Deck Ideas


©California Redwood Association Glazed ceramic tile strips add a lively note, bringing a splash of color to the deck.

An attractive, functional outdoor living area can be one of the finest features of a home, enhancing its appearance, increasing livability, and bringing pleasure to those who use the space. As more and more people retreat to the home to seek relief from the fast pace of the times, well-designed decks are becoming preferred places to relax after work, entertain friends, and regroup with the family.

This article is all about designing a deck, whether you're accessorizing an existing space or building one from the ground up. Plenty of pictures accompany dozens of deck ideas, from timeless and classic designs to more daring, modern setups.

Whether a new or improved outdoor area calls for a deck depends on several factors: the site itself, the style and size of the house, individual lifestyle and personal preferences, and budget. And though the site may be the deciding factor in choosing the style of the deck and the budget may determine the number of amenities that can be included, other less tangible aspects should be addressed as well.

Taking stock of one's lifestyle is a good place to begin. Who will use the area and how many functions is it expected to fulfill? Will the space serve primarily as a transition zone between house and yard, or will it double as an indoor-outdoor room? Will the setting be casual or formal, a quiet retreat, or the hub of activity?

A family composed of toddlers, teens, pets, and parents probably requires a different design from that of a couple who like to relax on their own or entertain on a small scale. Personal taste is also an important matter to consider when planning an outdoor area -- whether it's a preference for a certain color stain on the floor boards or a particular style of railing to surround the deck.

A successful deck, however, is much more than a response to particular location or need. A well-designed deck integrates diverse elements into a functional and aesthetically pleasing whole that harmonizes with the house it serves and the yard it adjoins. For instance, materials don't have to match the house facade exactly, but they should complement it in style and mood. The idea is to create a unified appearance that is balanced with a variety of colors, forms, and textures to add interest and offset monotony.

The following pages offer a wide sampling of deck styles to serve as inspiration for developing and planning outdoor living spaces. A portfolio of ideas rather than a how-to manual, this article discusses basic deck types and presents a number of deck styles for both contemporary and traditional homes.

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Following the Site, Up or Down

©Association of Pool & Spa Professionals This secluded bi-level deck in the midst of the woods is edged by cedar decking. The lower pool rises 12 feet above grade at the slope base.

When your deck ideas include steep up and down slopes, know that they are a little more difficult to tame than gentler ones, and multiple levels are one of the best solutions. Design- and construction-wise, gradually stepping levels up or down an incline is practical, visually exciting, and more in keeping with the natural setting. Since most houses are built at the top of a slope rather than at its base, most decks tend to start on high and proceed downward, sometimes as a straightforward split-level, often as a cascade of several platforms. Of course, many homes lend themselves to a single high-level deck, perhaps cantilevered over a hillside. High decks can present problems, though, especially if they're large. They can overshadow rooms below, and when seen from the bottom of the slope, they may dominate the house itself.

Steep terrain usually dictates a hefty understructure designed to withstand a variety of soil conditions as well as to support the deck. Hiding those underpinnings from view with latticework, siding, or even shrubs can give the deck and your home a more finished appearance.

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On-Grade Decks Hug the Ground

©Wolmanized Wood This spacious deck offers a comfortable mix of sun and shade and serves as a versatile multipurpose outdoor room with areas for cooking, dining, and relaxing.

If your site is level or just slightly sloped, it might be a great idea to build an on-grade deck. Whether attached to the house or freestanding, on-grade decks are relatively easy to design and construct. They can be sized and shaped in countless ways. Because they rest fairly close to the ground, they seldom require railings or steps. On-grade decks are especially appropriate additions to single-story homes or to those with a low profile where a raised or multilevel deck might look out of place or overwhelm the existing structure.

Some on-grade decks are designed to sit flush with the ground, but their direct contact with the earth calls for materials that are impervious to decay, such as pressure-treated lumber or a non-wood product such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride) vinyl. Most designs are elevated slightly above the surface of the ground, however, to compensate for uneven or sloping ground and to allow for proper drainage and air circulation.

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DeStanding Free, But Fitting In

©California Redwood Association This redwood deck features a wet bar with easy-care tile counters, post lamps controlled from the house, and benches and tables built into the perimeter.

Freestanding decks are great ideas for freestanding outdoor elements such as patios or landscaping, because their materials and designs can be easily tailored to blend or contrast with others. Wood decks lend themselves beautifully to combinations with many types of masonry and stone found in patio construction, such as brick, flagstone, and crushed rock. When colors, shapes, and textures harmonize, the deck and its immediate surroundings often become a unified outdoor space, each flowing into the other. Contrasts, on the other hand, can be used to set the different areas apart and help delineate activities. Here the deck might fit comfortably into the overall landscape plan but intentionally contrast with the nearby lawn or a more distant patio.

As extensions of the home, detached decks should have some connection with the house itself, be it an informal gravel or bark path, a more formal walkway, or a bridge or platform. In a large yard or remote location, a freestanding deck may not be in the direct line of sight of the house, but it should feel like it's just an arm's length away.

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Levels Offer Site Solutions

©Wolmanized Wood A pleasing juxtaposition of heights and shapes creates visual interest and helps define the different

When carrying out your deck ideas, you may run into dilemmas associated with outdoor living. These can be resolved with multilevel decks. They can step up or down a steep or rocky slope to transform an impossible site into a useful one. They might be shaped into a progression of space-saving platforms to make the most of an awkward or cramped outdoor area or arranged in a succession of broader levels to give a large uninteresting yard a new focus. By adding built-in seating, planters, places for sun and shade, and perhaps even a water feature, multilevel decks can become more popular living spaces than the rooms indoors.

