16 Deck Design Tips, Plus One I Personally Regret Not Doing


The design of your deck is as important as the deck itself. A poorly designed deck will create more headaches, reduce use and appeal, along with the enjoyment of the deck. A well-designed deck will do all the opposites. A correctly designed deckOpens in a new tab. will reduce stress, be a desired destination, appealing to the eye and body. Restoring your soul and bring pleasure to your family.

Any money or time spent designing a deck right is worth ten times what you pay on material and construction.

I have been building and designing decks for years in the Calgary area, but I must admit, what inspired me to write this article on deck design tips was YouTube.

Yes, I watch YouTube videos about decks and outdoor design. Decks are just my thing, I guess.

Anyways, I watched this video of Micah Dennis from Paradise RestoredOpens in a new tab., 10 Small Backyard Design Secrets. Inspiring video about backyard design. Inspiring enough to make me want to write. His focus was the entire yard landscaping, but as I watched, I thought this is true for decks also. Some tips need to be slightly adapted to decks, not yards. Since he favours hardscapes over decks, but I am just going to ignore that.

I design, build and love decks.

This will be about designing decks to be enjoyed.

Tips for deck design.

As I said, he had 10 ideas for backyards, most can apply to deck design, but I added some more from my experience. To further help you when designing your deck.

1. Design your Deck as a Destinations

Design your deck with a reasonOpens in a new tab.. A deck to be enjoyed needs to more than a path to the backyard, to be appreciated. If it’s only designed as a transition from your raised house floor to the lower yard, it will never be enjoyed.

A deck needs to have a reason to be enjoyed. Some common deck uses are eating, lounging or grilling.Opens in a new tab. But it can be so much more before doing anything. Take a moment to think of what would draw you out.

  • What would capture your attention?
  • What would make you long for your deck?
  • What would make you think about your deck while stuck in traffic?

Integrate those into the deck.

Just like that special dress you put on or love that she does, captures attention. Your deck should be designed to do the same. That element of intrigue should be designed to be seen from your back window or door. That while your sitting in your stuffy house, it draws you out.

Picking up the laptop off the couch and out unto your deck.

Design your deck to be a destination you want to go to.

2. Deck Designs with Overhead Structure 

Often overlooked is a deck cover. This can be a roof, but often for a deck, a pergola or umbrella is better.

A deck cover shelters you from the elements and defines the space. Creating more than a floor for chairs but an outdoor living space.

Critically important is that you still keep the space outdoors. Do not enclose the deck so much as not be outside. A deck is a place to escape from indoors and enjoy nature, but a shade over your head can increase that enjoyment on a hot day. Removing the burn of the sun while still enjoying its warmth.

3. Include Privacy for the Deck

As a raised structure, privacy is important. Elevated for convenience from your house but not to become a spectacle of the neighbourhood.

Similar to Overhead Structure, you do not want to enclose the deck so much as not to be able to enjoy the view or your neighbourhood. But sheltered enough to block peering eyes while creating an intimate feel on the deck.

Often this can be done with a privacy wall or screen along one side of the deck. Giving you some enclosure while still enjoying your backyard.

This can also be done of the deck with a row of trees, bushes hiding the view while bringing life and colour to the deck.

Deck privacy is about comfort.

Do you feel comfortable strolling out on your deck?

Add whatever privacy element on the deck, for you can step out on the deck whenever it calls you out, without worry about who is around.

4. Deck Water Features

This is not right for every deck but can enhance the atmosphere.

Something is soothing and attractive about running water. I can’t explain it, but a babbling brook or waterfall has a mystical power over us. We are attracted to it and enjoy its presence.

Most decks cannot have a full water feature like you can have in your backyard.  But a small fountain on the deck can add calming element while drowning out the sound.

Back to destination, a water feature is often that. A destination to draw you out on the deck.

5. Fire Features on a Deck

Like moth to a flame.

We are all attracted to fire. The dancing flames, the mystical rhythm, the transfixing dance of colour. Few things are more powerful than fire.

Woodfire pits generally are not a good idea on a deck, becoming fire hazards. But fire tablesOpens in a new tab. or fireplaces are.

A fire table can draw people in, while providing warmth on a cool evening. Increasing the time on the deck and enjoyment.

When designing your deck, contemplate creating room for a fire table.

