Get Started with Deck Design
Installing a deck offers one of the most effective ways to create usable outdoor space. By carefully designing the deck to make it a good fit with the house and existing landscape, it will become an asset that increases the value of your home and makes it easy to host barbecues and other outdoor gatherings.
The deck on this Quonset-style cabin creates a second story balcony with a view. It is seamlessly integrated below with a pergola feature for additional outdoor space that's sheltered from the summer sun. Note the post caps; they are tiny solar-powered lights that provide nighttime ambiance and illuminate the steps down to ground level.
Composite Wood Alternative
One of the big issues with decks is that the wood needs to be resealed every few years to protect it from the elements, and the wood will eventually rot no matter how well it is cared for. Composite deck boards, like the grey ones pictured here, do not require a sealant and will outlast the house and its inhabitants. They are made from recycled plastic bottles and have an almost indefinite lifespan, although the materials are definitely more expensive at the outset.
Simple and Useful Deck
This deck is nothing fancy, but it demonstrates the basic components of design needed for any deck-building project. The deck boards are oriented parallel with the longest dimension of the deck, which is also parallel to the house (the most common orientation). There is a railing for safety (as required by building codes), and it has a nice 2" x 6" railing cap that makes it a convenient spot to place small objects. Note the trim work that creates a smooth transition between the deck boards and the balusters, and between the balusters and the railing cap.
All decks involve steps to get from ground level to deck level. Instead of using standard-size risers, this deck makes creative use of a series of landings to make the transition from the lawn to the deck. The quirky, modernist design accomplishes this in a playful, original way with one landing extending wider than the others for no apparent reason.
A bare bones design like this one is sufficient for a cabin by the lake. This is also an example of a painted deck. Most people use a transparent stain to seal a deck, but exterior paint also works. The paint actually offers better protection for the wood since UV rays are unable to penetrate the pigment.
Multiple Level Deck
Two-story houses offer an opportunity for creativity when it comes to deck design. A series of switch-backing stairways could have been used here to go from the second floor to the ground. Instead, a hexagonal landing is used to break up the transition and provide a special place to enjoy the sunset.
There is a lot of overlap between the meaning of a deck, a balcony, and a porch. This is a classic example of the latter. Porches are essentially covered decks that are integrated with the structure of the house. Here, the white posts, railing and roof use the same pattern of trim work as the exterior of the house, which makes it appear as one structure. All that's missing is a rocking chair!
Deck as a Destination
Blazing sun and mosquitoes are two things that make decks less appealing at times. Creating a screened gazebo on part of the deck takes care of both problems at once. The classic octagonal design pictured here matches the surrounding architecture perfectly making it an alluring outdoor room to while a way a summer's eve.
Perfectly Matched Deck Design
Great deck designs match the design of the home. Instead of appearing as an add-on, the deck pictured here fits the color scheme of the house perfectly, and the metal railings appear to be the exact same material as the window frames on the house. Taking a cue from the modernist architecture of the home, taut metal wires are used in the railing instead of balusters.
There are so many ways to approach deck design and so many contexts where decks can be used. Most poolside patios are made of concrete, but this one uses wood deck boards, which are much softer on the feet. The luxury of the design flows with the natural stone border between the deck and water.
Accessorizing a Deck
Enjoying your deck has as much to do with what you put on it as it does with the original design. A table and chairs are must-have items for enjoying summertime meals and, ideally, there is a sun canopy included to make the space more usable in the heat of the day. Of course, pots and planters filled with seasonal flowers are always great additions to the corners and edges to really bring the space to life.
If you're going to build your own deck, there are a lot of little details to be aware of and choices to be made. This shot shows some of the typical elements and gives an idea about the options. The deck boards here are the most common type; they are just over 5 inches wide and have rounded edges that make them smooth to walk on. The boards can be arranged in parallel/ perpendicular patterns, or 45 degree angles can be utilized, as shown here. The railing detail pictured here, with 4" x 4" posts, 2" x 4" trim and 2" x 2" balusters, is standard. However, there are many other ways that the design could be approached for a customized look.
This deck is low enough to the ground that a railing is not required. In fact, the designer chose to avoid any type of ornamentation whatsoever. There is no trim, planter, or variation in the deck boards, just a small area of nice-quality wood decking stained a pleasing brown color to match the home. Perfect!
Cozy Covered Deck
This rather unusual design takes advantage of an exterior brick wall to incorporate an outdoor fireplace. It looks like a living room except it is open air. The dropped ceiling makes it possible for the porch to be under the same roof as the house, which is one way to integrate outdoor living space without interrupting the exterior appearance of the home.
Making the Most of a Deck
A wrap around deck like the one shown here can be accessed from more than one door, which makes it even more useful as outdoor living space. This deck demonstrates another nifty feature; a wooden bench is built into the entire length of the railing, complete with an angled backrest. Rather than taking up a lot of real estate with seating for guests, this design makes efficient use of the precious deck space.
Make a Plan
If you're not building your own deck, remember to ask contractors for references and get a quote from several companies before choosing one. It's also important to realize that most municipalities require a construction permit for building a deck. By planning carefully and considering all the pros and cons of each possible design, you will end up with a deck that is highly useable and contributes more to the value of the home than it costs to build.