Loaded Decks

Homeowners are expanding their outdoor living spaces, and they’re looking to their decks as the focal pieces of that space. As the deck becomes a more integral part of a home’s overall living space — creating a transition between the indoors and the outdoors — homeowners are demanding more custom touches from deck designers. 

With more options in materials, a trend toward mixing materials and the integration of the deck into the outdoor living space, creative design trends are driving the decking market to unprecedented new levels. 

“I think expectations have changed. People desire and expect an outdoor living environment, which is a lot more than a 12-by-16 deck,” says Chaden Halfhill, president, Silent Rivers, a custom building company in Des Moines, Iowa.

Homeowners are asking designers and builders for decks that incorporate their yard, including elaborate landscaping. Halfhill confirms that the deck has become much more than simply outdoor flooring.

“Decks are a kind of architectural element or feature that last 30 or 40 years, and they don’t really have a direct style they relate to, yet they function on all houses because people like to live on them,” Halfhill says. “I think that’s the freedom of design that the deck allows.”

More than just space
“The outdoor area is no longer just the deck itself. It’s an outdoor living area,” says Cees de Jager, marketing consultant, Western Red Cedar Lumber Association. “The seating area is integrated, and the kitchen is integrated as well. It’s seamless in terms of how the entire area transitions from sections you walk on to where you sit and relax, to an area where you prepare meals. It becomes a cohesive element.”

Decks also are expanding in size, says Walter Hoyt, director of marketing, CertainTeed. “Decks get larger as there’s more of an interest in customizing. Once people commit to investing in more landscape, they begin to get more ideas they want to see come to life,” Hoyt says. 

The most impressive trend in decking is its expansion to incorporate the rest of the yard, says John Burns, marketing director, Trex. The centerpiece may be the deck, but it is designed to fit in with the rest of the landscape. “People want to have a unique home inside and out. When we talk to consumers and ask them what they’d like to have in a deck, they really get into the project and want to create a little oasis in their backyard. It’s not just the deck they’re evaluating, they’re thinking about creating that great backyard.” Burns says. 

Consumers want to make a smooth, seamless transition from their indoor living environment to the outdoors, Burns says. “I think that people are becoming more sensitive to integrating the deck into the landscape. They’re realizing that to be integrated better with the land and keeping them a little closer to their garden areas, they can feel more a part of their backyard, not just like they’re hovering above their backyard.”

Consumers are making room in their decks for many elements, including outdoor kitchens, outdoor living space, hot tubs, fire pits, outdoor fireplaces and dining areas. “Kitchens are really big right now, and outdoor fireplaces are big. They’re both trendy,” says Darrin Haugan, brand manager for Deckorators. 

Outdoor kitchens are becoming popular, while traditional elements such as hot tubs remain popular in deck design. “The outdoor kitchen area is one that’s growing in popularity,” de Jager says. “It’s not just a barbecue on a deck anymore.” 

Patti Pellock, marketing manager for CertainTeed’s EverNew vinyl decking and railing products, says that although she sees a trend in these outdoor living environments becoming an extension of the deck, money is always a factor in designing the deck. “I think it’s all in what people are willing to pay and really overall what environment they’re trying to create for themselves,” Pellock says.

Burns agrees. “For very high-end customers, some of the outdoor kitchens are becoming more popular as a fantastic way to maximize the use of their deck, but realistically it’s a relatively small segment of the population that can do an over-the-top outdoor kitchen.”

Differentiation is an important factor in custom home building, and the rallying cry of homeowners designing their decks and outdoor living spaces.

“The high-end homeowners are looking for something to set themselves apart. Not everybody wants to be like the Joneses,” de Jager says. The trend spans the entire range of home building, not just high-end custom building. “What we find is that even in the midrange area, people are driving around in neighborhoods just one step up from theirs, saying, ‘I want to set myself apart from these people up the block.’”

Many decking manufacturers are creating more and more lines of products to meet the needs of homeowners who want to make their deck stand out. “There’s a lot more available for people to design with,” Haugan says. Options include different colors, textures, and deck patterns. 

“Manufacturers seem to be introducing new colors and textures quite frequently, so there’s a wide selection for consumers to choose from,” Burns adds.

Halfhill agrees that the possibilities are endless with deck design. “Products are changing and expanding drastically,” he says. Options in designing the architectural elements of the deck are becoming popular, inexpensive ways to differentiate a deck from others in the neighborhood, he adds.

“You can do a square deck, and you can do it well. Build one that’s going to have something you can really be proud of. Put a little more energy into the railing patterns, and in the subtlety of the project,” Halfhill says. 

De Jager agrees that homeowners are working more with designers in an intensive design process for their decks, including a variety of elements and design features. He says homeowners are straying from creating out-of-the-box standard deck systems and demanding more customized, livable outdoor environments. 

“I’m seeing much more of an architectural approach to residential construction. I think that’s true of the yardscape as well. People are taking the time to invest in a design professional to help them,” de Jager says. 

Ultimately, the options for deck design are growing. “Simplicity can be good,” Halfhill says. “It’s part of building a product for that homeowner that’s different and unique and I think people are wanting that self-expression in their house. Their home environment needs to express who they are.”

One trend in the deck-building market is the mixing of different types of building materials. Designers can choose to incorporate wood-based or composite products with stone, metal and glass into the deck design to create interest and uniqueness. 

“What you’re seeing more of for those who don’t want to put too much money into added elements such as expensive outdoor fireplaces is the combination of materials, composites and the mixing and matching of these materials,” Haugan says. 

Burns agrees that mixing and matching of materials is a relatively inexpensive way for a homeowner to create a unique design for their deck. “The majority of the customization work I’ve seen is coming in the form of mixing different colors and patterns on the deck floor. It’s affordable and can be a very nice way to put a little pizazz in your deck design,” Burns says.

Haugan agrees, saying he’s noticed the overwhelming number of ways designers are incorporating different types of materials in deck design. “It’s interesting because now tha the composites have color variations, people are starting to design more distinctive designs in their flooring; mixing and matching railing types. It’s an art.”