Make the Most of Your Home's Deck with These Expert-Approved Outdoor Living Ideas
A backyard deck should be an extension of your home's interior design—with a few simple swaps, you can make this area a place where you and your family love to unwind.
We all know that getting outside is a great way to practice self-care and destress after a long day, but if you don't have a relaxing retreat that you look forward to spending time in, there's little incentive to head outdoors. That's why it's so important to make your backyard living space somewhere you actually want to visit. If you have a deck, some small adjustments can transform this area into an extension of your home, especially when you choose cohesive design elements.
Backyard decks come in a variety of layouts and materials. Though wood is the most traditional medium for a deck, more modern wood composite materials, like Trex, have become popular in recent years. Regardless of what your deck is made from, maintaining the materials is important in terms of safety and aesthetics. If your deck is already in good shape and just needs some upgrades and updates to make it more enticing, consider the cosmetic changes that are available to you: A fresh coat of paint or a new stain are easy, affordable upgrades that really can make a major difference. Remember that it's easier to do these updates on clean, dry, empty surfaces, so make sure there hasn't been any recent rain and that none is expected in the very near future. And though these types of minor changes can certainly be taken on as DIY projects, you'll find that there are many professionals who specialize in these repairs (and more advanced ones) should you want to go that route.
Once your backyard deck is in tip-top condition, consider bringing in elements that'll help make your time spent outdoors more enjoyable. You don't want to have to compete with indoor distractions like screens and climate control, so make sure that your deck has something to offer that your indoor spaces don't, like access to nature and wildlife. If you do want to compete with indoor comforts like heating and cooling, we have a few ideas for you, too.
In the end, the goal is to tailor your deck—and all backyard living spaces—to your family's needs. Think about what you like to do together, then let the design flow from there.
Add a Pergola
Adding a pergola above your deck space is a great way to introduce a barrier that can make spending time outside more enjoyable, says Rosario Mannino, principal architect of RS Mannino Architecture & Design Build. He suggests adding sheer curtains that will provide both privacy and prevent annoying pests like bugs and mosquitoes from crashing your garden party. What's more, these features will provide shade over a portion or all of your deck, which might make getting outside a little easier during the heat of summer.
Choose the Right Materials
When adding any new features to your deck space (like built-in storage boxes or seating), Mannino suggests avoiding man-made materials. "Natural stones and rot-resistant wood like Ipe and Cedar are much more timeless and will age beautifully," he says.
Select Outdoor Rugs
If you're looking for a quick and easy way to make your outdoor space feel like an extension of your home, Liz Walton, interior designer and owner of design studio Liz Walton Home, says an outdoor rug may be just what you need. They'll add texture and character to your deck, but they can also help separate an outdoor living space from your grilling and dining area, for example. Just make sure the rug you choose is rated for outdoor use, otherwise it could fall apart or become moldy after a few rainy days.
The main benefit to getting outdoors is that you get to enjoy nature, and our favorite way to do just that is by welcoming wildlife into your yard. Birds will flock onto or near your deck when there's a well-stocked bird feeder situated nearby. "Bird feeders are a fun way to interact with nature and discover different species of birds native to your region," says Walton. Check with local birding groups to see which birds are native to your area and choose a feeder and feed that will meet their needs.
Shop Now: Martha Stewart Real Copper Bird Feeder, $62.08, amazon.com.
Add Raised Beds
Whether you have a sprawling backyard or your outdoor space truly is limited to your deck, adding raised beds of flowers, greenery, and vegetables will help beautify your space. "A garden is a great and satisfying way to get the whole family involved in an outdoor environment," says Walton. "There's nothing more satisfying than reaping what you sow, and it is the epitome of a clean and healthy lifestyle."
Shop Now: QVC Easy Grow Planter, $182.42, qvc.com.