All decks look their best when they have a unified appearance. Multiple decks in particular can seem uncomfortably busy if they lack continuity in materials or design. Repeating a railing detail, platform shape, or bench style will help tie the various levels together.

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Enhancing the Home with Levels

©Peter C. Kurth, AIA An integral part of this home's design, the deck's descending levels exhibit the same contemporary styling, color palette, and aesthetics as the house itself.

Multilevel decks aren't always employed to solve site problems; often they serve as enhancements to both house and garden. Frequently, multiple levels are designed as an integral part of a home's architecture to extend the building and your deck ideas into the natural surroundings in a gradual and pleasing way. Sometimes they set the stage for a particular style of landscaping or act as bridges or connectors within the landscape. A very large deck has a warmer appearance when broken into levels and is usually in better proportion to the scale of the house.

Built-in planters and seating can be incorporated to help signal a change in levels, and if positioned properly, they can even take the place of conventional rails. Multiple decks also lend themselves to interesting patterns that can be repeated on other levels -- changing the direction of the floorboards on steps, for instance, shaping corners on the diagonal, or implementing horizontal railings rather than traditional vertical designs.

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Raised Decks Float Above Grade

©California Redwood Association Blending in with the Victorian style of the house, this raised semicircular deck adds visual interest with a pair of curved stairs that hug the bow of the deck.

For a house that's built on a virtually level site, gaining an outdoor living area can be a relatively simple matter; an on-grade deck that lies flush with the ground or a concrete or stone patio could be just the right deck idea. But few sites are perfectly flat, and the solution invariably calls for a deck that's raised off the ground on a system of posts. The term "raised" is rather broad since it encompasses nearly all types of decks that are not built directly on the ground. A raised deck can float a foot or so above grade -- perhaps just enough to bring the deck floor up to the same level as the threshold of the back door. Or it might extend several feet from the ground to be on the same level as interior rooms, then gradually step its way down a slope. A raised deck can be a freestanding structure out in the yard or a wraparound element attached directly to the house.

Decks built close to the ground usually require a relatively simple support system. More expansive or complicated decks, as well as those that sit above the ground, demand a substructure engineered for stability and bearing loads.

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Contemporary Drama in a Deck

©Peter C. Kurth, AIA Open, fluid railings allow spa users to experience the beauty of the natural scenery. Plexiglass inserts keep children safe without blocking views.

Contemporary homes often express a visual drama that's lacking in more traditional styles. Intentionally devoid of ornament and frills, many contemporary house and deck design ideas focus instead on integrating line and form into striking compositions.

In this design -- an architect's own home -- strong vertical and horizontal surfaces are softened by a curving wall, which is echoed in the curve of the midlevel deck and handrails. The fluid lines of the metal railings carry a nautical theme inspired by a pond that sits near the base of the deck.

The open framework of the metal rails and the clear plexiglass inserts of the upper deck wall allow unobstructed views of the surrounding trees and vegetation whether sitting, dining, or soaking in the spa. The plexiglass also serves as a safety measure, keeping children and their toys safely contained. The nautical theme also influenced the color scheme of the house and deck design -- a driftwood gray on walls, a darker shade to accent trim and railings, and a waterlike blue-gray on the deck.

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Designed to Capture Views

Perched high above the rest of the world, this small yet dramatic deck captures a spectacular panorama.
Perched high above the rest of the world, this small yet dramatic deck captures a spectacular panorama.
©Lindal Cedar Homes

A site that's open to a panoramic view provides wonderful opportunities for ideas that call for orienting and styling a house and its deck to take advantage of the magnificent vistas. The clean architectural lines and large expanses of glass that characterize many contemporary homes permit virtually unimpeded views from interior living areas, and when there's room for a deck, the pleasure extends well into the outdoors.

Because decks have flexibility in placement, shape, and size, they can easily be custom-crafted to fit where they function best. When unobstructed views are a priority, one solution is to design a series of levels spreading down and away from the house. This arrangement allows those seated indoors and on the upper levels to look across and beyond the areas below, usually without the visual interference of furnishings or railings. When a site permits an on-grade or slightly raised deck, another solution might be to construct a broad platform that uses low benches and planters to provide safety while maximizing both close-in and distant views.

©Lindal Cedar Homes Expansive views from indoors and out prompted a low-profile deck design

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Transforming a Boring Backyard

©California Redwood Association This multilevel deck has all the pleasures of outdoor living without the hassles of yard maintenance. Clever planning makes it appear to follow the lay of the land.

As the suburban population grows and houses adjust to smaller lots and other restrictions,the idea of building a deck is coming into its own as a functional, pleasing alternative to the traditional backyard. Unlike lawns and most patios, decks can run right up to the door at the same level as the interior rooms, becoming true extensions of the home. They can follow the lay of the land or strike out on an individual course that creates its own landscape. Decks can also be fashioned and finished in exactly the same materials, colors, and textures as the houses they adjoin, bringing cohesiveness to the entire indoor-outdoor area.