6. Deck Focal Feature

Design a beauty element into your deck design. This can be art hanging from your privacy wall, a bouquet on the table, or hanging flowerpots overhead.

A feature that cries, “look here.”

Something that brings pleasure. Enjoyment simple from sight.

Similar to fire, the view that when you snuggle down into your chair to read, you peak over the book or screen edge to catch a glance. To soak in the view.

This can also be a view off the deck. With the deck designed to direct your eyes out.

In Calgary, often this is a view of the Rockies. The majestic beauty of snow cap mountains always catches my eyes.

Design your deck with this in mind. Enjoying your deck fully with all your senses, including your eyes.

7. Deck Designs with  a Garden/Plants

Design your deck with the smell and colour of life. This can be a large built-in planterOpens in a new tab. on the deck.  But it doesn’t need to be. There are many ways to have plants on your deck.  

  • A small flowerpot in the corner.
  • Basket hanging from the pergola post.
  • A rail planter of herbs.

Design your deck for life. Design your deck with plants in mind.

8. Add a Bar to the Deck’s Design

Chances are high. You’re going to be enjoying a drink on your deck. Design a bar into the deck.

This can be an elaborate bar with a sink and fridge to make mixing a drink more convenient.

This can also be as simple as a wider flat top rail to place drinks on while chatting with friends.

Or add bar stools to sit and enjoy the view from without having to pull yourself up from the deck after.

A bar can make entertaining friends on your deck that much more relaxing.

9. Design the Deck for Grill or Barbeque

Next to enjoying a drink outside is eating.

Decks are great for enjoying a meal on. The only thing better is enjoying the sun while cooking that meal.

Design the deck with a grill or barbeque.

Not only will this give you a reason to be outside on your deck, but it will make cooking more enjoyable.

For tips on designing a deck for grillingOpens in a new tab., click the link.

Having the barbeque just out the door on the deck can even allow you to enjoy the taste of barbeque without having to eat outside.

10. Design the Deck with Built-in Seating

The convenience of benches on your deck is incredible.

With readily available place to sit, anytime on the deck.

Benches also create dual-purpose sitting area. Either with your feet on the deck or spin around and stretch out with your feet raised.

But benches can do more than providing a place to sit.

The greatest advantage of deck benches is storage.

Deck chairs will often have cushions that need to be cleaned up after use. Benches provide a convenient place to store the cushions without having to carry them into the house far away from the deck. Allowing you to quickly grab a pillow while sipping your morning coffee on the deck.

I have a friend. Whenever he comes over, he heads straight for the bench. Often walking right past chairs.

Designing your deck with convenient seating and storage of a bench.

11. Design with Multiple Deck Levels

Design your deck with diversity of areas, including height. One of the easiest ways to define space on a deck is steps. One or two steps down from the main deck bring you into a whole new area. On long wit the convenience of extra seating.

Just because you want a deck large enough to grill and dine on does not mean it should be all one level. In fact, often a deck is better if the grill is slightly higher than the dining area.

A small deck at the door height for the grill, with a few steps down to the patioOpens in a new tab. table, shaded with an umbrella, is delightful.

A few years ago, I built a deck that had a small deck for a single chair, surrounded with aluminum railing and a wood privacy screen on one side, with two steps down to the larger deck.

This design’s beauty was the convenient, intimate sitting area for the homeowner to enjoy while having a larger deck for entertaining.

The best of both worlds. All made possible by designing a tiered deck.

12. Design for Diversity of Sun on the Deck

In Calgary with our 333 days of sun, I love that number. A deck should be designed both for soaking up the sun and shade.  In fact, any deck.

There are days or moments when you will want to bake in the sun’s heat but others when you want cool shade. Don’t let the sky determine if you enjoy your deck. Design your deck to have both.

This can easily be done for a larger deck with an open sun deck leading to a lower deck with a pergola. Adding both shade and aesthetics of a overhead on the deck.

A cantilever or offset umbrella is a good option for a smaller deck lacking room for both. Conveniently allowing you to add shade to your deck or open it up to the sun as desired.

13. Incorporate Heating in the Deck Design

Even with many sunny deck days, heat adds comfort on cool evenings or fall days.

Extending when you can enjoy your deck.

When the sun goes, heating keeping you out on the deck.

