Deck Design Tips

Decking, love it or hate it, I think most people would agree, in the right setting, done well it can look fantastic. Equally of course, done badly, it can look awful!

How to Avoid Deck Design Disasters

For starters, work out what you want to achieve before you get too far into the process. By ‘achieve’ I mean what do you need the deck for? Yes, I know there are obvious uses for having a deck, but what are your uses?

  • Will you be entertaining the five thousand or just five of you?
  • Do you like to cook on your deck, just lounge or both?
  • Do you like being in sun or shade or perhaps a mixture?

Asking simple questions like these will enable you to get an idea of the size and best location for your deck. Also think about when you will be using the deck. If you’re only around in the evenings and weekends, where is the best location for it? Whilst it’s traditional to have a deck right outside your patio doors, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best place to work with your needs.

What About Using Deck Design Software?

Many decking company websites have free design software you can use. Whilst these can be really helpful because they enable you to see how the finished deck will look, and some even work out the materials you’ll need, you still need to have a good idea of what you want before you use them.

It can be very easy to get carried away with creating split-level decks in various shapes and sizes. These creations look very imaginative on screen but in reality can be awkward to use, expensive to build and not work with your situation. Your home, garden and tastes are unique, picking a pre-designed deck shape is unlikely to really fulfil your needs.

Did Your Deck Fall Out the Sky and Land in Your Backyard?

A well-designed deck should not only be functional but also look good; it should be the space that seamlessly links your home and garden together. A poorly thought-out deck will look and feel awkward. It costs more or less the same amount of money to build a deck in a shape that enhances your home and garden as it does to build something boring, bland and visually unbalanced.

To avoid your deck looking totally out of place, like it landed from outer space, a little bit of time spent planning will be very worthwhile. You need to consider how the deck you create will look with the rest of the garden and it’s in the right proportion with everything around it. A deck that is too big or too small will always look out of place.

Peg out your design ideas ahead of building it and ‘live’ with it for a few days to see how well it meets your needs. Does all your furniture fit comfortably, with enough room to walk around it and have easy access to the house?

The Best Designs Are Always Simple

The main shape of your deck needs to be simple and functional. By simple I don’t mean dull, I mean bold yet uncomplicated as shown in the example on the right. The deck shape is a very simple semi-circle that mirrors the lawn shape. Simple but effective, works every time.

How to Add the ‘WOW’ Factor

A good design shape should be simple to begin with, then you add layers of interest (think icing and chocolate sprinkles on a cake). Raised planters, LED lighting, built-in seating and planters all help add the extra sparkle and create the ‘WOW’. If the design shape is too complicated at the outset adding the extras looks overkill and silly. That’s why simple is so important in the beginning.

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Patio or Deck – Which is Best?

I’m often asked by clients if they would be better off with a patio or a deck for their garden. There isn’t a definitive answer as to which is better because it depends on your location, tastes and lifestyle needs. But there are pros and cons to each which will help you decide. Here are some of the main things to consider:

Patio Benefits

  • Easy maintenance (if you’ve chosen a good quality paving)
  • Wide variety of colours, shapes and textures
  • Paving looks good with a larger selection of property styles
  • Longevity (if you’ve chosen a good quality paving)

Patio Downsides

  • More intensive construction required underneath a patio, especially in areas with a lot of ground movement where reinforcement is needed
  • Environmental impact of using concrete
  • Cost

Deck Benefits

  • Quicker, easier construction, especially if raised above ground level
  • Natural looking material
  • Slightly cheaper depending on wood used

Deck Downsides

  • Maintenance (requires regular oiling if you want to keep its brown colour)
  • Longevity (more of an issue with untreated softwood decking)
  • Can be very slippery in winter

The 1st Consideration…

Whilst the above list does have valid issues to consider, the place I like to start with is the style and type of property someone has. If you live in the middle of rural England in a beautiful old house, decking probably isn’t going to be the best material to use as it won’t be in keeping with the house style.

However, if you live in the USA with a timber clad house, decking will look great with it. So think about the type of house you have first and foremost, before taking the things in the list above into account.

Next Step

You may well have the type of house that will suit either paving or decking. In this case, the next thing to consider is personal taste. Does one material draw you more than the other? For those of you muttering “No, that’s why I’m reading this, just tell me which one to choose already!” hang on, we’re getting there…

If that doesn’t narrow it down to a definitive “I want this one” answer, the next thing to look at is the style of garden that draws you. Are you more of a traditional or modern garden type of person?

What Garden Style Are You Trying to Create?

Do you like simple, clean lines or lots of interesting details and textures? If you want lots of detail and interesting features then paving will be a better choice for you. It’s much easier to create interesting patterns and different textures with paving than it is with decking.

If you like clean lines and minimal detail, then decking is great for this. Minimal detail can of course be achieved with one size of paving but because the individual paving slabs are much shorter than deck boards, paving will always look slightly ‘fussier’ than decking.

You can create more intricate patterns with paving and cleaner, simpler lines with decking

Have It All!

Photo credit N. Townley

If you really can’t make up your mind, another option is to just have both. A combination of  paving and decking looks great in modern gardens, the contrast is really effective.
I hope this article has helped you on the road to making a decision on which option to go for. We have just scratched the surface of the process, though.

It’s Important You Design Your Deck or Patio Properly…

There’s a lot more that goes into creating a great looking patio or deck than we’ve discussed here. The design shapes you use play an even more critical role than which materials you use. So it’s really important to spend a little bit of time deciding which shapes will suite your home and work with the rest of your garden.

If you’d like to learn exactly how to create a stunning patio or deck, then check out the online garden design courses we do here at Successful Garden Design.

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How to Plan the Perfect Deck for Your Garden


A little bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to creating a great looking deck. Putting your ideas down on paper will save you a lot of time and, potentially, money, and will ensure you get your dream deck.