The two-tiered redwood deck pictured here was designed as a friendly takeover of an uninteresting yet high maintenance backyard that sat well below the house and had little connection with the indoor living areas. Stretching the width of the lot, the new deck includes amenities the former space could only dream of: an aboveground swimming pool, conversation and dining areas, built-in planters requiring little upkeep, and a trellis to provide afternoon shade and privacy from neighbors.

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Remodeled in a Compelling Style

©Peter C. Kurth, AIA The styling of the house set the theme for this multilevel replacement deck, which descends 20 feet to the lawn. The roughly sawed cedar siding matches the house.

Many houses constructed in the last 25 years included a deck in the original building plan. While the deck was usually functional, the idea was ordinary in terms of appearance. The typical deck consisted of a plain rectangular platform edged with a crib-style railing that usually projected off the rear facade and only sometimes included stairs to the ground. If that sounds too familiar, sometimes a remodel is just what a deck needs to lift it from mundane to extraordinary.

The dramatic deck seen here fits this plain-Jane description before its remodel. It had no access to the backyard at all, and, worse, it detracted from the striking contemporary architecture of the house. The deck's dynamic redesign echoes the precise lines and clean crisp styling of the building and connects the deck to the lawn.

©Peter C. Kurth, AIA A series of levels and stairs gradually lead to the ground. The floor-boards change direction on the midlevel landing to provide visual interest.

Following the sloping site, the three levels make the transition from the living areas to the yard a pleasant experience, with built-in benches and planters to accompany the route. Clear plexiglass inserts in the railing provide safety and allow unobstructed views of the surrounding landscape.

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Hi-Tech Touches Add Zest and Color

©California Redwood Association The rails complement the rich tones of the redwood stairs and landings. The midlevel spa is accessible from the house yet remains hidden from the main deck.

A deck doesn't have to be limited to an all-wood design to complement a wood-clad house. One idea for easily varying a deck's look and mood is changing the material of the railing. A tubular rail, for instance, can inject a hi-tech note and lend a more contemporary feeling to the overall design.

The 50s-era home shown here got a zesty facelift with a redwood replacement deck high-lighted by a railing made of steel-tubing and finished in an exuberant red.

©California Redwood Association Deck posts and substructure are enclosed in diagonal wood siding that harmonizes with the existing horizontal boards of the house.

To give the fairly narrow deck a little more elbow room, two triangular popouts were added along with built-in seating, eliminating the need for bulky furniture. New French doors replace aluminum windows and permit access from three major areas of the house -- the living room, dining room, and kitchen. A series of stairs and landings segregates various activities, such as dining or relaxing in the hot tub, and provides an easy route to the backyard. The painted redwood siding of the lower portion of the deck blends in with the existing house while its diagonal pattern updates the building's appearance.

©California Redwood Association Steel tubing edges this deck, giving it a contemporary look. The redwood floorboards were screwed in place from underneath for a smooth, fastener-free finish.

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Tight Spaces Put to Good Use

©California Redwood Association A modular deck system came to the rescue when a steep downslope prevented conventional solutions.

Whether due to the nature of the site or simply because outdoor space is at a premium, there may be limited space for a deck. A spatial challenge like that requires creative solutions to your deck ideas. One approach that can work well with hard-to-reach or confined outdoor areas is a modular deck system. A modular deck is composed of sections prebuilt at a shop (or in the garage) and then assembled on-site. Often only the floor decking itself is the modular component, but stairs, seating, and railings may also be prefabricated into sections that are handy to transport and quick to assemble. This versatile approach can also save on construction labor and expense.

Another solution to the small-space dilemma is tailoring the deck to an "exact fit," making use of every available inch. That might mean sandwiching a simple platform deck between a fence and the house or shaping a more complex design into a series of tightly interconnected levels. Revamping a small lackluster area might also be the answer. For instance, converting narrow back steps and a concrete walkway into a few broad landings with built-in benches and planters would still provide access to and from the house while encouraging outdoor living.

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Deck Retreat in the Mountains

©California Redwood Association Graceful and unobtrusive, the redwood deck blends right in with the rustic design of the house and its wooden setting.

Vacation retreats in the mountains are often tucked into rustic settings that are ideally suited to an array of deck ideas. An abundance of trees, nearby wildlife, brisk starry nights, and an informal approach to living are all part of the outdoor experience that can be enjoyed from a deck.

This redwood home enjoyed a mountain atmosphere but, originally built without a deck, lacked a functional outdoor area for the owners to enjoy the sights and sounds of a seasonal creek and small waterfalls that lay a short distance from the house. The site, though picturesque, was rocky, steep, and confined. The solution was a bi-level redwood deck that sits low to the ground and steps down a gentle portion of the grade to a landing near the creek.

©California Redwood Association Designed to fit into the existing landscape rather than alter it, the deck's levels and steps angle around rocks and trees on their gentle descent to a nearby creek.

The connecting stairs, angled to fit between existing rocks and along a stone wall, seem to float as they gradually narrow and descend to the ground. Built-in benches and an integrated railing were designed in a light, open style so they would not block outside views from the interior rooms.

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Multiple Access Points

©Wolmanized Wood This deck design offers a number of places to come and go. It wraps around the new screened-in porch and divides the large area into outdoor "rooms."

