Find a Summer Slice of Heaven in a Hammock

Lie back and relax in one of these high-end hammocks.
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Photo: Seaside Hammocks

There's a reason I could never bring myself to relax in the hammock strapped between two trees at my parent's house. Besides the rope imprints on my legs and the inevitable wave of seasickness, I dared not close my eyes for fear of being brutally flipped onto the unforgiving dirt patch below by one of my cunning younger siblings.

So naturally I was thrilled to discover recently that this monstrosity of my childhood is nothing but a mere imposter.

A proper hammock, I'm told, can provide safe, unrivaled comfort and an ideal way to turn a summer suburban backyard into a tranquil getaway.

Southern Comfort

Historically, hammocks were used to keep sleeping inhabitants in tropical places like the Yucatan Peninsula dry and hovering comfortably above the snakes, spiders and other creatures one would not like as bedfellows.

Those rope hammocks with the wooden bars we Americans hold to so dearly appeared when, according to Tom Sloane, president and founder of

Seaside Hammocks, some guy from North Carolina came back from a trip to Ecuador and decided to improve upon the Ecuadorian hammock model. "Unfortunately, Ecuadorian hammocks didn't need improving," he says.

Sloane found the real thing when traveling in central and South America, where hammocks are still primarily used as beds in rural areas.

According to Sloane, traditional Mayan hammocks are woven in the sprang-woven style, "which allows the hammock to be able to expand from the size and shape of a large ship's hawser to six to eight feet across, or even wider." Incidentally, these stable lounges are virtually flip-proof.

Eventually, in 2002, Sloane started his Florida-based business where he sells hammocks online in South America's four main styles: Mexican (or classic Mayan), Nicaraguan, Colombian and Brazilian.

The Mexican, Sloan's favorite, is extremely comfortable and supportive. A king-sized Mexican hammock consists of about two miles of cotton string woven into a well ventilated netting, and the resulting fabric is so light you feel like you're floating when lying on it.

The Colombian is not as finely woven but comes in cotton and acrylic; the Nicaraguan and Brazilian styles are more heavily decorated, giving them a romantic, luxurious look.

Look Ma, No Stands

Sloane shuns hammock stands, like the kind you'd find at major retailers like

Sears

(SHLD)

, and prefers to wean people off of them, gradually introducing the idea of using eye-lag screws (easily found at stores like

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

) to secure the hammock into the studs of house walls or backyard trees.

The typical hammock should hang five to seven feet above the ground, with the center draping down to almost knee height so it's easy to climb in and out of.

But hang it right and tie it well, cautions Sloane. Cheeky hammock veterans love to remind, "Know your knots or know the floor."

Though the right kind of hammock will do wonders for backaches, says Sloane, who was plagued by back problems until he found the Mayan-style hammock, a common mistake is to lie across the axis of the hammock. For maximum support, always lie diagonally to allow the hammock to open up fully.

Because it's difficult for people used to a bed to switch to a hammock, Sloane recommends breaking into the hanging life with a long nap in the shade to cool off on a hot summer day. You just may find yourself slumbering through until evening.

For top-of-the-line Brazilian bliss, try the Elite Naturale ($160) with a hand woven body, beautiful natural crochet fringe and open-weave design, which allows for ventilation in hot weather.

Hang Couture

While some crave the nostalgia of a traditional hammock, others look for comfort coupled with cutting-edge style.

Curl up in the Cocoon Hammock

Henry Hall Design's new piece this year, the Cocoon Hammock by Olivier LePensec, has gotten rave reviews from customers in Los Angeles and the Hamptons. A stylish Taukkyan four-post wood frame supports the 9½ foot-square hammock made from the high-performance fabric Batyline. It can even comfortably fit three or more.

"It's such a unique piece," says Henry Hall representative Valerie Francescato, "very luxurious and visually appealing."

Luxury always has its price, of course: The hammock and frame go for $19,500, and curtains are sold separately for $465.

For those in cooler climes, a cashmere-lined, long-haired black-fox fur double hammock ($3,190) by German design studio Bless also is making its mark on hammock couture. Don't hesitate -- only five editions of this luxe hammock are available through the online shop

20ltd.com.

Whether comfort or style is your primary objective, the right kind of hammock can work wonders for your body, your mind and even keep you safe from ground prowlers. Hammock-heads assure me that once I've tried the swing of the gods, it will be hard to sit in mortal seats again.

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