Q: I have a large covered porch and would like to decorate it. Any suggestions for outdoor fabrics and rugs?
A: We’ve come a long way from stiff vinyl cushions that cracked and faded in the sun and perpetually damp rugs that often smelled of mildew. Today’s outdoor textiles have a softer hand and resist the growth of icky microorganisms.
The company Sunbrella, a leader in this world, introduced its first awning fabric in 1961, adding marine canvas in the 1970s and outdoor furniture fabric in the 1980s. All are composed of an acrylic that is dyed before the material is extruded as thread, making it fade-resistant. Other companies use Sunbrella’s threads to make their own versions: Knoll offers solids, florals, geometrics and textured weaves. For sun-loving stripes with a Riviera feeling, look to Les Toiles du Soleil, a French company that also produces table linens and pillows.
Outdoor rugs come in two varieties: those that can be hosed off and left to dry in the sun and those that can be thrown into the washing machine.
The machine version has limits, of course — you can’t stuff a 9-foot-by-12-foot rug into a typical family top loader. But if you have access to a large front loader at a nearby laundromat, these rugs come in fantastic patterns and often feel and look like indoor rugs. Check out the offerings of Ruggable (especially the Persian and bohemian categories) and Fab Habitat (made from recycled materials).
The hose-off category includes Greek Islands-inspired Santorini from Serena & Lily, which starts at $1,278. Annie Selke carries dozens of patterns, from sober neutrals to giddy geometrics. And one of my favorite home furnishings stores, CSAO in Paris, offers recycled plastic rugs from Senegal in lots of jubilant colors.
Now all you need is a pastis, some Bain de Soleil and Salvador Dali to come over.
Q: I like the way bamboo looks and want to plant some in my backyard but have heard it’s very invasive. True?
A: Bamboo creates a lovely, dense barrier wall with a tropical feeling, plus it holds a Guinness World Record for the fastest-growing plant. And therein lies the problem, though not with every species.
There are two basic types of bamboo: running and clumping. Running bamboo can grow explosively, spreading and choking other plants. By contrast, clumping bamboo tends to stick to a contained area.
Bamboo can grow in almost any climate, although it fares less well in really cold places and very dry ones. Consult a garden center before buying. If you do feel the need to grow running bamboo, keep it away from neighbors’ yards, or you may — as has happened — be hit with a lawsuit.
Q: Do ceiling fans really do anything? I feel like they just blow around hot air.
A: While traveling in Laos one sweltering April, I learned the true meaning of hot and humid, and my appreciation for ceiling fans was born. Open-air restaurants and cafes along the Mekong River had giant fans that made the climate bearable. They didn’t actually cool the air, but they caused the sweat on my skin to evaporate more quickly, slightly lowering my body temperature.
To make sure the breeze does the job, do not install a fan more than 9 feet above the floor. (If your ceiling is higher than that, find a model with an extender rod.) The minimum height for safety is 7 feet. If your ceilings are low, look for a flush-mount model.
Fans are rated for dry (indoors only), damp (semi-outdoors, such as a covered porch) and wet (able to withstand direct moisture), so choose accordingly. Remote controls are a good idea if you don’t feel like getting up to turn the fan on and off. Most models can also be hardwired to operate with a wall switch.
Another benefit of ceiling fans is that they keep mosquitoes away without chemicals. The breeze dilutes the carbon dioxide you exhale, which attracts mosquitoes, and the air currents beat back determined bugs (they are weak flyers).
If you’re looking for something sleek, Cirrus from the Modern Fan Co. ($525) is minimal, white and damp-rated, with optional extension rods. Also damp-rated, Cassius from Hunter (about $130) is black and industrial. For a very large outdoor area with a high ceiling, Essence from Big Ass Fans (starting at $4,499), which is wet-rated, lives up to the brand’s name, with eight blades and a span of up to 14 feet.
Q: I love seeing birds in my garden. Can you recommend a nice, stylish bird feeder?
A: After years of living in quaint, Swiss-chalet-like digs, today’s birds must be ready for something more modern. Fortunately, they have many options. Eva Solo sells minimalist baths and feeders, some sets attached as a single unit, from about $36. The Egg from J. Schatz, an ovoid stoneware feeder in four colors, is $275. The pagodalike Silo feeder, in three colors of recycled plastic, is about $64. The sweet, simple Pitch Modern Birdhouse from Loll Design comes in eight colors of recycled plastic for $145. Finally, Opossum Design has a series of Bauhaus-inspired feeders and baths from about $80. I wish one of these came human-sized.