News & Politics

Outdoor Living: Umbrellas, Canopies, and Shading Options

Umbrellas, canopies, and other shading options are bringing color and style to the outdoors

During Washington’s summers, a backyard can look like heaven but feel like hell. But the growing market for all things outdoors has created shading options that are better looking and easier than ever.

Umbrellas: Still the most popular sun protection, the most basic umbrellas have center poles with cranks.

One version in demand is the cantilever umbrella mounted on a side pole. They’re sturdy whether attached to a house or deck railing, and there’s no center pole to obstruct diners’ views. Some can swivel to offer more coverage, even acting as an awning to shield the home’s interior.

Until recently, cantilevers haven’t been all that popular, since styles were limited, but makers such as Treasure Garden ( are offering more variety. Available at Spring Valley Patio (4300 Fordham Rd., NW; 202-966-5413) and Offenbacher’s (1120-D W. Broad St., Falls Church; 703-532-2883).

Some new umbrellas have pulleys or electric systems, clip-on fans, larger spans, and vents to prevent tipping. Because the area’s storms bring wind, investing in a heavy base is a good idea. Ask sellers for appropriate weights for the umbrella’s size and the wind conditions where you live.

Umbrella materials now weather better than traditional canvas and vinyl. The best-selling fabrics, such as those by Sunbrella (, are made with acrylic yarn, have 98-percent UV protection, are mold- and fade-resistant, and are guaranteed for up to three years. Stands are getting more stylish and user-friendly, too; some are mounted on wheels. Available at Bethesda Shade & Awning (19201 Orbit Dr., Gaithersburg; 301-670-4655) and Bob’s Canvas Shop (2932 Marlow Rd., Silver Spring; 301-890-6677).

Styles and prices range from the basic “market umbrella”—which sells at discount and hardware stores for about $50—to sturdier, more attractive versions, such as the nine-foot Best of Market, which goes for $495 at Smith & Hawken (1209 31st St., NW, 202-965-2680; 8551 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase, 301-215-5960; 6705 Whittier Ave., McLean, 703-506-0065;

More creative options include the Manta by Brown Jordan (, available at Park Place (5100 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-686-8686) and Mastercraft Interiors (3155 Duke St., Alexandria; 703-212-8226). It looks like something Batman might own and sells for about $2,400.

The pink-and-green Lilypond umbrella by Santa Barbara Designs (805-6839464; costs around $3,800.

Awnings: These provide shade outside while keeping the house cool and protecting rugs and furniture from sun bleaching. Homes with awnings are proven to reduce air-conditioning costs significantly.

Awnings have come a long way from crank-operated, striped porch coverings. Advances in technology, such as motorized retractable systems, can make shading a breeze. Some have wind and light sensors that automatically open or close the awning. Stronger aluminum and vinyl frames and better fabric options are also a plus. Awnings come in fabric, canvas, acrylics, or aluminum, which can last up to 20 years.

Stationary awnings, which stay up year-round, run from $800 to $4,000. Removable models that can be stored for the winter range from $1,500 to $5,000.

Ready-made awnings abound, but some homeowners prefer customizing them to suit a home’s character and coverage requirements. Local sources include Hodges in Falls Church (703-532-0184; and Sun Design in Burke (703-425-5588; Online sources include Shade Tree Canopies ( and Sun Setter (

Canopies: Not just for poolside cabanas, these freestanding awnings can be pitched anywhere with relative ease and low cost.

Large canopies are usually erected temporarily for parties; smaller ones can permanently shelter picnic tables, hammocks, or daybeds. One chic contemporary option is a daybed with an attached canopy by by Spanish designer Gandia Blasco ( It’s available in this country only through its Manhattan showroom (217 E. 59th St., New York, NY 10022; 212-421-6701).

Gazebos and pergolas: Some are built to the deck or patio, while freestanding structures provide little oases in sunny areas of the yard.

Gazebos are generally wooden structures with floors, half-height sides, and a roof. Pergolas have only a lattice roof and vertical supports and are often draped with climbing plants. They’re easier to erect than gazebos and come in a wider variety of shapes, including fencelike structures that can serve as privacy screens.

Thatch-roofed “palapas” are appearing outside the tropics now. These come in either small umbrella models or large shelters. Kits are available at

Shade sails: These latest shading devices are more complicated to erect than an umbrella, but their architectural beauty makes the effort worthwhile. Mounted on a house, the square or triangular sheets can act as an awning. Strung from trees or posts, they provide shade in the garden or by the pool.

The most dramatic effects are created by hoisting the sails in bold angles, hanging several in interesting patterns, or overlapping them. Shade Sales ( sells 16-foot triangles in beige or green for about $90 and 11-foot squares for $100. Coolaroo ( sells a larger range of sizes from $50 to $100.