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What should I look for when buying an oversized backyard umbrella?

The question

I'm considering installing a large, free-standing outdoor umbrella in my backyard for extra shade. Do you have any tips, caveats or hot alternatives I should consider before I buy one?

The answer

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The popularity of oversized backyard umbrellas is soaring, but, given the crazy weather we're experiencing this summer, be sure to buy one that's heavy enough to withstand high winds and rain.  The key is to choose one with a base that is galvanized and at least 100 pounds.

My favourite brand is Tuuci, which makes high-quality, flexible umbrellas that come in both a side and centre pole design.

As for the depth of shade you're seeking, the experts at Fresh Home & Garden, an outdoor-furniture store in Toronto, offer this helpful insight: "An umbrella is similar to a lamp shade – the whiter [it is], the brighter it is." That is, darker umbrellas create a deeper, more pure shade and, in the city at least, won't show the dirt quite as much as a white shade does. On the other hand, white shades stay crisp and modern looking because they don't suffer from sun bleaching the way colour shades do.

Before you start shopping, however, study the sun pattern in your backyard to determine the size of the area that needs shade and at what time of day it's required. As for an alternative to a great big umbrella, place your lounge chairs or patio set by a tall wall for shade protection or built a pergola for varying degrees of shade. Even easier, invest in sombreros for all your guests.

Architect and interior designer Dee Dee Taylor Eustace appears on The Real Designing Women, which airs Saturdays at 4 p.m. ET on HGTV. Follow her on Twitter: @ddtaylordd. Have a design dilemma? E-mail style@globeandmail.com.

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