For maximum enjoyment and pure practicality, nothing can beat a deck that features several ideas for moving back and forth from the outdoors to the interior. Having multiple access points also gives a deck flexibility in the way it functions and underscores its role as an extension of the house and its living spaces. A deck that's accessible from a number of areas can lessen some of the wear and tear caused by foot traffic that would normally travel down the hallway, for instance, and cut across the family room to get outside.

When two or three rooms open onto a deck, the overall space can be divided into informal zones that host different functions. Comfortable furnishings might be grouped near the living room; the barbecue can be positioned off the kitchen and not far from the dining table and chairs. And when a deck design incorporates more than one level, each accessed from a different point, the outdoor area can be home to individual "rooms" geared to specific activities.

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Classical References

©Association of Pool & Spa Professionals Balance, symmetry, and a bold design characterize this neoclassic deck.

Looking to classic architecture is a great idea when working with decks. Architectural styles adapted from the classic orders of Greek and Roman design have appeared in American buildings since the 1700s. Early Southern Colonial mansions were graced with colonnades that provided shade yet were open to light and breezes. Georgian designs included grand entrances with a pedimented roof supported by columns. Roman "villas," such as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, incorporated outdoor walkways and pergolas. The Greek revival style became so popular in the mid-1800s that carpenters brought it to the new homes of America.

Architects today continue to integrate classical principles into their designs -- some boldly, others with just a reference. Decks can take especially well to the classics, too, whether it's maintaining the correct proportions for the size and scale of the house, bringing balance or symmetry to the shape of the floor, or adding detail to the overhead shelter.

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Craftsman Themes Find a Home

Used Courtesy of Western Wood Products Association Exposed beams and rafters, projecting eaves, and a simple but expressive use of wood shows the Craftsman influence in both the house and deck design.

The Craftsman style of architecture emerged in the early 1900s. It was a movement dedicated to bringing simplicity, beauty, and "honesty" to home-building through traditional craftsmanship and materials. It had its strongest following in the American West and produced both large and small houses of diverse design, including the familiar bungalow. This style sought to use wood expressively, exposing timbers and shaping and fitting them together in bold yet rhythmic lines.

Many Craftsman designs also took a comprehensive approach to the house and its surroundings, incorporating gardens and outdoor living areas as planned extensions of the home -- a common theme now but not widely practiced in other styles of the era.

Used Courtesy of Western Wood Products Association A Japanese feeling characterizes the deck and its pergola-style seating area. An emphasis on lines and a direct use of wood give the area a sense of serenity.

In addition, a keen interest in Japanese art and workmanship among artisans and architects brought a Japanese flavor to many of these designs. Drawing on principles honored by American and Japanese artisans, the style synthesized into a comfortable hybrid that characterizes a number of homes built in more recent years.

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Regional Influences and Materials

©Lindal Cedar Homes Japanese influence is typical of Northwestern styles. The restrained deck design suggests an area meant for transitions from interior spaces to the landscape.

Building a deck often means considering the original idea of the house. The "regional" house relates to its setting more intimately than most, fitting not only the site but adapting to local geography and climate by using materials that are native to the region and often embracing styles that historically "belong." American regional, or vernacular, architecture evolved over the years as a sensible response to climate and site that also took advantage of whatever materials were readily available.

The wood clapboard houses of New England had small windows and large fireplaces to help minimize the cold; adobe designs of the Southwest employed extra-thick walls to keep out the heat.

The regional styles of the Pacific Northwest reflect a composite of shapes, materials, and moods, which are influenced by its diverse history and culture. Although the styles of the houses shown here are somewhat different, they respond to local conditions in similar ways.

©Lindal Cedar Homes Popular in the western mountains, this A-frame easily adapts to alpine conditions. Informal living areas open to a well-proportioned deck.

Ample decks suggest comfortable temperatures and sunny skies for most of the year while large expanses of glass offset overcast periods by bringing light and views to the interiors. All feature local western red cedar siding and decks finished to allow the wood's natural beauty to shine through.

©Lindal Cedar Homes The glass-enclosed sunroom between house and deck is a perfect solution for year- round living, especially in regions where it's often cool or damp during the summer.

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An Older Tudor Gains a New Deck

©California Redwood Association The timber-framed overhead structure mimics the roof shape, defines the stairway from the yard to the door, and helps visually tie the house and deck together.

Consider the style of your home before adding a deck onto it. For instance, in the early 20th century, a number of traditional architectural styles were revived all around the country. Many of these designs were rooted in certain periods of history, both American and European. One of the more popular period styles was the Tudor, usually a simplified version of the Elizabethan house and distinguished by its stuccoed or stone exterior, exposed half-timbers, and small leaded windows.

The redwood deck addition shown here blends handsomely with the picturesque style of the Tudor home. The gabled structure above the French doors echoes the shape of the roof lines, its timber-frame construction also a reminder of the Tudor's characteristic half-timbers.

©California Redwood Association Artistically wrapped with a redwood surround, the built-in spa features a curving bench that also serves as a step for easing in and out of the water.

Neatly wrapped with redwood siding, the well-integrated deck design visually anchors the house to the ground and gives presence to a sideyard that was ignored before. Dark-stained surfaces tie in with the house trim and the shingled upper walls and give the deck a more traditional look.

©California Redwood Association The beautifully crafted elements of this redwood deck complement the styling of this Tudor home. The balusters of the railing carry a whimsical heart motif.

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Old-Style Porches for New Homes

©Wolmanized Wood An old-fashioned feeling pervades this porch. The wedge pattern of the floorboards follows the angular path of the posts and railings, adding interest to the design.

