Furniture next to the fireplace at the home of Laurie and Alex Fisher in northern Baltimore.
Furniture next to the fireplace at the home of Laurie and Alex Fisher in northern Baltimore. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

There's something dreamy and perfect about an outdoor living space, especially in the balmy days of summer.

Whether your space is large or small — whether you plan to kick back on a single chaise longue, or have couches, an outdoor bar and a firepit — experts say you can create an oasis that suits your fancy and spirit.

"Decide first what the space will be used for," says Carol Grillo, an artist and certified interior designer who heads Carol Grillo Designs in Ruxton. "Will it be an area for eating, lounging poolside or seating for entertaining?"

The next step is finding the right furniture, say design experts.

Comfy couches, chaise loungues, lamps, tables and chairs are all options. So is outdoor art, including paintings.

"One big trend we're seeing with our customers is that they're creating indoor/outdoor environments," says Vicki Lang, a spokeswoman for Crate & Barrel, the furniture retailer. "They're taking outdoors what had been previously been thought of an interior space."

The company's Sanibel lounge collection promotes the concept. With a breezy cabana look, the resort-style seating is hand-woven in all-weather resin wicker, with warm honey and caramel tones.

Sectional arrangements can be fitted to accommodate small or larger outdoor spaces. And deep cushions are covered in fade- and mildew-resistant acrylic. Iron, wicker, resin and eucalyptus are among the materials that can be used.

"Generally, you want something that's weatherproof or water-resistant," adds Grillo. "You also want to think about color. The client will determine that, but I love blue and white. I find it very fresh. You think of water and the sky."

Laura Kimball, a certified interior designer and head of LCK Interiors in Baltimore County, adds that even in Maryland, one can incorporate a bit of the tropics. For example, she cites Southeast Asian statuary, Balinese beds, Indian swings, Mediterranean terra cotta and stucco.

"It's a taste of being somewhere else," she says. "These places take us away on minivacations."

5 tips for designing an outdoor living space

1. Decide purpose of space. As with any design project, the first question to ask yourself is how you want to use the space: What is its purpose? Then design around the way you intend to use it. Will it be a lounge area, conversation spot, hideaway or a space with a spectacular feature such as water, fire, light or sound?

2. Determine your inspiration. A taste for an exotic escape, quietude and simplicity? Whatever it is, use that inspiration to create a space you will enjoy, says Laura Kimball. Perhaps your inspiration leads you to a unique piece of furniture, or a beautiful outdoor rug to complete a cozy conversation nook.

3. Use quality products. Companies such as Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, Summer Classics and Frontgate carry all manner of furniture and accessories. Look for textiles in pretty colors and textures, since companies like Pindler & Pindler, Fabricut, Duralee, Sunbrella and Old World Weavers now offer woven patterns and softness that were once reserved for indoor applications. Look for fabrics that are quick-drying, are easily washed and retain shape, and are also moth-, rot- and sunlight-resistant.

4. Add plants. Designer Laura Grillo says every outdoor space should have "lots and lots of plants." Jason Sersen, a certified horticulturalist and general manager of Kingsdene Nursery in Monkton, notes that trees, clusters of flowers in pink, red, purple and other brilliant colors, and shrubs will accentuate the overall design scheme. Use decorative planters and terrariums, too. "Why not plant a butterfly bush to attract butterflies?" he asks.

5. Don't forget the art. More people are taking the indoors outdoors, so adding art can play up the space.