BY DEBBIE TRAVIS

Q Have you any ideas for backyard shade other than the traditional table umbrella? We have a small but very sunny backyard, and I’d like to be able to cover a kids’ play area and picnic table. Thanks for your help.

A: With the concerns about getting too much exposure to the sun’s harmful rays, it is important to find a solution for shading that is not only effective, but also enhances our outdoor spaces.

The latest in shade sails or shade tarps is the perfect solution. These versatile covers come in various shapes and sizes, generally triangular, that can be tied to trees, porches or poles and set up to shade gardens, pools and play and sitting areas.

The sails are thin and stretched taught so that they take up little visual space, unlike a traditional umbrella.

They come in different fabrics that provide UV protection as well as shade. They are lightweight, and as most fabrics are translucent, you can still watch the clouds go by.

A DIY version such as the Wallabee Ready-Made Shade Sail shown here can be found at www.shadesailscanada.com.

Q: I have a small living room; however, my sofa and love seat are rather large. They are brown and beige. I would like help picking a paint color for the walls that would work. I’m considering blue or sage green.

A: To make your living room look and feel larger, you might consider replacing one or both of the large pieces of furniture.

It is possible to find pieces that allow you to seat four or five people but take up a smaller footprint. Or can they be arranged in a different way?

If the furniture is staying, then I suggest a soft cornflower blue for the walls; this color is fresh and inviting and will enhance the browns and beiges you have.

For added impact, choose a focal wall and hang one of today’s stunning wallpaper designs, such as a blue and green contemporary floral pattern.

Q: Our ’70s brick fireplace really dates our family room. There is a stove insert, black with gold trim. The walls and bookshelves are blue/gray; the Berber carpet is taupe. Is painting the fireplace a project I could complete on my own?

A: Painting a brick fireplace is not difficult, and it will make a big impact on your room. Choose a color that is a few steps lighter than the wall paint, or cream or white.

A fireplace is always a focal point, and this will give the brick a distinctive color that blends well with what is already there.

To paint the brick, clean it first with a wire brush and then warm soap and water. Allow the bricks and grout to dry completely, wait a day or two.

Prime the bricks and grout with a masonry primer (a primer that is designed to cover bricks).

Use a roller and a brush to get into all the nooks and crannies. This is an important step; repeat it if you find any missed sections.

Once the primer is dry, proceed with painting. Use a water-based paint and apply two coats for full coverage. It will look great.

Debbie Travis’ House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email your questions to house2home@debbietravis.com. You can follow Debbie on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ debbie_travis.