Porches, unlike decks, are typically associated with older homes and bygone eras, but many current house design ideas integrate front and rear porches into the original plan as a way to expand living space without adding another interior room. With more and more families following informal lifestyles and discovering the pleasures of relaxing and entertaining at home, porches are joining decks and patios as multifunctional indoor-outdoor areas. And although porches most often accompany traditional designs -- shingled Victorians, Midwestern farmhouses, rambling ranches -- they have also found a place among more contemporary styles.

Because porches are constructed as an integral part of a house, often sharing the same foundation and roof system, they adapt to the same site conditions. They may sit on-grade with the floor just slightly above the ground, or they may be raised a distance off the ground and connected to the yard with stairs. Like most attached decks, the porch floor nearly always lies on or very near the same level as interior rooms, easing the transition between indoors and out. Unlike many decks, however, a porch usually remains on a single continuous level as it edges the house.

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Bringing Privacy to a Deck

©California Redwood Association The geometric cutout in this redwood privacy screen creates an unusual design and provides selected views from a nearby spa.

A privacy screen is often an essential idea in a deck plan, especially when neighboring houses sit too close for comfort or have direct views of the deck. Screens can be fencelike in appearance, for ultimate privacy, or more open in design to allow light and air to filter through. When paired with an overhead covering, they can create the impression of an outdoor room. The open construction of a simple trellis offers a measure of privacy; when backed by shrubbery or covered with vines, however, it can be as effective as a solid fence.

Vertical screens are helpful additions where conditions are windy or the sun's angle overheats the deck from the side. Around a pool or spa, they can prevent leaves and debris from blowing into the water and cut the wind's chill, making the deck area a more pleasant place to use and easier to maintain.

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Screened Comfort, Rain or Shine

©Wolmanized Wood This arrangement combines the best of both worlds: escape from the heat in a shady screened room and sunshine out on the deck.

Nothing can dampen spirits more than a rained-out barbecue -- unless it's fighting off pesky insects that arrive rain or shine. A screened enclosure is a great idea for taking the edge off the less desirable aspects of deck living while still providing pleasurable breezes, sights, and sounds. It makes an ideal playroom for house- bound kids on a rainy day and a welcome place to camp out on hot summer nights.

Screened-in porches were common features on homes built earlier this century, especially in warmer regions of the country. Once the deck and patio replaced the lawn as the primary outdoor living space, though, the screened porch often gave way to an additional interior room. An existing porch can be easily screened in; if it sits at the side or rear of the house or near the kitchen, it can serve as a truly private outdoor room for dining or entertaining. Enclosing a portion of a deck that lies close to the house is another option and a way to enjoy the safety of screening just steps away from the great outdoors.

©Wolmanized Wood A screened porch is a wonderful retreat on a rainy summer day, especially when flowering shrubs and trees are at their prime and greenery lies all around.

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Surrounds for Spa Soaking

©California Redwood Association The central attraction of this multilevel deck is an octagonal spa. Benches can be pulled close to the spa's edge so people can dangle their feet in the water.

Whether you think of a soak in a spa as therapeutic or just plain fun, integrating a spa into a deck idea can be accomplished with relative ease. Unlike swimming pools, spas take up little room and can be incorporated into small-space decks tucked into a tight corner or a narrow sideyard. They are most enjoyed when located in a quiet spot not too far from the house, shielded from wind and neighbors.

Although the typical spa lies nearly flush with its surround, it can be designed to rise above the floor, hot-tub style. Despite appearances, spas and hot tubs are seldom supported by the decking itself; they usually rest directly on the ground or on a portion of the deck substructure. Since they are not structural, deck surrounds can be laid out in countless ways to create dramatic floor patterns, accentuate the soaking area, or simply echo the shape of the spa.

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Surrounds for Swimming

©California Redwood Association An existing pool takes on a new dimension with a refreshing redwood surround that wraps around the water with diagonal deck boards.

Refreshing, invigorating, and fun for all ages, swimming pools add hours of pleasure to outdoor living. Because pools are often the dominant element in the yard, the manner in which they're surrounded can make a difference between a merely adequate deck idea and a simply terrific one.

Because of its versatility, wood decking makes an excellent choice for all or part of a pool surround. Wood integrates well with other materials often found around a pool -- tile, brick, natural stone -- and decking can be designed to adopt nearly any shape the area requires. If the ground around the pool is uneven or sloped, wood decking is sometimes the best solution.

Generally speaking, the surround should be at least equal in size to the area of the pool (preferably larger) to allow enough room for a table, chairs, and a variety of seating options. A shady place nearby to seek relief from the sun is desirable as well. A surround that covers a large expanse seems friendlier when broken into levels and treated as several outdoor rooms. Changing the direction and pattern of the boards can help scale down a large deck, too. By contrast, a surround that has to fit a tight spot seems larger if edged with built-in benches that take up little space but provide places to sit or stretch out in the sun.

©California Redwood Association The rich colors and textures of the redwood and brick deck surrounding this 35-foot lap pool blend harmoniously with the natural landscape.

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Outdoor Cooking at Its Best

©California Redwood Association This compact cooking area sits at the side of the deck. The open-face gas barbecue is designed to vent smoke up and away from seating and spa areas.

