Great Decks are Made of Great Details
Adapt these inspiring design ideas to your next deck.
Have you decided to add a deck? If so, you've already thought about the big picture — the overall size, shape, and height of the deck, how it relates to the house and yard, and where to put the stairs and entrance into the house.
Now, as the design evolves and construction nears, start to fine-tune. This is the time to think about railings, lighting, decking patterns, privacy screens, built-in seating, and other details that make an ordinary deck extraordinary.
The trio of decks featured here will help you do just that. Each showcases an interesting design feature: a guard rail made of stainless-steel cables, a round-top gate built into a lattice panel, and a neatly trimmed picture-frame decking pattern.
Perched high on a Northern California hilltop, James and Ellie Johnson's home offers spectacular views of the foothills that surround 3,800-foot-high Mount Diablo. When the Johnsons decided to have a redwood deck built along one side of their in-ground pool, they wanted to be sure the structure and its guard rail would not obscure the scenic vista.
Two clever details were integrated into the design to maintain the view. First, James suggested building the 500-square-foot free-form deck 12 inches below the top edge of the pool. The lower position makes the deck much less conspicuous when you stand near the house and look out across the pool into the distance. As a bonus, the dropped-down deck creates a comfortable sitting ledge along the serpentine edge of the pool.
The second detail had an even greater impact. Contractor Mark Cobb, of Diablo Decks in nearby Oakley, installed a nearly invisible guard rail made of thin steel cables. The CableRail system, from Feeney Wire Rope, consists of 10 stainless-steel cables that run through holes bored in the 4x4 posts. In this system, steel protector sleeves are placed in the holes before the cables are threaded to keep them from chafing the wood. Special fittings at the end posts secure the 1/8-inch-diameter cables and allow them to be properly tensioned. The result is an attractive, unobtrusive guard rail. The 60 linear feet of railing cost about $780.
If you decide to use the CableRail system, remember that the end posts must be at least 3 inches away from the house so the fittings can be attached and the cables tightened. Also be sure your local building department approves your deck and railing design before ordering the system.
The round "window" punctuating this lattice privacy screen serves double duty as a round-top gate.
Airy lattice panels wrap the perimeter of this spacious 16x34-foot red-cedar deck. Lattice-lined guard rails enclose the edge farthest from the house, while 7-foot-tall lattice-filled privacy screens at the ends provide a bit of shade and seclusion without blocking cool breezes. Those round "windows" cut into the privacy screens aren't just decorative; each 40-inch-diameter circle is a swing-out gate that provides easy access to the surrounding lawn.
The round window frames are made up of 3 1/2-inch-wide segmented sections cut from a cedar 2x12. The sections were joined by biscuit splines and glue to form arcs, which were cut out with a sabre saw. Then the lattice panels were sandwiched between the circular frames. The top half of each window is stationary while the bottom half swings open.
Thin prefabricated lattice panels are what you'll usually find in deck construction. For this project, all the lattice was custom-cut from 5/4-inch cedar boards for a stronger, more substantial look. The boards were ripped into 1 1/2-inch-wide strips. Then a radial-arm saw equipped with a 1-inch-wide dado blade was used to cut a 3/4-inch-deep x 1-inch-wide notch in the edge of each strip. The notches were spaced 4 3/8 inch on center to create a series of interlocking edge-lap joints.
The lattice strips were fastened together with stainless-steel screws, then the assembled panels were set between vertical 4x6 deck posts. In this case, 1-inch-deep x 1 1/2-inch-wide grooves were cut in the posts to accept the lattice panels. A simpler way to secure the panels is to nail a 3/4-inch-square vertical wood stop to the posts, insert the lattice panels, then nail on another stop. Be sure to use only rust-resistant stainless-steel or hot-dipped galvanized fasteners.
A 2x6 border, called a picture frame, neatly hides the ends of the deck boards.
This inviting oasis was built alongside a kidney-shaped in-ground pool. A 7-foot-square whirlpool spa sits in the middle of the 16x16-foot deck. The spa rests diagonally on a 4-inch-thick x 8-foot-square concrete slab poured before the redwood deck was built.
The meticulously built deck boasts two levels and an L-shaped wraparound bench made up of redwood 2x4s. But perhaps its most interesting feature is the way the 2x6 deck boards are trimmed — a technique known as picture framing.
On most decks, deck boards are cut flush with the outer edge of the perimeter band joists. With picture framing, the ends of the deck boards are set back from the edge of the band joists and then trimmed with a picture frame perimeter border. The border — usually a 2x6 or 2x8 — hides the ends of the deck boards and gives the finished deck a neat, clean appearance.
As the illustration shows, picture framing requires a double band joist. Two 2x8 pressure-treated joists were separated by 2x4 spacers, with one spacer placed every 24 inches. The result is a 4 1/2-inch-wide beam that supports the 2x6 border and the deck board ends. A 1x10 redwood fascia trim board was nailed to the 2x8 band joists around the perimeter to hide the understructure.
When building a picture-frame deck, be sure a liberal coat of stain or clear wood preservative is applied to the ends of all the deck boards before the border is nailed or screwed down. This extra step is crucial for blocking out moisture and preventing the end grain of the decking from rotting. It can't be done after the border is installed.
Where to Find It:
AE Design, Alan Estrada
733 Grayson Rd.
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523
California Redwood Association
405 Enfrente Dr.
Novato, CA 94949
Diablo Decks, Mark Cobb
901-A Bonnie Lane
Oakley, CA 94561
Feeney Wire Rope Co.
Oakland, CA 94623
San Martin, CA 95046
Western Red Cedar Lumber Association
1100-555 Burrard St.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Canada V7X 1S7