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Living it up, inside and out

By Kristi Keck
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(CNN) -- The latest trends in home decorating are all about bringing the outdoors in and the indoors out. So whether you prefer soaking up the sun or kicking back on the sofa, this spring you can get the best of both worlds, no matter where you are.

Homes are opening up to courtyards, walls are being replaced with windows and living rooms are turning into indoor sanctuaries.

What's out is in

"People want that comfort level in their own homes and don't have to travel to a hotel to get it," said Marguerite Rodgers, president of the interior design firm Marguerite Rodgers Limited.

"Their motivation is to really be some place at home where it feels like a retreat," she said.

Getting the comfort of the great outdoors is about re-creating an experience, not just an environment, and that means you have to appeal to the senses, experts say.

The most obvious way to do this is to mirror the look of the outdoors by using natural materials, such as stone, granite and wood.

"Those are things that have a really strong emotional connection for homeowners," said Melissa Birdsong, vice president of trends, design and brands for the home improvement chain Lowe's.

These materials are being incorporated into the primary gathering spaces of homes, like dens and family rooms.

Birdsong said materials with "less than perfect" finishes, such as wood floors with wider planks, pebble accents or rustic furniture, provide not only the look of the outdoors, but also the feel.

"America loves to be comfortable and casual, and finishes like that really make people feel like they can be at home and take their shoes off, and it's not so formal," Birdsong said.

It's also important to replicate the colors of nature.

"What people love about the outside are the natural colors and the earth tones and all things green and subtle," Birdsong said.

"Bringing those colors inside just feels like you are outside," she said.

A more dramatic way to get the colors of the outside is by changing a room's view. Floor-to-ceiling windows eliminate the barrier between inside and out, and sliding doors create the effect of a disappearing wall.

Use the same flooring in the interior and exterior, and it's hard to perceive where one space begins and the other ends.

"The spaces just visually unite, and you have a seamless flow from inside to out," Birdsong said.

The forgotten sense

One of the easiest - and least expensive -- ways to bring the outdoors in is by recreating the smell of the outdoors.

"Scent is the most forgotten design tool. It's the one design tool that even professionals forget to use," said Deborah Burnett, spokeswoman for the American Society of Interior Designers.

You can purchase candles and air fresheners to create the smell of almost any outdoor environment -- from pine trees to camp fires to fresh rain.

"The best ones have a subtlety about them that is not overpowering. Just like if you were outside, your senses pick up on the outdoor sights and sounds and smells, but it's no one thing -- it's a combination of those things -- that really makes it more natural," Birdsong said.

The real deal

Sometimes just mimicking the sights and smells outdoors isn't enough. How about extending your living space by recasting your favorite room outside?

"The interest in all things décor ... has migrated from interiors to exteriors because people are wanting the same level of comfort and design and embellishment that they have inside," Birdsong said.

People are using outdoor spaces much like they use indoor spaces, Birdsong said. This means the rooms need to be planned out like interior spaces -- with frames, floors and furniture.

"One way of getting a more finished look outside is with structure, like gazebos and pergolas and trellises," said Birdsong.

Birdsong said you have to go beyond just furniture to complete your room. Consider what to use for flooring - perhaps grass or a patio, and what will define the walls, such as hedges or a fence.

These elements will give the outdoor space a sense of completion.

And since the sun might set before you are ready to go in, you need to consider lighting.

Burnett said to get the most out the environment, purchase high-pressure sodium lights. These bulbs have a diffused light effect, and don't cast a harsh line of demarcation on the ground. Sodium bulbs cast a soft, natural, pink-toned light.

"It's mood lighting at its best," she said.

Once you have the space set up, all you have to do is fill it.

The sky is the limit

Bruce Spangrud, president of Calise Outdoor Kitchens, creates outdoor environments that combine all the comforts of the indoors with a high-tech twist.

Spangrud said most of his customers are looking for more room to entertain and better space to just hang out and talk. This desire is reflected in the rise in popularity in this year's hot item: the fire pit.

"It's another environment where people gather," Spangrud said.

"Five or six chairs can sit around the fire pit, more so than fireplaces. Fireplaces have one inherent problem; they only have one side," he said.

From full kitchens with all the latest appliances to waterproof HDTVs, there really is no limit to what can go outdoors, Spangrud said.

"If you go outside and have all those things right there in your backyard, you can stay home, relax, be with family and friends and have fun," Spangrud said.

"Everything works better outside," he said.

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High-tech appliances take outdoor kitchens to a new level. Many indoor kitchen appliances are available for outdoor use.

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