On a warm summer's day when the kitchen feels like an oven, it is a great idea to cook out on the deck. Even when the temperature is "just right," an outdoor barbecue area is an ideal place for informal gatherings and meals with family and friends. Whether built into a section of the deck or positioned nearby, a barbecue/cooking center functions best when it isn't too far from the house -- transporting dishes and foods can be tiresome -- but not so close that smoke and odors can drift indoors. It's also wise to place the barbecue a distance from overhanging limbs. This will prevent heat damage to leaves and assist in fire safety.

Simple kettle-style units that use charcoal briquettes and built-in masonry designs work perfectly well, but gas-fueled barbecues have become popular alternatives. Regardless of the equipment, though, augmenting the cooking area with counters, shelving, storage, and perhaps even a sink can be a real bonus for frequent entertaining. Even if a deck plan can't accommodate a mini kitchen, setting aside an area for storing essentials, such as charcoal and utensils, can make cooking outdoors a breeze.

©California Redwood Association A view of a multilevel deck design that's geared for entertaining. Behind its doors are shelves for glasses and bar accessories and storage for cooking utensils.

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Shade Coverings Soften the Sun

©Archadeck A striped awning lends a festive note to the brick and wood facade. When the sun's warmth is welcome, the awning retracts into a housing with a shallow profile.

Without overhead shade, sunnyside decks can be unbearably hot during summer months, and if they sit close to the house, they can reflect heat into the interior. Unless the deck has large leafy trees nearby or an overhanging roof, it is a good idea to have some kind of covering or shelter to spell relief.

A shade structure should be designed to moderate the sun's rays without blocking light, air, or desirable views from the deck. It should also be compatible with the style of the house and the size and scale of the deck it shelters. Most overhead screens are constructed of wood -- boards, slats, or latticework -- but they can also be fashioned from other materials such as bamboo or reeds. Canvas awnings and translucent plastic are also good choices when the elements -- rain as well as sun -- interfere with enjoying a deck.

Overhead shelters can also serve as privacy screens, obscuring views from rooms above or a building next door. When boards are closely spaced or covered with a vine, the deck below can feel as enclosed and inviting as an indoor room.

©Archadeck The overhead awning shades the entire house wall. The narrow spacing of the wood slats creates a roof effect while allowing light to spill through.

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Overhead Drama for Deck Designs

©Wolmanized Wood The showpiece of this handsome redwood deck, a beautifully crafted pergola, gives definition to the sunken Japanese-style firepit at its feet.

In essence an arbor with an open roof, a pergola is an excellent idea for giving presence to a part of a deck or garden that lacks visual interest or highlight a special feature such as a spa or conversation area. The rafters and crosspieces that are so prominent in many pergola designs can also add height and mass to an otherwise flat portion of the deck. Often, pergolas are intended to serve strictly as decorative or architectural elements in a deck design. With a few minor changes to the open roof system, though, and perhaps the addition of a climbing vine or two, a pergola can become a dramatic overhead shelter.

A pergola can also employ a series of separate vertical structures tied together visually with a band of horizontal boards at the top. This elongated design works well to unify different areas of a deck, delineate a walkway, or give an impression of a roofed passageway from one part of the garden to another. When laced with greenery overhead, it can take on the feeling of an arbor.

©California Redwood Association Narrow boards and an open framework give this pergola a light feeling. Its gently angled design seems to embrace the spa without overwhelming it or the deck.

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Gazebos Evoke Past Pleasures

©Archadeck This gazebo serves as a relaxing retreat. The octagonal shape, white finish, and rooftop lantern for admitting light and air are typical Victorian-style features

In Victorian times, the most popular deck idea was the gazebo: an airy summerhouse or garden structure set well away from the main house, often on a knoll where views were especially pleasant. As was the fashion, they were elaborately styled and embellished with intricate fretwork. Today's gazebos fulfill the same function, providing an open-air retreat. Although most modern gazebos are more simply styled than their predecessors, they often have the same traditional octagonal shape, turreted roof, and decorative detailing.

As a structure to complement both home and garden, a gazebo can serve as more than an attractive focal point or seating with a view. It might function as a children's play space or a charming spot for Sunday brunch. Partially enclosed, it could act as a poolside changing room, a studio, or a storage area for garden tools. However it suits your particular needs, a gazebo can bring old-fashioned pleasure to the yard.

©Association of Pool & Spa Professionals. A spa surround with charm, this sheltered corner recalls another type of gazebo from yesteryear -- a turreted balcony perched on the side of a building

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Safety with a Custom Touch

©California Redwood Association Fluid lines and a light yet secure look give this redwood railing extra eye-catching appeal. The workmanship and detailing characterize the design.

For decks that are elevated more than a few feet above the ground, railings are essential safety features. They are also one of the more prominent elements in a deck plan and lend themselves to custom treatments and ideas that can enhance the entire design.

Although the familiar crib-style railing has great appeal for its basic, simple lines and straightforward construction, it can take on custom effects with a few variations. Narrow tubular piping can replace the stringers between posts, for example, or the balusters (the vertical portions of the rail) can stop short of their usual height, leaving an opening below the topmost horizontal railing, or cap, to provide more open views when seated.

©Archadeck The attractive splayed pattern and light natural finish of this railing design are perfect complements to the traditionally styled house.

