Diary of a Reno: The Backyard Deck

wood deck boards staining renovation

Deck renovations is an investment in your whole property, connecting life at home indoors to outdoors. Lisa Michelle writes about her experience in choosing and building a new deck to suit her outdoor living space, and decorating it to her taste when the project was completed.


It was a cold winter just like this one when we started to dream about our new deck. Summers outside, the warmth of the sunset augmented by the flame of an outdoor fireplace, seemed like a dream. But as the temperatures dipped lower, it was a dream we thought worth pursuing. We wanted to maximize every second we could spend outside next summer. This is the story of how we built a new backyard deck in the spring, just in time for barbeque season.

Making the plan

The first step was to imagine what was possible within our budget and in the space outside of our home. We had a big backyard, but what we wanted to do was to create a transition space between the kitchen and the yard with multiple levels for seating, cooking, and relaxing.

This meant that we needed to think about engineering the space as well as designing it, because it was no simple task. We weren’t just creating a patio. We decided on a wooden deck with two levels, with a few stairs in-between the levels as well as a larger staircase down to the backyard.

Getting permission, finding help

Once we had the plan mapped out, we had to get permits from the city to ensure that we had all of our ducks in a row. It wasn’t as difficult as we thought it might be, especially because we had an engineer who was familiar with the city’s regulations draw up a blueprint ahead of time. The city also made it easy to get permission because, as they told us, new policies supported the creation of sustainable outdoor spaces that would encourage people to spend more time in their gardens.

But the biggest question for us was: Would this be a DIY project or something we needed help with? We’d had a lot of prior experience with renovation, but in the end we decided that because of the possible risks associated with the placement of the major beams, we’d work with a contractor. Once the major frame and structure was in place, we could install railings and other superficial structural items on our own.

Managing the build

It pays to start as early as possible if you want to get a deck installed before the summer the build of the deck took longer than we expected, mostly due to the unpredictability of the spring weather. For us, everything was dependent on the rain. Torrential downpours that spring meant that setting the concrete for the decking posts became a little complicated, as groundwater would pool in the postholes, making it difficult to pour the concrete. Patience, therefore, was a virtue.

Once the posts were set, however, the process went quickly, even in the rain. We chose cedar decking over a composite wood because it was native to our area, and thus we knew that it would last for a long time in our west coast weather systems.

Working with wood, however, has its challenges, as we found out when we started to help the contractor with laying out the space. The organic nature of the boards means that there are imperfections to mitigate. We learned that it’s important to have the right tools on hand to ensure every board and post is put into place carefully the first time. This is a project where you can’t cut corners.

Designing the space

Finally, it was time to make the deck our own. We were inspired by images of a Moroccan bazaar, with its hanging lamps and lots of pillows and reclining seating. We wanted to relax around a fire pit with a glass of wine far into the evening, looking up at the stars with friends and family.

To make this look come alive, we built in cedar seating around the perimeter of the deck, complete with removable cushions. We added in higher posts from which we could hang Moroccan glass lamps and fabrics. Extra seating was placed around the outdoor fireplace, so that everyone could lean back in the warm glow of the embers and enjoy a dinner to remember.

Creating a new deck was only the first step in our vision for our backyard. This winter, we’re starting dream and plan out the next phase in our garden life: an outdoor kitchen. It won’t be long before you’ll see us deep-frying the turkey. Stay tuned!

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