Plan Ahead for Fun, Fantastic Outdoor Spaces

When the weather warms up, people tend to think about building a patio or a deck. If one of your clients is thinking about adding some outdoor space to his or her home, make sure he or she understands what the project entails.

The following are a few items I have my clients think about when discussing an outdoor space:

1. Development of an outdoor space is driven by the site. Explain to the homeowner what will need to be done depending on the site, whether it is flat or steeply graded, if there are rocks and gravel, if there is clay soil or fill dirt.

2. How the house sits on the site will also determine the design and placement of a patio or deck. For some homeowners, it makes sense to walk out of the lower level to a patio. Others may want a deck off a master bedroom, kitchen or family room.

3. How does the homeowner feel about bugs? This can determine whether you're talking about a deck or a screened-in porch or a porch with a roof for year-round outdoor living.

4. Consider the sun. An east-facing deck or screened-in porch can catch the morning light; a west-facing deck might require an awning to protect the homeowner and guests from the intense afternoon heat. Deciduous trees shade in summer and allow sunlight in the winter.

5. Materials you choose will affect the cost and the durability of the deck. Pressure-treated wood is the least expensive. Composite will cost two to three times more than pressure-treated wood. PVC decking will cost three to four times more. Luxurious wood such as redwood and cedar is five to seven times more expensive than basic pressure-treated wood. Composite and PVC will save the homeowner money on maintenance. If you use pressure-treated wood, the homeowner will need to stain and seal the deck six months after completion and every two to three years thereafter. Composite requires no upkeep, but it can develop mold. PVC has no mold problems. The materials chosen make a significant contribution to aesthetics and budget.

6. What does the homeowner plan to do with the space? Determine whether this will be an entertainment area or strictly an independent outdoor cooking area.

A particular project comes to mind when I think about the first two steps on this list. A family in Arlington, Va., wanted to create an outdoor patio and entertainment area. Their gorgeous 1990s ultra-modern house sits on a lot that slopes down from the street at a nearly 45-degree angle so 3 stories of the house are above ground from the street and another 2 stories are hidden below the hill. Connecting the house to the street is a beautiful wooden parking deck structure—20-feet long and 25-feet wide—like a bridge over water.

Beneath the parking deck, we created a beautiful stone patio by digging out and retaining the deck piers. We built flagstone steps into the hill, running down one side of the parking deck to allow access to the new patio and gravel-floored storage space underneath the deck. As part of the renovation, we opened the existing brick wall of the house to insert a full glass door from the second-floor office out to the patio space. We also installed fans under the deck to keep mosquitoes away.

Steps 3 through 5 make me think of the owners of a Mid-century Modern brick home in northwest Washington, D.C. They wanted to create an enclosed outdoor space that would allow them to enjoy the view of their backyard while protecting them from mosquitoes. We reconfigured an old, poorly designed two-level deck for them with a new screened-in, roofed porch. We worked to reuse the existing framing and design a soaring butterfly roof, which rises to 16 feet at its maximum height, well beyond the adjacent roof heights of the house. The roof helps express the angularity and mid-century look of the overall house and allows sunlight to flood the porch and house as if there were no roof at all.

To keep the comfort of indoors in the new outdoor space, we installed a wood-burning fireplace with glass on three sides to provide warmth in winter. We also piped in natural gas for a new hooded outdoor grill for year-round grilling.

Each of our designs relied on the customer’s answers to the six considerations at the beginning of this article and helped achieve fun, fantastic outdoor spaces that met the clients’ expectations.

Michael Sauri is owner of TriVista USA, Arlington, Va.