When fall comes and the deck is cool, a heater can raise it a few degrees. Allowing you to enjoy being outside without a parka.

For recommended deck heaters or umbrellas, click hereOpens in a new tab..

Design your deck for both shade from the sun’s heat but also added warmth of heater for when the air is cool.

14. Design for Deck Traffic Flow

Backyard decks often serve as bridges to the yard. Transitioning us from the house down to the yard.

Because of this, a deck should be designed for ease of traffic, not to impede it. Allowing you to easily get to the yard from the house without navigating a maze of furniture and people.

First, design a deck for you do not have to walk around the table or move chairs to get to the steps. This may mean having the sitting area off to the side of the deck with a straight path to the stairs and yard. Adding an extra 4′ (1.2m) to the side of the deck to get to the yard.

This also means designing space for walking around tables or stairs wide enough for multiple people. A deck built to entertain 20 people needs to be designed for 20 people to use. One of the easiest ways to enhance traffic flow is with wider steps. Going from 3′ (0.9m) to 6′ (1.8m) allows two people to comfortably use the stairs.

However, you intend to use your deck, keep in mind how you are going to get there.

Design for traffic flow. Don’t make your deck the Los Angles of decks.

15. Design with Budget in Mind

Decks are not cheap, but they don’t have to blow your budget.

There are ways to reduce deck costs while including design elements.

I find the opposite is actually more true. Not that design elements should be deleted from the deck design, but the budget should be expanded to include them.

Before you start building, ask yourself if any of the above design elements would improve your deck. It is often better to expand your budget to make your deck more enjoyable and be used more often.

For you don’t have to spend thousands to fly to deck in a sunny location to relax. When you could have done it, out your backdoor without the expense and hassle of travel. All by spending a little more on designing and building your deck to be enjoyed more.

Figure out your budget before you start building. This will allow you to build a deck that you can fully enjoy. Instead of designing a budget deck, missing all the reasons for a deck.

Another advantage with a deck is often you can design a deck with room for furniture that will enhance the space when the budget allows but for now, a more basic design. Then as the budget allows, extra features can be added, if initially designed for.

16. Design to Minimize Deck Maintenance

We build decks to be enjoyed, not maintained.

Design using material that requires less maintenance.

There are many ways to reduce maintenance on a deckOpens in a new tab., material selection is one of the easiest. Using composite or PVC decking will remove years of sanding and staining your deck to prevent rot. Synthetic decking will also save you thousands over your deck’s life by not needing to pay someone to do the work.

Even more, than decking is railing material. Designing for low-maintenance railing will save countless hours sanding each individual spindle of the railing. Which takes more time than sanding the decking.

Aluminum railing is one of the most economical low-maintenance railing, which I recommend even with a wood deck. Composite railingOpens in a new tab. is another low-maintenance option that goes well with a composite deck design.

Design for material that adds to deck enjoyment, not maintenance.

17. Design the Deck Large Enough for Furniture

I was just reminded of this one, but it should not be neglected.

Years ago, a built a deck for a homeowner, with an overhead structure, multiple tiers, the works. All the things that make a deck great. Except…

When the deck table arrived, the deck became almost unusable. The large table taking up most of the upper deck, leaving little space for walking around the table. Forcing staged seating. At the end of the table, the person would need to sit down first and then remain seated until everyone else left the table.

Simple designing an additional 2 or 3 feet to the deck’s width would have made the deck more enjoyable. Design the deck with the end in mind, including the size of the furniture.

I hope these deck design tips help you build a deck that will bring you years of enjoyment. While helping you to avoid regret like the deck I built to small.

If you want more pictures of amazing-looking decks. Deck Designs, 4th Edition: Great Design Ideas from Top Deck DesignersOpens in a new tab. is a great book to browse through.

I enjoyed reading the ideas of 5 different deck designers, each coming from a different perspective, designing an entirely different-looking deck.

Be warned. This is not a deck construction and design book for the average homeowner’s deck. It includes 480 pictures of simply spectacular-looking decks. Many of these decks would not even fit in your standard suburban backyard, but it is delightful to dream.  

Kind of like reading RPM Magazine, few of us will ever own a dragster, but it is fun to read and dream. Deck Designs is this for decks. Amazing looking decks and tips, to enlighten your deck dreams. A few ideas you can even apply to your much smaller scale deck.

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

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