How to Plan the Ultimate Deck and Outdoor Living Space

March 21, 2023 | Exterior

A beautiful outdoor living space can be a true luxury, acting as a functional and special extension of your home.

This is the ideal place to gather with friends and family, dine al fresco, and make memories under the stars. It can also be a personal oasis, serving as your private getaway from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. From early-morning coffee at sunrise to late-night cocktails under the stars, a well-designed deck and patio can bring you joy all year long!

To get the most use out of yours, it’s important to prioritize comfort, usability, and design. Whether you imagine lounging poolside, grilling out in your luxury outdoor kitchen, or maximizing square footage, there are plenty of ways to transform your outdoor space into the retreat of your dreams. 

Today, we’re sharing how to plan this transformation from the ground up.

Start With a Purpose

Before you begin picking out furniture and fine-tuning your layout, start by deciding how you plan to use your outdoor space. A few questions to consider include:

  • How many guests do you want to accommodate?
  • Do you plan to host large gatherings, such as dinner parties or family barbecues?
  • Do you want a separate, quiet space where you can relax and unwind?
  • Will you have a designated area just for kids or pets?

Your answers will be personal to you, and they’ll help influence how you lay out and arrange your backyard deck or patio. When beginning an exterior design, it can help to approach the project like you’re creating the floor plan of a house. 

A small condo can be just as inviting and strategically designed as a sprawling mansion, and the same philosophy applies to your outdoor space. Whether your lawn is tiny or acres-wide, the goal is to make the most of the room you have. 

Create Separate Spaces

Once you have a vision of what you’d like your patio/deck design to become, it’s time to start brainstorming the layout. If space allows, consider creating individual, separate spaces for each different activity you plan to do, or type of event you plan to host.

For instance, if you want to entertain and cook, carve out a niche for an outdoor kitchen. Then, place a few chairs or a small sectional nearby for guests and loved ones to sit, eat, and converse. You can also designate an area for a fire pit, or set aside a plot for a garden. 

It can help to walk around your property, thinking about where you’d naturally gravitate to perform each activity. If you’re stuck on placement, think about ways to help the indoor/outdoor transition flow as naturally as possible.

For instance, the outdoor kitchen and dining area should be located close to the interior kitchen, so guests can briefly duck inside if they need to grab more flatware, spices, drinks, or table linens. If you’re dreaming up an outdoor entertainment space, try to position that area near your lounging spot, so guests can watch the big game without missing out on their conversation. 

It might take a little longer to get your layout just right, but you’ll appreciate it down the road when everyone can move around and enjoy the space easily. 

Maximize the Surroundings

As you sit on your deck and admire your backyard haven, you should feel peaceful and serene. If your backyard is already private and secluded, look for ways to highlight the beautiful views. This might mean cutting back on overgrown shrubs or pruning trees to open the space up a little. Or, you might consider installing a tranquil water feature, such as a water fountain or a small pond.

If you live in a neighborhood, it might seem as though privacy is at a premium. However, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your solitude. There are many attractive and functional ways to block out unsightly views, from layered hedges and screens to fences and stone walls. 

Some of these pieces can even pull double duty! For instance, a wooden pergola not only makes your backyard space more private but also provides much-needed shade. You can even plant flowering vines along it to add color and natural beauty to your patio!

Another reason to survey your surroundings before you start out? The location and position of your property can help you determine the best locations for certain areas. For example, you don’t want to invest in a beautiful fire pit only to find that everyone is sitting downwind from the smoke. It would be equally frustrating to design a gorgeous outdoor dining room right in the middle of a wind tunnel!

Remember that nature will play a starring role in how your outdoor space turns out, so allow it to help influence and direct your decision-making process!

Create a Foundation

Once you know where you’re headed, you can start transferring your ideas into reality. One of the first decisions to make is whether you’ll have a patio, elevated deck, or both. Many homeowners prefer the comfort of a covered patio that transitions seamlessly into an uncovered deck area, where they can enjoy the outdoors when the weather is nice. 

Let’s take a look at the most common ways to build each space. 

