Play it cool outdoors with decorative sun structures that not only protect your skin from harmful sun exposure, but add functional charm to a patio, poolside deck, and other outdoor spaces you want to enjoy even in Southern Arizona’s triple-digit summers.

For those homeowners who want more coverage than what a patio umbrella has to offer, the shade structure market has lots to choose from.

Custom awnings can provide a touch of elegance and a decorative design element to your home. Fabric awnings can enhance the appearance and personality by adding style, dimension and color.

Steve Law, owner of Air & Sun Shade Products, LLC in Tucson, says that awnings as well as canopies provide weather protection from sun, rain and wind.

“These additions are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they provide significant energy savings,” Law says. “Shading windows and doors with awnings conserves energy and reduces interior temperatures. Typically, home interior temperatures may be reduced by 10 to 15 degrees, depending upon window directional exposure.”

Retractable awnings also are popular with desert residents, Law says.

“They allow you to extend the life of the fabric by retracting the awning when it’s not needed,” Law says. “In addition, you can count on energy savings because the shade provided keeps the inside of a home or business cooler.”

Freestanding cabanas are elegant additions near outdoor pools and can transform any setting into an outdoor sensation. Cabanas provide thermal comfort, visual comfort and protection from UV rays and are rain tolerant.

“The darker-colored fabrics are the most solar efficient and last longer than lighter colors,” Law says. “The fabrics we most commonly use are water-repellent treated. We design our frames so rain is shed off the fabric.”

There is also great interest in shade sails for large expanses such as pool areas, Law adds.

“Our cabanas, retractable lateral arm awnings and shade sails also allow customers to comfortably utilize their patios throughout the seasons,” Law says.

Stylish pergolas

Brad and Barbara Frey, owners of M&M Home Supply in Tucson, specialize in pergolas. These are outdoor rooms with cross rafters and no walls and provide a light, airy and inviting space to relax, dine or just hang out.

“Pergolas are traditionally much larger than arbors and are normally freestanding,” Brad Frey says. “They are ideal for larger backyards, decks and patios where you might want to break up spaces and add in a little shade in a stylish way.”

Adding a pergola maximizes your usable outdoor space by adding an area for outdoor furniture that is somewhat protected from the elements, particularly if one wall of the structure is attached to your home or an outbuilding, Frey says.

“Our pergolas are constructed from aluminum, which gives you the look of traditional building materials without the hassle of constant maintenance. They will not rot or rust or require you invest in paint,” he says. “You can also add lattice for more shade and to accommodate climbing vines.”

Shady sails & more

Tenshon, Inc. operates as a shade sail and shade canopy manufacturing company based in Mesa, Arizona. Owned by Matthew Dickerson, Tenshon specializes in the design and fabrication of shade sails, shade canopies, permanent umbrellas, shade sail structures, shade hip structures, and custom shade structures. Tenshon uses use HDPE (high-density polyethylene) shade fabric and structural steel.

Dickerson started his company 12 years ago, sewing shade sails himself as he learned the business after working as an attorney. His clients not only include residential customers (including several in Tubac), but Tenshon has also made shade sails for Banner Health, Google, Caterpillar and the Washington Nationals in Washington, D.C.

“I began with the basics and now we sell worldwide,” Dickerson says. “Shade sails are our most popular product. These tensile fabric canopies provide shade and UV protection for residential and commercial outdoor living spaces like backyard patios, playground equipment, parks, restaurants, and swimming pools. Their unique design adds an artistic flair to beautify any surrounding.”

Frank Lloyd Wright's summer home, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona displays 11 identical shade sails over the entrance to the home's library provided by Tenshon.

As well as custom-made shade sails in a variety of colors and sizes, Tenshon offers a wide selection of do-it-yourself standard shade sail kits and the hardware needed to put them up from its online store on the Tenshon website.

Contact freelance writer Regina Ford at

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