Designing A Wooden Deck

Deck Design (part 1)

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You may choose to hire a deck designer, builder or even an architect to do the design work for you. But the more involved you get, the more satisfying the process will be. And the more input you provide, the closer you will come to getting the deck that is best for you.You probably don’t think of yourself as a “designer” especially if you have never attempted a large building project. And it probably isn’t a good idea for you to try to design a house. However: a deck is usually simple in concept and relatively small, and its shape is typically dictated by the house and the yard. That means it can usually be designed by a reasonably creative person willing to put in some time and mental effort.



Start by doing what all the best architects do: steal ideas. Unless your house and yard looks just like someone else’s, you usually don’t have to worry that your deck will look just like someone else’s too. Look through our deck gallery and recent projects for a bit of inspiration. Don’t hesitate to ask friends and neighbors about their decks what they like and don’t like, what works and doesn’t work, what they would do differently if they could rebuild. Most people are happy to discuss their decks whether bragging or complaining.



Discuss with family members what they would like the new deck to do. They may come up with practical ideas, such as providing shade or container gardening, or creating an easy pathway for carrying out the garbage or they may have definite ideas about how the deck should look. Some members might want a large deck, while others enjoy the yard so much that they would prefer a small deck. Design software is an excellent way to “build a deck” on screen, but it’s not necessary, especially at the start of the process. Try simply making some rough free hand sketches, using graph paper to keep things to scale or take a photo of the portion of your house and yard where the deck will go. It may help to get up on a ladder, to get a somewhat aerial view. Make several enlarged photocopies of the photo, and draw sketches of your deck onto the photocopies. Give yourself plenty of time. Spend a few hours noodling up some initial plans: then allow a few weeks or even months for the ideas to gestate. Put your drawings on the refrigerator or the family bulletin board so you, your family, and friends can add their two cents’ worth.  Don’t be discouraged if some ideas are rejected or if some plans look dull on second or third consideration. The best movies leave many scenes on the cutting-room floor. You may end up with drawings in the dustbin, but that’s much better than building a deck that is less than the one you wanted. DON’T FORGET TO INCLUDE EXTRAS, such as built-in seating and planters when designing. Think about how you want to spend your time on the deck. REMOTE STRUCTURES, such as a pergola or gazebo can complete an outdoor living area.

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Designing a wooden deck involves making number of decisions. Some will be easy – for example, you may have already settled on the decking material you will use. Others may be matters for debate – do you want a hot tub, and if you so, where will it go? Here are the most common issues:

Which of the “outdoor rooms” will you incorporate, and how will you link them with pathways?

How can you stylistically link the deck to the house so that it doesn’t look tacked on.

What artistic or architectural element can you add to make the deck distinctive and memorable?

How can you orient the deck so you naturally look at a scenic portion of the lawn, garden or view?

Will the deck be raised and have a railing, or can you step it down so no railing is needed?

Which materials will you use for all of the surfaces, including decking, railings, fascia, skirting, planters, and benches?

Will you provide for gardening, a child’s play area, or any other special needs? Do you want a hot tub or spa?

Where do you want lighting, and what sorts of lights do you want?

How will you provide for privacy, shade, and perhaps protection from the wind?

If your garden or house presents difficulties for construction for instance, a severely sloped garden or a situation where the deck must be raised more than 6 feet in the air how will you overcome these difficulties?


In the end, budget may trump some of your decisions. For example, you may need to go with your second choice of materials, or you may decide on a smaller deck so you can use the materials you like best. If money is tight, it is often possible to build in phases, and work on part of a project now and leave the rest for later. Just be sure that the first part will look good on its own, and the second part will not looked tacked on.


We will look at the aesthetic considerations in part 2.

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