Backyard Patio

Your patio can be covered or uncovered, and as small or spacious as you need it to be. As you design the foundation, look for elements that enhance and tie into the nature that surrounds you. Some of the most popular materials include:

  • Flagstone
  • Concrete
  • Brick
  • Cut stone
  • Loose stone
  • Mixed materials 

While some of these options might sound too plain for your taste, remember that there are usually ways to dress them up and make them more decorative. For instance, you can stamp, brush, or score concrete to give it a unique appearance. You can also paint or tint it to add color and personality. 

No matter which material you choose, make sure your patio is sturdy and solid enough to support all of the weight you plan to put on it. In addition to the people who will stand on it, you’ll also have chairs, tables, and other types of furniture to consider. 

Backyard Deck

A luxury backyard deck is a great place to socialize, and can also work as a dining or recreational space. The four main types of materials used here include:

  • Wood decking
  • Composite decking
  • Engineered decking
  • Plastic (PVC) decking
  • Aluminum decking

There’s no right or wrong choice, and there are benefits and drawbacks to each material. While real hardwood decking remains one of the top design picks, it’s also important to keep in mind that it can rot, warp, and splinter over time, especially without regular maintenance and an annual deep clean.  

For this reason, many homeowners prefer the ease and convenience of composite, engineered, or PVC decking. These materials can be manufactured to look similar to real wood, but they feature built-in protections against many of the issues that plague hardwoods.

For instance, composite decking contains a mix of plastic and waste wood fibers. It looks like wood and feels similar underfoot, but it won’t wear down over time. It’s also UV-resistant, which means you won’t have to repaint or stain it. 

If you’re looking for a decking material that will truly outlast the elements, you may want to consider aluminum. While it might not be the material that first comes to mind when you picture your backyard deck, aluminum boasts the following benefits:

  • Lighter and stronger than wood, vinyl, and composite decking
  • Recyclable 
  • Mold-resistant
  • Insect-resistant
  • Weather-resistant 

While you might pay a little more for an aluminum deck, you can rest assured it will be an integral part of your home for years to come. 

Enhance With Plants

With the foundation complete and a clean slate in front of you, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll spruce up your outdoor space. One of the easiest and most visually stunning ways to transform it into a lush, green getaway is to add your favorite plants! Consider incorporating hardscape planting areas.

If you have a green thumb and enjoy the process, consider adding a separate, designated garden space. You can grow seasonal vegetables, wildflowers, or a combination of both. This can be a great spot for visitors to break off and enjoy a little peace and solitude, as well as a personal source of pride. 

Of course, you can also decorate with plants on a much smaller scale. Consider planting a few annuals in oversized planters and placing them strategically around your outdoor kitchen, conversation area, or dining space. If you’ve added a privacy screen or wall, create a vertical garden that grows upward, serving as a colorful focal point. 

Worried about keeping plants alive outdoors? You don’t have to be when you know the right varieties to select. Here’s a list of more than 20 container plants that will thrive anywhere you place them! 

Outdoor kitchen pavilion with stone walls, wooden beams, and bar seating in a garden setting.

Invest in Quality Lighting

Your backyard party doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down! With the right lighting design, you can extend the quality time well into the evening. Around your deck or patio, you’ll need a few different types of lights. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Spotlights
  • Floodlights
  • Up/down lights
  • Step lights
  • String lights
  • Bollard lights
  • Garden lights

Some lights are functional in nature. For instance, you can use step lights and bollard lights to illuminate walkways and paths, so everyone knows where to walk. In addition, spotlights and floodlights can help enhance security and brighten up key areas.

Then, there are lights that are more style-centric, like string lights and up/down lights. These add to the overall beauty of your backyard space, as well as create a warm and welcoming environment. To expand the feel of the area and add even more visual interest, consider incorporating lights in nearby trees, as well as around your water feature or fire pit!

Bring Your Dream Outdoor Living Space to Life

Are you ready to transform your property and increase your livable square footage? An outdoor living space allows you to do just that, turning your yard into a natural extension of your interior that reflects your style and empowering you to host any type of get-together you choose.

Our team at Michael James Remodeling can help you turn your backyard vision into a stunning reality that will last a lifetime. From decks and patios to outdoor kitchens, fire pits, water features, and more, we can do it all.

To learn more and jumpstart your project, contact us for a consultation!

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