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Beautiful fireplaces and the right furnishings create inviting exterior living spaces.

It's summertime in Atlantic Canada and the outside is decidedly in. "The yard has become an extension of the house," says Brenda French, an interior designer for Kent in Newfoundland. "Outdoor living is no longer limited to the patio. People are creating exterior living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens with outdoor furniture and accessories."

These amenities come at a cost but it's possible to reach for the stars without reaching too deeply into your wallet. Home supply stores now carry an extensive range of outdoor furnishings geared to eating, drinking, sitting, lounging, and even sleeping. The trick to achieving a cohesive outdoor look is to select coordinating products from the same line or products from different lines that are made in a similar style and from similar materials. You can buy things in stages rather than all at once but the important thing is to have a plan.

Like most aspects of home design, the best-laid plan is one in which form follows function. It's tempting to replicate the chic exterior scenes depicted in glossy magazines, but a dose of reality will steer you in the right direction. Picture your smiling children perched on the ivory-covered cushions of the new settee as they tuck into the season's first barbecue. Imagine your 90-year-old uncle hoisting himself onto a towering stool at the bar-height bistro table-or your glamorous cousin balanced on one wobbly stiletto heel as she takes her seat at the picnic table. Once you've considered ketchup stains, comfort and homeowner liability, it's time to go shopping.

As the assistant manager at the Kent store in Halifax, Mark Goobie observes the trends in outdoor furnishings. "We're selling more three-piece bistro sets than ever before," says Goobie. "They're great for either the yard or the deck." Other top sellers include market umbrellas, canopied swings, outdoor dining tables, and well-padded chairs that encourage ?family and friends to linger longer over a summer meal. These products come in styles ranging from traditional country to modern minimalist, and in weather-resistant materials like wicker, metal, plastic and wood. "Aluminum is the most popular," says Goobie. "It's usually less expensive and it's light weight, long-lasting and strong."

According to Goobie, the season's hottest ticket items are couch-style lounge sets and conversation groupings made from durable, weather resistant, resin wicker. Look for accent chairs, two-seater love seats, three-seater sofas, coffee tables, occasional tables, and multi-function recliners that do double duty as chaise lounges. And if harmful ultraviolet rays and invading insects have you running for shelter, position your new wicker furniture in a steel or aluminum-framed gazebo with fire-resistant fabric and screening.

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