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Into the Garden: Designer’s tips spruce up outdoor spaces

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Designer extraordinaire Kristan Cunningham was raised in West Virginia, and she's coming back for a homecoming at Tamarack on June 21. She took time out of her busy schedule (she's filming a new show for OWN Network) to give me some great ideas for outdoor spaces.

I spoke with Cunningham from her Los Angeles studio. Her DIY spirit combined with her designer eye led to a partnership with Lowe's. She's giving design tips using its products, but these ideas can be translated for any home.

"As we head into summer, we want our homes to feel topnotch -- we want it to be done! The trend over the last few years is, 'Let's make the outdoors an extension of the indoors.'

"It used to be a couple of plastic chairs, but you've gotta up the ante now," she said, with indoor-type furnishings designed for outdoor conditions.

Cunningham is redesigning her mom's patio with the help of online shopping.

"The whole shebang looks like it belongs in a living room," she said. But every DIY project doesn't have to be extensive and overwhelming, Cunningham said.

"Lightly decorating gets a lot of impact, especially outdoors because it's less expected."

She suggested a one-hour do-it-yourself project she calls an "unexpected garden moment." Placing an urn, a pedestal or a fountain can make an artistic statement while creating a visual destination or focal point.

"Think of how nice it is when you open that back door. If you put one rug down, that's impactful -- that's a space-changer. The whole yard looks well appointed now because there's a great rug."

She advises that you walk out your door and see where your eye falls; that's where you put your "statement piece." Scale, she added, is key.

A simple cherry-red or canary-yellow lacquered arbor with uplighting can add a pop of color and is an easy project. Paint, she said, is cheap, and it gives you the biggest bang for your buck.

The Los Angeles-based designer, who admits to reading Architectural Digest at age 9, said painting a front door is an inexpensive and easy way to add a dash of color to the front of the house without much commitment on the homeowner's part.

"The front door is your calling card, it's the outfit you put on your house," Cunningham said. She recommends using a product that's paint and primer all in one, and use a brush, not a roller.

"With a roller, you get that orange-peel look. Use a brush on any millwork, and with any type of paint it looks like it's done with old-school, oil-based paint. It just looks more expensive.

"If you don't like it, it's a can of paint and an afternoon. It can be changed," she said. She suggested using the popular decorator colors such as bright orange, salmon, shrimp, turquoise, bright green.

Going with a color that's on trend says "I'm hip!" But when it's just the front door, it's a good way to use the color without painting the whole house.

Painting the floor of a front porch, using tape to make "barcode stripes," is another way to introduce color to the outdoors. You can paint the whole porch, or paint a "rug" on one section.

"I never met a stripe I didn't like," she said with a laugh. "I like the 'barcode style' with a skinny stripe, a 2-inch, an 8-inch stripe.

"With the barcode stripes, there's less measuring, and you can introduce colors like acid green in small doses, with charcoal gray, dove gray."

"A zippy door color, the right light fixture, a special approach to the house or apartment numbers and a pair of container gardens provide the welcome statement you want," Cunningham said.

Cunningham is one of the most recognizable faces in design television. In 2001, she was on HGTV's "Designer's Challenge," and one year later she kicked off the first of 10 seasons as part of the HGTV "Design on a Dime" family. She has previously worked for the "Rachael Ray Show" as the resident design guru. Premiering this July on OWN, Cunningham will host the competition series "Super Saver Showdown."

In "Supersaver Showdown," Cunningham said it's like "couponers meets project runway meets design." She will be the host, mentor and judge, "a la Tim Gunn," she said with a laugh.

"People have 48 hours to throw the party for someone in need," she said. "It's amazing what people can do with $100 for 40 people. In a million years you won't believe what these people do ... They all are calling in favors from the church and neighbors for tables and chairs and all sorts of things, and while it doesn't cost much, it still feels fancy-pants.

"They make hot-dog-budget food into fancy," she said.

Cunningham will be the special guest of the Tamarack Foundation for its inaugural Ladies' Luncheon from noon to 1 p.m. June 21 at the Tamarack Conference Center in Beckley.

She'll talk about design tips for the home or office, and a bit about what it's really like behind the cameras at HGTV, as well as answer questions one-on-one.

The price is $30 per person and includes a meal prepared by Tamarack's Greenbrier-trained chefs.

Event sponsors are Lewis Automotive, Tamarack Foundation and WV Living magazine. All proceeds from the event will benefit West Virginia artisans.

For reservations, contact the Tamarack Foundation by June 14 at 304-926-3770 or sprice@tamarackwv.com. The Tamarack Foundation partners with artisan-owned small businesses in all 55 counties to produce art and products for Tamarack and other markets. A recent economic impact study showed that in one year, the artists and artisans associated with the Foundation and Tamarack contributed $18.6 million to West Virginia's economy.

@bodsub1:East End Garden Showcase

@rag:The East End Garden Showcase of more than 30 urban gardens in the historic Charleston neighborhood district will be held through June 23 (gardens will be open from dawn to dusk).

Participating gardeners welcome visitors and ask that participants respect their property and gardening efforts. (Don't pick the flowers!)

Pick up a free tour brochure at Zegeer Hardware, Contemporary Galleries, Bluegrass Kitchen or any garden along the way (look for the blue yard signs). Brochures can be downloaded at www.CharlestonEastEnd.com.

Admission is free. The event is presented by Masters Law Firm LC.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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