with smart design decisions and creative use of landscape, your outdoor space can become the perfect place to escape.

Think about your deck or patio as a valuable extension of your home. Many things you enjoy indoors can be even better outdoors.

Consider these six improvements that will make your backyard come to life:

Create an outdoor room. For outdoor living year-round, use elements that define the space and create a sense of destination. A cozy fireplace or fire pit is an inviting focal point in an outdoor sitting area that allows you to extend the season from cool spring nights into fall. A full-service kitchen is an entertainment epicenter that generates an alfresco dining experience with ease. Options in outdoor kitchens include custom-built pizza ovens and wine coolers.

Layer in lighting. A welcoming ambience allows guests to visit even after the sun goes down. And the lighting options go far beyond the glowing tiki torch and twinkling holiday lights. Strategically placed lighting illuminates walkways, accentuates key features like plants, trees and architecture, and provides a sense of depth to your backyard at night. From low-voltage lighting wired into a deckís steps to installing dimmers that set the mood, lighting enhances function, style and safety.

Add seating. Built-in seating vastly expands the versatility of your deck or patio and is the ultimate weather-proof furniture. Seating can double as storage units for cushions and garden equipment or substitute for railings on a deck. Wall benches are great outdoor options.

Bring your entertainment center outdoors. With weather-resistant technology, nothing is stopping you from turning your deck or patio into a great entertainment room. From subwoofers to satellite speakers, high-end tech can be strategically hidden throughout the yard for a well-designed, stylish solution. All-weather televisions with extra-bright LCD screens are suited for outdoor viewing. These TVs can be permanently installed into a patio, barbecue or poolside area and withstand rain, dust, bugs and temperatures.

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Consider an addition. Break up the monotony of a large, flat space by adding a tier to your deck thatís dedicated to grilling or by connecting the patio to a sitting area with an intimate path. If you have a great view, highlight it by having more than one level on the deck to give multiple vantage points. And creating different areas for specific activities provides a sense of privacy for visiting or just reading.

Use plants for effect. Many people assume plants take up space, but, in fact, they define areas. A bushy shrub hides a stair leading to a deck or creates a privacy wall around a patio. Trees and flowers soften the hard elements of outdoor structures. Plants also establish or underscore a mood. Ferns, moss and hostas fit perfectly in a shaded, quiet, meditative space: Choose plants that soothe and inspire you.

Virginia Switzer is senior editor at HGTVRemodels.com, which suggests dream ideas in its Deck Planning Guide.

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