THE best thing about the summer is being able to eat outside. Somehow, food seems to taste better, perhaps it is the reminder of long lunches on past summer holidays.

The popularity of BBC TV's Ground Force and all the other gardening programmes has made people much more aware of the myriad of products available to transform that dead outside space into an extension of the home. The garden and patio become an extra room for the summer months.

We no longer have to make do with the grubby white plastic garden furniture and collapsible click sun beds that were so popular a few years ago.

The choice of outdoor furniture is growing. Now materials like aluminium, teak, brightly-coloured plastics, iron and even stone are widely available from the DIY stores and mail order catalogues.

Since it stays outside throughout the summer a seating group should look sculptural and as with all else, be in sympathy with the style of the house and garden.

Wooden furniture - stained or painted - does withstand the English weather, but neglected will eventually rot. Metal furniture is the toughest, but the most uncomfortable. Padded seat cushions are a must! Aluminium is one of the lightest, most easy to stack and durable of the materials used at the moment. The aluminium caf-style chairs and tables are favoured by many of the pavement cafes springing up in York.

One of the best innovations has got to be the gas-powered outdoor umbrella heaters, no longer does the party break up as soon as the evening chill sets in. As their popularity increases the costs are tumbling, but expect to pay in the region of £200 at the moment.

The humble barbecue has now turned into a competition for designers to make more innovative shapes, style and sizes to meet every outdoor cooking venture. The whole mechanism of the barbecue can be very simple; a grill for the meat, and a tray for the charcoal underneath. What most barbecues fail to provide is working space. An adjacent flat top is essential to avoid juggling plates, tongs and sausages! By building your own barbecue and giving it just a little bit of thought you will get hours of chargrilled heaven.

Peter's tips on building a barbecue:

u First and foremost consider the site. Away from bedroom windows, neighbours and potentially flammable fencing and sheds;

u Do not stack loose bricks as a temporary measure to make your own barbecue - it could be lethal;

u If you decide to build, use bricks and mortar and take the advice of a builder if you are not 100 per cent confident of your bricklaying skills;

u A cupboard with a lockable door built into the barbecue is useful for storing charcoal and utensils;

u Provide a flat surface to the side of the grill for preparation and serving the food.

Designer's choice

Well done to Lakeland Limited for its super take-anywhere stainless steel barrel barbecue. The branch manager at the Lakeland store in York's Petergate tells us this has been a really popular wedding gift this season. A design classic at only £44.95. For a copy of the Lakeland mail order catalogue call 015394 88100.

Bargain buy

Another mail order choice. Being relative newcomers to the Internet we discovered the Cotswold Company on Ordering could not be simpler from its easy-to-use site. We chose this super Giverny table and chairs set in steel and resin for only £69.95 available in blue or green.

Web site of the month

We like a web site dedicated to barbecues. Full of technical information on gas and charcoal barbecues, lots of accessories, patio heaters and even recipes. Enjoy browsing.

If you have any interior design questions send them to Plaskitt & Plaskitt, 59 Monkgate, York Y031 7PB or e-mail