If unobstructed views are the primary goal, the railing design can incorporate plexiglass inserts, stainless steel cable, or wire mesh screening (welded fabric) -- all safe, contemporary alternatives to traditional railings. If more privacy or less street noise is required, the railing can take the form of a solid half-wall or low lattice fence, perhaps topped with planters. With a little planning and imagination, the choices are endless.

©Archadeck The stained redwood balusters of this rail, gently curved on both sides, soften the design and contrast nicely with the weathered floor.

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Practical, Pleasing Benches

Used Courtesy of Western Wood Products Association As a deck accent, this bench-with-a-difference has plenty to offer. Its wraparound seat and slatted backrest double as the base for a handy serving buffet.

Every deck needs a place or two for sitting, whether to read, relax after a long day, or chat with friends. And though a grouping of chairs can do the job nicely, built-in wood benches provide an alternative idea that suits the look and mood of a deck. Built-in benches also consume less space, and when positioned along the perimeter, they can free up portions of the deck for other activities. These practical accents can be used as focal points to show off an unusual design or beautiful crafting. Or they can be styled to blend in quietly, allowing some other feature to take center stage. Since built-in benches can't be pushed in or out of the sun, careful consideration should be given to their location. A good solution might be to position the benches strategically in areas that receive both sun and shade at different times of the day.

A well-designed bench is comfortable and roomy enough for two people to sit. If it isn't deep enough, it will feel like a perch rather than a seat. A long, deeper-than-usual bench can serve as a platform for sunbathing and, with cushions, makes a great place to stretch out for a nap.

©California Redwood Association This beautiful bench is designed to mirror the latticework of the arches, thereby drawing the entire deck design together.

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Warm Gathering Places

©California Redwood Association Encircled by an intimate conversation area, the brick-edged firepit is the focal point of the lower deck yet lies just a few steps below the sheltered spa.

Unlike stairs and railings, essential ingredients for most decks, a firepit is an accent deck idea that's meant for pure enjoyment of the outdoor space. Like a campfire in the woods or on the beach that serves to warm hands and feet and stimulate friendly conversation among those gathered 'round, the firepit brings warmth and conversation closer to home. A firepit can be especially welcome when evenings turn cool or days become brisk, extending the life of the deck as an outdoor room.

Firepits are often situated on a patch of ground near the deck and its activities. When integrated directly into the deck design, however, firepits require some careful planning. Because of their weight and also as a safety measure, the base should sit directly on the ground. This works best with on-grade decks; with a raised deck, the base can be built up to the desired height using concrete blocks or masonry materials. A firepit should also be lined with heat-resistant firebrick, although a more decorative brick or natural stone can be used for the edging or trim. Finally, the sides of the firepit should be tall enough so that the surrounding deck boards will not be damaged or scorched by the fire. An alternative to a masonry firepit is a freestanding, metal woodburner. Often dish-shaped, it stands on legs and can be set on a protected surface.

Used Courtesy of Western Wood Products Association Following the gentle slope in a series of broad platforms, this deck incorporates a brick firepit into its lowest level.

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Colorful Accents for the Deck

©California Redwood Association This wooden deck elegantly incorporates planters according to the overall design and layout of the steps.

As rewarding and versatile as a deck can be, sometimes its expanse of wood needs a splash of color to liven things up. Planters, built-in or standing free, are among the easiest -- and least expensive -- ideas for dressing up a deck and tying it in visually to the house and the rest of the landscape. Planters may be incorporated into a railing design at the top of a post, a column connecting sections, or as part of the railing itself. On a deck that sits close to the ground, planters can be grouped to follow the edge and give the area definition. They can be positioned to mark a stairway, denote a change in levels, and divide the deck into zones. On-grade decks can use the planter theme in yet another way, with openings cut into the deck floor to accommodate plants and allow them to root directly in the ground.

Planters bring more than color to a deck. With proper drainage and a little attention, annual and perennial flowers can provide fragrance and blooms over a long period. Vegetables and fruits that grow well in contained spaces, such as cherry tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries, can supply a bit of fresh summer produce. Even in winter, small berry-producing shrubs in a planter can add seasonal color and cheer.

©California Redwood Association The combination of tiles and wood ties these planters in with both the wooden deck and the pool -- both colorwise and in terms of materials.

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Beneficial Built-In Planters

©California Redwood Association This small but functional corner of a larger deck relies on built-in planters and benches to give one wing of the house its own outdoor space.

Built-in planters can the best idea for a small deck, especially when paired with built-in seating and kept in scale with the small size of the area. They can be clustered in a space-saving group at one side of the deck or at changes in levels to provide additional open space and improve traffic flow. A planter wall can be designed as a backrest for a bench; its cap can also double as an impromptu shelf for setting down plates and glasses. Of course, large decks can benefit from planters, too, often without the restrictions imposed by a smaller area. Large planters can be particularly useful as privacy screens when filled with tall or bushy plants or when combined with a vertical trellis.

A planter of any shape or size should be constructed from wood that's resistant to decay and retains its good looks over time. Redwood, among a handful of other species, is a popular choice for many deck projects. It's important, however, to select the proper grade of lumber for the job. Heartwood, which is cut from the center of the tree, is strong and naturally resistant to rot that can develop when wood comes in contact with water and soil. Any grade that includes "heart" in its name, such as construction heart or all-heart, is an ideal material for planters.

©California Redwood Association A handsome, colorful barrier at the far end of a spacious redwood deck that stands high off the ground, this large planter helps screen views of neighboring houses.

