Deck Design Tips and Tricks

As outdoor living continues to be a big part of home ownership, deck design is changing the landscape of many backyards. The typical rectangle deck of the past has been pushed aside to make room for new shapes and options inconceivable 25 years ago.

Azek has done extensive research to understand the mind of a deck customer. The research reveals that homeowners can take up to two years from the time they think about their deck until the time they actually pull the trigger on a project. Consumers will do everything from Internet research, buying books about design, and visiting showrooms.

“I think customers today who are looking at alternative materials to pressure-treated lumber see decking becoming more of a design element and less of just a walking surface,” says Ralph Bruno, president, Azek Building Products. “The people who are upgrading from wood are definitely doing more research on design elements to see the possibilities.”

Three main components of deck design should be considered: how it looks, how it functions and how much it costs. Gary Daley, owner, America’s Deck Builder in Barnegat, N.J., is able to get his customers what they’re looking for by focusing on function.

“I‘m really more concerned with the way a deck works for a homeowner,” Daley says. “For example, traffic should flow across a sitting area and there should be a static area that is exclusive to dining and barbecuing that kids aren’t running across.”

Modern deck components

Daley says lighting probably is the first option clients are looking for, even before skirting. They’re looking at stair lights, post cap lights, and what Daley calls skirt wash lighting. This typically is low-wattage lighting and generally can be installed without an electrician.

“For us, gazebos and pergolas are pretty big items,” says Ted Tidmore, CEO, Holloway Co., Sterling, Va. “It depends on the exposure of the home; if they’re getting sun all day long, gazebos and pergolas are really going to extend that living because most people aren’t going to want to sit and bake in the sun.”

A pergola’s main purpose is to break up the sun on the deck area, and generally is placed over the entrance to the main body of a deck. Pergolas can be difficult to build over an octagon-shaped sitting area or extreme angles, so they usually are found in a large squared-off portion of the deck. Screened porches also are typically found near or surrounding the entrance to a house; they usually serve as a takeoff of the roofline, Tidmore says.

“The gazebo is a nice look too, but it needs to be as far away from the house as possible,” Tidmore adds. “That way it’s not obstructing the view from the windows inside the house.”

Homeowners are addressing the issues of blocked views with railings, and are spending more time thinking about railings while looking at ways to make sure their view is preserved. Different colors, materials and shapes of railings exist, but it’s important to know how each will function.

“A railing is a safety and aesthetic component,” Azek’s Bruno explains. “Contractors will need to know if it meets local building code because there are decorative rails and there are guardrails. It’s important to make sure it will meet the purpose it is meant for in the place it is used.”

Deck layout

Deck design can begin with a simple rectangle, and by cutting back each corner at a 45-degree angle the deck begins to take on character. Add other shapes, spaces, color and levels and it becomes completely unrecognizable as what decks once were. The important step today, though, is making all these variables work together.

“Each client has different design ideas, requirements or priorities,” Daley says. “Some just want a space where they can push the grill to keep out of the flow of traffic. Some people don’t want the barbecue on the deck at all.”