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Lighten up the sweltering season with breezy decor

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF, Times Staff Writer
Published August 19, 2007


I was grumbling about the heat while standing in line at the post office the other day when the woman in front of me shrugged and said simply, "It's summer in Florida."

That it is.

While our counterparts in the North struggle with snow and ice in the winter, we Floridians postpone misery until summer.

Winters are balmy; summers, tragically hot.

Let's face it. Come August, no one down here feels much like going for a long walk or sitting out on the deck sipping lemonade.

At least not until about 8 p.m.

That's what I call the "blue hour," the stretch after sunset before dark when the palette of the sky turns cool and the temperatures drop just enough to make it bearable.

I can honestly say our summers change the way we live much like the winter does in cold climates.

When the mercury soars, Florida home life is adjusted accordingly, both in terms of practicality and decor.

I keep my shades rolled down at the peak of the day to keep the heat at bay and the air-conditioning from working too hard.

Comforters are replaced with light-weight quilts; cozy knit throws are relegated to the closet until at least November; and three-wick candles are replaced by tea lights yes, even candles seem to make the room hotter in this climate.

Just looking at heavy, dark interiors makes me sweat during the summer here. I was flipping through the latest Lilly Pulitzer catalog today and noticed the light and bright interior of a living room used for a fashion photo. The sofa wore a pattern of leafy green fronds, the armchairs were linen colored and the pale rug looked like sisal.

Perfect summer styling for our sizzling climate, I thought.

Her fun little coffee table book, Essentially Lilly, A Guide to Colorful Entertaining, offers more of the Palm Beach fashion designer's sensibilities on home styling in a hot climate.

I love thumbing through the pages because everything feels so frothy that it looks like it might blow away, including the gauzy, semisheer party tent illuminated by hurricane lamps and paper lanterns (though I'm quite sure it wasn't August when they shot that).

Over the years I've interviewed interior-design conscious Floridians who swap out their winter palette for cooler summer hues. That means replacing dark area rugs, throw pillows, even artwork and accessories, with things that have a lighter feel.

I don't go that far, but I find myself decluttering, putting things away, making my rooms feel cleaner and airier.

Only the rain makes everything better, it seems, but only if it stops. Days and days of torrential downpours recently water-logged my outdoor cushions to the point that I've stopped worrying about them.

I won't bother with the warranty, either.

Forgetting your cushions outdoors in a Michigan summer is a lot different than doing so in a Florida summer. Surely there is fine print somewhere in the warranty exempting their durability from monsoon rains.

And fancy patio umbrellas? Forget it. Last year, I ordered a pair of beautiful wide-span umbrellas that looked like kites and offered the shade of large awnings. The rub? One gust of hot wind left them teetering and quivering, so I promptly sent them back.

Some people say summer is Florida's winter: It's a harsh season marked by extremes in heat and storms.

I couldn't agree more.

The difference, though, was summed up by a transplanted New Yorker I was griping with not too long ago about the weather:

Up north, you have to shovel snow, he said.

But you never have to shovel sunshine.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.