In the summer, the complexities of throwing a party melt away like ice in a pina colada. The setting? No sweat. Your backyard, lit romantically with lanterns and tea lights. The food? Dishes you've made in advance and serve cold or at room temperature. Or even easier: a gourmet-to-go picnic. The attire? Flip-flops optional.
This season, stores are filled with things to make your party-giving even easier. Manufacturers have caught on to the fact that our yards are no longer just our yards; they're living rooms without the carpeting.
As home trend forecaster Michelle Lamb says, "The outdoors is just an extension of whatever room is on the other side of the sliding glass doors."
That translates into furnishings for the patio as fashion-forward as those for the house. You'll see acrylic glasses as stylish as your best stemware. Picnic baskets that outshine your dining room buffet.
And you don't have to spend a ton of money. This summer, says Jeni Krueger, manager of the Target store in Ellicott City, Md., the chic but cheap chain is offering everything from different styles of tiki torches to high-design table accents for the patio.
Look for these trends in accessories for outdoor entertaining:
* Acrylic and plastic tableware that looks as good as the real thing.
* Citronella candles as a high-fashion item.
* Miniature lights in inventive shapes from stars to red peppers.
* Lanterns, lanterns, lanterns.
* What's old is new, like speckleware redone in red rather than the traditional blue.
* Fantasy cocktails are hot, and so are the accessories they demand (swizzle sticks and beyond).
* Anything red, white and blue, with or without stars and stripes.
* Bright, often Caribbean, colors.
* Colors in the same family used together, such as pink-red-orange.
You have your festive patioware and strings of lights shaped like crabs. Now you need a little help pulling together the actual party.
Here are three books, two brand-new, to get you started, plus one just-released CD that includes a summer party soundtrack, recipes and tips from Martha:
* "Bon Appetit Outdoor Entertaining" (Pantheon, 2001).
* "The Garden Entertaining Cookbook: Recipes and Menus for Casual Dining Outdoors" by Barbara Scott-Goodman and Mary Goodbody (Chronicle, 2001).
* "The Taste of Summer: Inspired Recipes for Casual Entertaining" by Diane Rossen Worthington and Maura McEvoy (Chronicle, 2000).
* "Martha Stewart Living: Summer Entertaining" (Rhino Entertainment, 2001)