10 Tips For Designing A Great Deck

Deck design is a very personal task. Your homes style should be a major factor or it will feel out of place. Over the years I have seen each metropolitan area developed its own style of design. One builder takes an idea from another and eventually you have a flavor all its own that develops in your city. Then you have a wide selection of manufacturers that have created as many as 2-10 design style products for you to choose from. There has been no lack of creativity in the deck industry over the past 5-10 years.   

Free Deck Plans

1) Go Ahead, It's All Free!

Literally tens of millions of decks have been built over the past few decades, which means there’s no lack of well-tested deck design ideas. Check out’s free deck plans or our free deck designer which you can easily customize to fit in your yard and against your house. And spend some time scanning our large “Pictures” section, where you’ll find a huge number of great deck designs. If you see something you like, co-opt it for your purposes.

2) Plan for the Way You Live

Start with general ideas of what the deck can do to enhance your life. What will you really use the deck for? For instance, if you’re not a party animal, maybe you want to emphasize intimate gathering and dining areas. If you love to grill, go a little wild with an outdoor kitchen. Ask family members what they’d like from your future deck: maybe some solitude; a friendly conversation pit; container gardening; a spa to soak in; the occasional large party; or just a clear path for taking out the garbage.

3) Plan for Use Areas and Traffic

Once you’ve got your priorities right, plan a deck that allows enough space for the activities you enjoy, as well as comfortable traffic pathways between and around them. Often these use areas will be visible only after furniture has been set out. You can think of your deck as having specific “rooms” for dining, lounging, cooking, and mingling. Make sure that there will be ample room for chairs around a dining table, small end tables or a coffee table next to lounge furniture, and potted plants.

4) Materials You Will Maintain and Enjoy

For the finish materials—the decking, railing, fascia, and perhaps skirt—many people today choose to spend a hefty amount for composites, PVC, and other materials that are virtually maintenance free. Others prefer to save their ducats and build with inexpensive treated or (somewhat less inexpensive) cedar. Wood surfaces often need to be pressure-washed and sealed once a year or so. But if you prefer the natural look and don’t mind regular maintenance, it may be the choice for you.

5) Shape and Size

Some say that a deck should be no larger than 20% of the house’s square footage, so as not to overwhelm a house visually. But if you spend plenty of time on it, and if it is divided up into clearly different rooms, a larger deck can look and feel quite at home. There’s nothing wrong with a rectangular deck, but consider adding pizzazz with angles or even curves. They will take additional time to build, but can make a deck feel special rather than cookie-cutter. Design with a “theme and variation” approach, so that a certain angle or curve gets repeated, perhaps with different sizes, at various places.

6) The Right Cooking and Noshing Spaces

If you love to cook outdoors and like interacting with people as you grill, plan an elaborate outdoor kitchen with a counter and several cooking appliances. Perhaps include an eating counter with stools just opposite the cooking area, so people can snack, sample, and offer advice while you cook. If you’d rather keep food prep simple, you may want to make a small alcove off to the side, with just enough room for a grill. Or you may choose to do all your cooking indoors; there’s no law that you have to own a grill.

7) Get the Views Right

Consider the view, both from the deck and from inside the house. If there is a bulky railing between you and what you want to see, your deck will be a less inviting place. Some possible solutions: Step the deck down with platforms or descending sections, which will lower the railings or perhaps make it possible to do without them. Or choose railings with thin balusters, or even glass panels or balusters. Also, if a certain prospect pleases more than others, plan your deck’s “rooms” so that people will naturally turn in that direction.

8) Bridge the House and the Yard

You may choose to build a deck in a style that blends with the house, or you may prefer to make your deck a clearly different place, emphasizing its outdoorsy ambience. Where the deck steps down to meet the yard, it often looks and feels best to have some transitional materials, rather than simply stepping off to the grass yard. Stone, pavers, and bricks almost always look handsome next to a deck, whether it is built of natural wood or manmade materials. A deck-and-patio combination is a surefire winner.

9) The Vertical Elements

We think of a deck as basically a floor, but it’s the upright components—the railing, skirting, and overhead structures—that actually make the most visual impact. There are a dizzying array of railing designs and components to choose among; take your time to choose a railing that suits you perfectly. If a deck is raised, you may want to install decorative skirting to cover its underside. If there is enough room for a patio below, consider installing a stay-dry system, so the patio can be a retreat during rainfalls.

10) Overheads, Planters, and Benches

Unless you live in an area with perfect weather, you will likely enjoy your deck more in the summer if you have a shade-producing structure of some sort. A pergola is the most common solution; it provides partial shade to a degree that depends on how closely spaced the rafters are to each other. Where the sun is oppressive, consider an awning of some sort. Most decks also benefit from a planter or two—or plan on setting out large pots for your plants. Planters can be placed so as to be part of a railing system, or they can be joined to a bench.

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