“ACCESSORIES MAKE THE ROOM, even when the room is outside,” says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of public relations for the American Home Furnishings Alliance. “Consumers shopping for special accents this spring will find the broadest array of complementary outdoor products ever.

”Even within a specific category — say, hot tub steps and surrounds — variety is the spice of life. Industry manufacturers have come up with accessories that help bathers into the tub safely and stylishly, provide efficient and convenient storage and smooth the visual transition from water to living space.

Several companies offer in-step storage. Consumers can choose from a lift-up stair tread that reveals a storage area below, or a drawer built into the stair’s riser.

Material choices — wood or synthetic — allow consumers to create a custom environment choosing colors, finishes and textures to suit their styles. While some are fans of the easy care of synthetics, natural wood enthusiasts cheer for the inherent beauty of the product and tout finishes that make maintenance simple.

The surround is, unfortunately, an afterthought for many consumers. But when you consider that it’s the surround and steps that make the biggest visual impact for those outside the tub, dealers are well advised to stress its importance. For the daring outdoor decorator, faux rock and other simulated materials give the hot tub a truly unique look.

Most consumers, though, will be happier with either neutral colors and textures that de-emphasize the mass of the hot tub, or, on the otherhand, bolder colors that coordinate with the outdoor decorating scheme for a backyard livingroom effect.

Each retailer knows his or her own clientele best, but no matter what styles they prefer, customers will have plenty of steps and surrounds to choose from this year.