hom Creative hands on deck

Relaxed outdoor living area takes thought, planning

By David Bradley

Associated Press

With decks changing from mere slabs to veritable multi-level outdoor living spaces, the idea of nailing a few boards together and declaring the job done just won't cut it anymore.

How you plan a really great deck retreat isn't far removed from the protracted process interior designers might go through for kitchen or bath makeovers.


It's the norm nowadays to pull out all the stops in deck creation, according to one deck builder. That means accounting for entertaining, relaxation, privacy or simply enjoying the view.

"People expect their deck to be a lot of things and do a lot of things," says Tim Meisch, owner of Custom Cedar Decks in Mill Creek, Wash. As homeowners tack on more and more uses and activities, deck sizes swell well beyond a 300 to 400 square foot average, Meisch says.

Homeowners can follow these steps to plot the deck of their dreams:

Subdivide the deck into zones with one activity per zone. Decide how much space to assign each activity such as grilling, dining, conversation area, or outdoor spa tub.

Consider a multi-level approach. If space allows, further subdivide the deck into levels. This defines the zones and offers visual variety.

Vary the direction of boards from zone to zone. A change in direction provides more visual stimulus and further differentiates the zones.

Use decking material that gives the impression the deck is an extension of inside rooms. Western red cedar is still favored by homeowners who want an all-natural look and character not found in man-made substitutes.

Consider traffic flow and wind direction. Locate the grill close to the kitchen door to minimize footsteps. If possible, keep the grill downwind from seating areas. Create enough space for guests to move freely without squeezing through small spaces.


Plan for sun and shade. Cedar arbors or pergolas built over the deck offer a shield from harsh sun yet blend nicely with the surroundings. So do trees, shrubs and discreet fences.

One of the more frequent requests Meisch hears is to inlay octagonal cedar patterns beneath tables and dining areas. "It's so unique that people mistake it for a decorative rug," says Meisch. And although cedar weathers naturally, you can stain the inlay or surrounding boards for added effect.

Often under-utilized is the potential for built-in bench seating along peripheral deck areas. You won't need as much deck furniture and you'll be able to accommodate a surprising number of guests.

Meisch has seen non-wood decking enter the market, but he makes a case for western red cedar as a decking preference for many homeowners who want the good looks of the real thing. He sees cedar as a superior "transition material" between a deck and surrounding environment.

Cedar is naturally lower maintenance and dimensionally stable (which means it won't twist). A selling point for Meisch's customers: non-wood substitutes have yet to capture the warmth and beauty of cedar.

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