One big goal for this new semester has been to make my school office feel comfortable and homelike. I’ve brought in table lamps to replace the harshness of the fluorescent bulbs overhead with a softer glow, and hung decorative pieces throughout. I’ve also added a small area rug.

I was pleasantly surprised at what a difference these small changes made, but especially surprised at the overwhelming change in atmosphere that came from the rug. Simply having something soft underfoot — that also is aesthetically pleasing — has somehow transformed the space from a sterile office to a warm and welcome retreat. I decided to try the trick on our lanai at home.

Outdoor area rugs function similarly to their indoor counterparts, but choosing and maintaining them can be quite different. If you’re in the market for altering your outdoor space with a rug, consider some of these things first:

• Material: Outdoor rugs often are made of synthetic material, such as polypropylene or acrylic. These materials are very durable and will resist mold and mildew, which is good considering Hawaii’s relatively humid and damp environment.

Natural material, such as jute or bamboo, will be more susceptible to mold and mildew but also will feel softer underfoot. Weigh your options before deciding. You may have to replace a natural rug more often, but you will get the benefit of softer material.

• Style: Use the same judgment as you would indoors. Remember that an area rug often is used to define a space. Start by considering the overall feel you want for the area as well as the surrounding elements.

Your rug should complement its surroundings, not detract from them.

• Size: Typically, designers suggest that the ideal is for all legs of furniture to fit on top. However, this is not a necessity. If your budget does not allow for a rug this big, you can get away with just the front legs or even a rug that fits between the furniture placement in one direction and beyond it in another — similar to the way a runner functions. Use painter’s tape to outline the size of the rug you are considering. This will help you to imagine just how it will feel before making the commitment of a purchase.

• Maintenance: In general, outdoor rugs can be cleaned with a hose. Remember to clean both sides before air-drying in the sun. If needed, you also can use a brush and mild dish soap. Check manufacturer instructions to be sure, as recommendations