Planning on paper first allows you to see if your ideas will work. It’s also much easier to change your mind and make adjustments on paper than it is during construction.

If the thought of plotting your deck onto paper seems like a daunting task, don’t worry; it’s actually much easier than you think.

It will give you the opportunity to make sure your deck works with the rest of your garden. You don’t want to build your masterpiece only to have it looking like it fell out the sky and landed in your garden!

Critical Deck Design Details to Get Right

It’s important to get the right shape, size and materials. The decking needs to be in proportion not only to your house but the rest of the garden. Too big or too small will always look wrong, no matter how hard you try to disguise it after it’s built.

Getting the right shape for your deck is one of the most critical parts of successful garden design. Shapes can create interest. They can make an area look and feel larger or smaller. It’s vital you choose a shape that enhances your home and garden and helps you get the most from your outside space. But avoid shapes that are too complicated.

Deck Design Software

To begin with, it’s better to grab a sheet of paper to try out your ideas. Resist the lure of the complex online design software. Useful as these free tools can be for working out the quantity of materials you will need, their prime purpose is often to help sell more decking and ancillary products like railings. So keep that in mind, as the software’s suggestions may not be the best design for your property.

Deck design software can often come up with unnecessarily complicated schemes. Complex designs can look good on the computer screen but in reality they don’t usually make the best use of the available space and will often make areas feel awkward. This is especially true if there are lots of unnecessary level changes and angles in the design. Good design is usually very simple in concept.

How to Incorporate Changes in Level in Your Deck

Changes of level need to be handled with particular care, as these will have an enormous impact on how you use your garden. A level change will create exciting opportunities to make a stunning use of the space.

Done correctly, a change in height from one part of your deck to the surrounding areas of garden will enable you to add interesting features like built-in seating, planting beds, lighting effects and water features.

The main thing to make sure you do with a level change is incorporate it in a way that flows naturally so that it is instinctive and easy to get from one area to another. You don’t want your friends and family tripping up on an unexpected level change.

Building on a Budget

It can cost virtually the same amount of money to build a well-designed deck that enhances your home, linking it beautifully with the rest of the garden to one that’s boring and badly designed. So plan carefully before you build.

Once you’ve planned the size and shape of deck you want, you will need to consider the cost of the building materials. There are many options available to you, from sustainable hardwoods to treated softwoods, reclaimed timbers and composite recycled materials. Research what’s available in your local area that works with your tastes, budget and design.

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Deck Design Ideas For Your Garden

Before you construct a deck in your garden, it is important to make sure you build a shape that enhances your garden and use materials that are long-lasting. You could be looking at your deck for a very long time, so let’s make sure you get it right…

Ipe Decking Wide with Natural Stone

There are a plethora of different decking materials you can choose, from recycled plastic to hardwood and softwood. In order for softwood to last, it has to be treated with preserving agents, and even then the lifespan isn’t as good as choosing a natural hardwood. So, for this post we’re going to concentrate on hardwood decking.

So Why Choose A Deck In The First Place?

○      Compared to other types of structures, like brick and stone, decking looks more natural in the garden, especially if allowed to weather.

○      Decking is very versatile it can look good in both contemporary and natural style gardens.

○      The wood species used for decking contains oils which seal the wood from the elements. Other types of flooring which are exposed to the weather will struggle to reach the same lifespan.

Deck Design Tricks

The other really good thing with decking is the fact it’s so linear means that you can accentuate the length or width of an area depending on how you use it. If you have a particularly small space, use the narrow width decking because your eye will be fooled into thinking the area is bigger because of the quantity.

Get Creative, Think Past The Straight!

One way to really show off a space is to create interesting shapes. Incorporating curves and mixing the deck with other materials can create really beautiful effects. It takes a bit more time and skill to create curved shapes, but it’s well worth the extra  effort. Experiment with putting other hard landscaping elements with your deck, like stone and gravel.

Ipe Hardwood deck – narrow width

Which Woods Are Used For Decking?

While there are many wood species which are used for furniture, only a selected few work as decking wood. The wood has to cope with foot traffic and last for many years together with containing natural oils. The three most popular woods are Iroko, Ipe and Teak.

Iroko Hardwood decking

Iroko Decking

Iroko: popular because it’s unaffected by insects, fungus, acids or alkalis, making it ideal for decks.

Teak hardwood decking

Teak Decking

Teak: popular due to its natural oils which eliminate the need for preservatives and sealants.

Ipe Hardwood decking

Ipe Decking

Ipe: popular as a decking material due to its insect resistance, durability and natural fire resistant.

I haven’t actually tested just how fire resistant Ipe is, so I don’t recommend you try setting fire to it!

What About The Environmental Impact?

When purchasing any type of decking, you need to make sure that the wood has come from a managed forest. Even better if the supplier is FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) accredited, so you are sure that the wood is sourced from sustainable habitat. The FSC is an international nonprofit organization formed in 1993 to encourage better forestry practices and those who are accredited must meet strict guidelines.

Is It A Pain To Maintain?

Decking requires regular cleaning and from time to time and a fresh coat of oil. It will weather if it’s not oiled regularly enough but can be sanded and re-oiled to get the colour back. With the right up keeping, it can reach 30 years of use. Which is pretty good for a natural material that needs to cope with extreme cold in winter, and in summer, hot conditions.

Aged Ipe if not oiled

Ipe deck colour if left to weather without oiling

Many thanks to the guys at Wood n Beyond for helping me with this article and providing some of the pictures. (I’m not affiliated with them but they were jolly helpful answering all my decking questions so I thought I’d give them a mention – go check out their decking website for further information).

If you have any deck related questions, please leave them in the comments below.

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

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