Q We live in the city and use our back porch to entertain in the summer. I like the idea of an intimate space for enjoying outdoor meals. Do you have any suggestions for decoration and set-up that would work without too much expense?

A: Your porch presents a wonderful space to create an outdoor dining room. Just like interior decorating, it's helpful to choose a theme or central style to guide your imagination, and then combine elements from indoors and out to develop the scene.

One enchanting dining space was created by home and garden designer Lynn Raitt for the DelecTABLE Designs fundraiser put on by the Junior League Toronto. Raitt's inspiration is drawn from her love of the Italian countryside and European sensibilities. There are two outdoor walls; the tapestry depicts a classical European landscape and presents a fanciful view while dining. The second is the trellis, which adds to the texture of the space and creates a backdrop for the focal point of this porch room: a stone lion's head fountain that was converted to a planter.

Creating a warm and inviting space requires a layering of details. Chartreuse, cream and black set the mood alongside various natural wood tones. Cushions line the teak bench, which sits three for dining and doubles as a place to stretch out and read or nap during a relaxing afternoon.

Patterned china and brown and black leopard flatware heighten the rustic elegance Raitt imagines would be seen in an Italian villa.

Art and sculpture can be an important part of outdoor design, used as a stabilizing focal point to draw the eye into the outdoor room you have built, and a wonderful surprise in the garden. Sculptures, statues and planters add another dimension to your design. Choose pieces as you would art for your inside rooms, placing it with a thought to the balance and function of the spot. A sculptured water fountain is a treasure in a secluded part of the garden.

Q: We have just moved into a real fixer-upper with the most bedraggled front yard and entrance. There's lots to do inside, and we love the challenge. However, while the weather is warm, we'd like to start with the front of the house. Any tips?

A: You are clever to begin at the front. A fresh landscape will make all the difference to your frame of mind when you arrive home.

Start with the front walk and steps. Remove any broken or cracked concrete. You can create an interesting path to the front door with steppingstones; give it a bit of a curve from the driveway or street. Plant some low evergreens that will add shape and texture in the winter. Container gardening is a good option for your first year — no weeding and lots of variety and color.

If the lawn requires replacing, low-maintenance ground coverings are one option. Then apply a fresh coat of paint to the front door and porch. Don't forget to take before and after shots as you work through your renovations. You will be amazed at the results. It's a great feeling.

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Email questions to house2home@debbietravis.com. You can follow Travis on Twitter at www.twitter.com/debbie_travis, and visit her website, www.debbietravis.com.