Feature Story: Sunny Days 

Freshen your Home. Spice Up your Pary. Become One with the Outdoors. Here Are 12 great Ways to Get Your Summer Started Right.

Be festive but simple.

A friend drops by for lunch. You and your date have an early movie to catch. Or maybe it's just another meal on the patio. But hey, it's summer. Lighten up and make it an occasion. Pull out some funky, over-the-top stuff you've kept stashed away in the bottom drawer or on the top kitchen shelf, and set the table with new combinations of unlikely stuff.

Colorful table linens and mismatched china can perk up even a simple meal of spaghetti and meatballs. But better to work an underlying theme: In the setting at right, the primary colors of rose red, cobalt blue and lemon yellow prevail, but touches of green (the 1930s-era checkered placemats) keep the table from looking as if Fourth of July came too early. We promise, even an inexpensive bottle of wine will go down more smoothly.

Uplight the trees.

Now that leaves are dancing in the breeze, accent them in the yard or garden. Well-placed lighting brings a sculptural effect to trees at night, showing off those ornamentals and specimen trees that you've spent years nurturing — and it brings security too. If a professional lightscape system is out of your budget's reach, an electrician can wire one fixture for your favorite tree and give it a new personality by night. Still cheaper: Hang a candelier with globes (a hanging fixture that uses candles, not light bulbs) from a tree branch, and light it for your dinners al fresco.

Perhaps most appealing is that landscape lighting is a home improvement project you can unfold gradually, says Tim Swaim, regional sales manager of Turf and Garden in Chester. "Most people put it in one part of the house or a group of trees to start" before going all the way, says Swaim. Contractors and vendors often have sample kits you can borrow to experiment with.

The fixtures themselves are often earth-toned to blend in with the ground, and recent improvements in technology have introduced a new generation of lower-voltage bulbs that are more durable.

Fear not new fruits.

Lose that same old bowl of apples on the kitchen counter and set out some of the worldly fruits now available in Richmond markets. We found the hairy, red rambutans (soft and sweet), baby bananas (more sugary than their big cousins) and guava (wonderful alone or in salads) at Tan-A Market, 6221 W. Broad St., where jackfruit, longan, sapote and other varieties of imported fruits change with the seasons. Two bonuses while shopping there: good-sized, $1 bags of fresh herbs, from Thai basil and cilantro to more exotics; and great-looking plastic plates, oval platters and bowls with colorful Asian designs, inexpensive prices and wide-open possibilities for outdoor entertaining, picnics, boating and camper kitchens.

The pot thickens.

OK, the springtime peak of azaleas, dogwoods and tulips that Richmond delivers so well has passed. And although it's labor-intensive to keep outdoor color blazing throughout the warm weather months, don't deny yourself the visual thrills. Group together a half dozen or so terra cotta, concrete or wooden containers, the bigger the better, and fill each one with a profusion of blooms, either all of a kind or mixed. Then, as summer wears on and certain annuals fade, simply remove that pot and replace it with another. And when you pass a nursery or a roadside plant stand on the way back from the river or beach, don't hesitate to pull over and indulge yourself. You know where that blooming plant is going when you get home — in a pot alongside the others. Shown here, containers of various shapes and sizes create a cascade of color down the front steps of a Monument Avenue home. Dennis Brumbach is the floral designer.

Color it cool.

Refresh your walls. Paint becomes dingy after years of wear, and any decorator will tell you that paint is the easiest, least expensive way to transform a space. To give your walls a hint of summer, choose light, fresh colors that will brighten the room. Think sand, melon, sea foam, sky blue. Get your inspiration from sherbets or flowers or scenes from the beach. Then bring in some accents — pillows, window treatments, decorative pieces and paintings, and watch the new colors lift a winter-drab monotone into something more delectable.

Pleasures of the porch.

Hard as it is to believe, there was a time when folks made it through a Virginia summer without air conditioning. They couldn't have survived the good old days, however, without a screened porch. To update this classic summer setting, as shown here at a Springhill neighborhood home, pull together an assemblage of old yard and porch furniture — a wicker rocker, an Adirondack chair, an antique church pew, a cane-bottomed easy chair — apply glossy white paint and unify by covering the cushions in a cool-colored fabric. Add geraniums, magazines and lemonade. Then stir. This summer formula saves energy too.

Cut the rug.

A good way to lighten up a room for summer, says Jaye Erickson, a buyer for La Différence, is to change what's underfoot. Most people think walls and furniture determine the room's mood, but a rug can make a big difference too, and it's easier to change. Try a lighter color or material. Or just roll it up and leave the floor bare. "I did that in my bedroom, and I'm thinking about keeping it that way because I like it," Erickson says. "Floors make a really big impact and a lot of people ignore that."

You can take the theme throughout your house. Tablecloths can be switched out with lighter fabrics like linen or with a colorful runner. Darker bed coverings and heavy quilts can be stored away for summer, replaced by lightweight duvet covers and crisp shams.

Ice things up.

For parties, put the menu on ice. Not just the beverages, but the foods and even the decorations. First take metal planter boxes or troughs — there's a great variety of steel or aluminum containers in home-improvement stores, or you could use that copper trough that Grandma used to wash clothes in. Order enough ice to fill containers to the brim (just before the party, of course). Then top with dishes to suit: gazpacho or other soups served in shot glasses, chilled shrimp, salads, meats, sushi, desserts. Flowers or candles stuck into the ice complete the look, and clear or pastel-colored serving dishes and barware accent the refreshing theme.

SSave the porcelain!

Spring sees a lot of torn-up houses, as people begin major renovations inside. Often, that old cast-iron tub and sink find their way to the junk pile in the process of updating. But old tubs can go on to live full, happy lives in the garden: They make great planters or fish ponds. And they're the perfect height for gardeners in wheelchairs. A kitchen sink, with a little reworking, makes a quirky window-box. And a pedestal sink — birdbath, planter, fountain: it'll do it all.

This kind of recycling depends on taste and boldness, of course. Toilets can grow annuals as well as anything else. That's your call. But think about the kind of vegetable garden that'll grow in the trunk of a 1979 Lincoln Continental.

Celebrate — anything.

As it gets hotter, it can be harder to find motivation to plan those soirees. But remember that almost every day is a holiday, and you'll have plenty of reasons to celebrate. Sure, people love Mother's Day, but what about all those other perfectly good, perfectly weird holidays? Wear one black sock for your Lost Sock Memorial Day party (May 9), or think about back-to-back celebrations with End of the Middle Ages Day (May 29) and My Bucket's Got a Hole in It Day (May 30). Kick off June with National Bubba Day (June 2) and walk easy on World Sauntering Day (June 19), leading right into Let It All Go Day (June 23). Wear your best nothing at a National Nude Day party (July 14), and if people don't like it, you'll hear about it on International Nagging Day (August 14).

Toss it, store it, give it away.

When you think summer, think declutter. "By removing the things in your home that are outdated, not used, redundant, broken, or simply eyesores, you can make your space feel lighter and brighter," says interior designer Stefanie Fearrington. "Organization has the biggest impact on your space with the least cost involved."

Check out the reams of self-help books and cable shows about organizing, and you'll see that the three-bin sorting theory (store, toss, give away) can keep anyone's holdings in line.



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