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Accent on Deck Lighting

©California Redwood Association This deck features a lighting system that's incorporated into the lattice-screened storage area underneath. Globe fixtures shed light in all directions.

For nighttime activities on the deck it is a good idea to have proper lighting to assist with tasks such as cooking and dining, to make socializing more pleasurable, and to increase safety, especially on stairs and at level changes. Often, exterior house lights will do the job, especially if the deck lies close to the building; but for aesthetics and maximum enjoyment, lighting specifically designed for the deck is a detail worth having.

On the deck, patio, or anywhere outdoors, low-voltage lighting is the recommended system. It's safe -- even wet or bare wires won't give off a shock -- economical to run, and relatively easy to install. Furthermore, there are a number of choices among low-voltage fixtures that can suit any style deck. Surface/deck lights, for instance, are low-profile fixtures that can be attached horizontally or vertically to a wood surface such as a railing, step, planter box, or bench. Tier lights, which spread light evenly around a given area, can be mounted strategically on the deck floor, at the top and bottom of stairs, and near seating to illuminate the overall space. Floodlights can be used in combination with other lighting to highlight a feature of the deck design, such as the pool or spa, or tie the deck area to the surrounding yard. In fact, like the versatile decks they illuminate, outdoor lighting offers endless possibilities.

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Decks That Set Themselves Apart

 The angles of this multilevel deck follow the contour of the shoreline, allowing it to blend in with its setting.
The angles of this multilevel deck follow the contour of the shoreline, allowing it to blend in with its setting.

Whether the focal point of the yard or simply a highlight in the existing landscape, freestanding decks are yet another way to gain outdoor living space. They can be welcome additions when the house configuration precludes an attached deck or when the ideal location -- a grove of trees, near a stream, or overlooking a garden -- is some distance away. A freestanding deck is an ideal way to dress up a drab, previously ignored corner of the yard by transforming it into a secluded retreat for reading, a lively play area for children, or a stage for displaying colorful pottery and plants.

Although the term freestanding may suggest a flimsy or temporary solution, stand-alone decks are usually permanent fixtures that adhere to the same structural requirements as other deck types. A design may be as simple as a low-level platform floating just above the ground or as complex as a multilevel system of platforms and connectors that climb up or down a slope or stretch across the yard. Plain or fancy, however, detached decks can offer outdoor living at its best.

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Traditional Looks Without Wood

This PVC vinyl deck is a great spot for family time or entertaining the neighbors.
This PVC vinyl deck is a great spot for family time or entertaining the neighbors.

Although wood has traditionally been associated with decks, it is a material that requires maintenance to keep it healthy and looking its best. In wet environments, wood can be subject to decay; where it's hot, wood can crack and splinter from exposure to the sun's ultra-violet rays. A deck that's not properly sealed can be host to mildew. Painted surfaces need extra upkeep. And the natural color of nearly any wood deck will fade in time.

One practical alternative to the drawbacks of wood is a synthetic decking material such as a PVC vinyl. Formulated to be weather-resistant and virtually maintenance-free, PVC vinyl decks are durable, do not crack or warp, and never need painting. This type of decking is available with traditional or contemporary looks and offers a number of railing designs that can harmonize with a variety of house styles.

The detailing has the old-fashioned appearance of painted wood, but is actually made of PVC.

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Stylish Supports for Plants

This rustic arbor easily supports a tangle of vines, providing shade as well as glimpses of a landscape.
This rustic arbor easily supports a tangle of vines, providing shade as well as glimpses of a landscape.

One of the most familiar, attractive, and practical structures for supporting plants on and around the deck, the trellis needs little introduction. Usually constructed of thin wood strips nailed together in an open-weave or lattice design, trellises display a fairly slender profile. They may be attached to a wall, stand alone on a sturdy base, or be used overhead as both a support for climbing vines and a sunshade. Trellises can also serve as privacy screens or simple, inexpensive fencing to camouflage a utilitarian sideyard or divert attention from an unsightly view.

Arbors, too, are usually constructed from wood and serve as plant supports. Unlike a trellis, though, an arbor is a freestanding garden structure with space beneath to walk, sit, or simply tend to shade-loving plants. An arbor covered with grapes or blackberries can be a welcome companion to a vegetable or flower garden and a delightful place to bring adults and children together to harvest fruit.

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Embracing Trees With a Surround

This deck features a tree surround to accommodate a growing trunk yet provides plenty of floor space.
This deck features a tree surround to accommodate a growing trunk yet provides plenty of floor space.

Trees have a special place in the home landscape, supplying privacy, shade, and wind protection while adding color, texture, and natural beauty. Displacing mature trees to make room for an outdoor living area may solve one problem but create another. Fortunately, the flexibility of wood decks to adapt to a variety of sites provides the option of including trees in their design. Unlike many patios, decks can closely surround a tree without interfering with the root system or cutting off its supply of air and water. The opening around the trunk, however, should be large enough to allow for continued growth, especially if the tree is young or a rapid grower.

Benches and tree surrounds seem meant for each other, whether separate benches sit close to the base or a single seat wraps itself all the way around. The surround can also take the form of a low wall elevated above the deck floor, wide enough for comfortable sitting and often tall enough to double as a railing filled with shade-loving flowers and small-scale shrubs -- as long as they and the tree require the same soil and water conditions.

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