Bring in Bird Baths
Just like with a bird feeder, a bird bath can be an excellent way to bring local wildlife to your backyard areas. "When placed in a garden, bird baths help keep insects away and birds will help aerate the soil and clean up dead plant material," Walton says. Add one to the garden area just outside your deck or find a tabletop version to bring the birds even closer to you.
Add a Hammock
Outdoor lounge furniture is great, but there's nothing like lounging in a hammock, says Walton. You can purchase one that hangs from your deck's existing support structures or select one that comes with a stand that you can move around.
Add a Porch Swing
If you have a covered backyard deck, you may want to consider adding a swing. "An outdoor swing ups the entertainment value and is a calming and restful respite from what's happening indoors," says Walton. If your deck isn't covered or lacks rafters strong enough to support an outdoor swing, consider adding one on a stand.
Purchase Personalized Cornhole Sets
If your deck is large enough for activities, think about games that you and your family will enjoy playing together. Personalized cornhole sets are a fun option—the game is compact enough that it can be put away when it's not in use (freeing up that valuable entertaining real estate) and is low impact enough that you don't have to worry about disrupting the rest of your furniture while you play. "This classic backyard game transcends time and is a great way to spark a little friendly competition," says Walton.
Layer Throw Pillows
There are a large selection of outdoor cushions available, so don't feel like you have to settle for whatever came with your patio set. Upgrade your cushions or add decorative throw pillows to make your outdoor seating areas as comfortable as possible. The more enjoyable it is to unwind on your deck, the more often you will choose to do so.
Build an Outdoor Kitchen
If you're ready to make a major upgrade to your deck, an outdoor kitchen in the one to consider. "Outdoor kitchens are a great way to safely gather, enjoy good food, and relish in the beauty of the outdoors," Walton says. A grill, a mini fridge, and a sink, as well as a little counter space, will make a huge difference in your ability to cook and eat outdoors.
Invest in Heat Lamps
Don't give up on your deck the moment the weather changes. Instead, find a secondary heat source to keep your outdoor space operational after summer ends. Walton says heat lamps have become very popular in colder climates recently because they make it possible to enjoy your outdoor space year-round.
Create a Cozy Firepit Area
Firepits can be used year-round in any climate and they are a nice way to unwind after a long day, says Brooke Lang, design principal with Brooke Lang Design. "Firepits come in a variety of types that can scale to any size outdoor space, budget and functionality, from a smaller, portable bonfire to a built-in, freestanding natural gas fire table." Be sure to look for a deck-safe variety.
Select Mood Lighting
"Think about what vibe you want to set in your backyard: Do you want a classic farmhouse look or do you want a Bali-inspired theme?" Lang asks. "That will determine the types of lighting that will set the mood." String lights are always a nice option for a deck, but they're far from your only choice. Plus, a mix of different lighting types will give you a more complex, inviting ambience. "If you don't have the overhead space to hang lights, no problem: I love using classic tea lights for the table, surrounded vintage lanterns," she adds. "To take it a step further, also think about how you want to light walkways, patios, or your garden!" The final look should be cohesive.
Arrange an Outdoor Bar Cart
An outdoor bar cart just makes life easier, which is why it's the perfect addition to your deck. "You'll need a place to serve drinks, food, or store outdoor items such as blankets, bug spray, and extra planting supplies," says Lang. "Pro-tip: Repurpose an old console by bringing it outside and apply a coat or two of waterproof or exterior paint or stain."
Choose a Design with Pattern or Texture
If you're building a deck from scratch, think carefully about the design. "For a more temporary option, I love the puzzle-piece outdoor tile floors ($58.49 for pack of 10, overstock.com): They're affordable, easy to install and come in all types of patterns and colors," Lang says. But if you're working with an existing deck, not to worry: Lang says you can use a stencil to add texture to your existing deck, too.
Plant Container Gardens
You may have a gorgeous garden just beyond your deck, but you don't want to forget about adding lush, living details to this space. Lang likes the idea of adding a mix of container gardens to the deck, which you can enjoy up close. "If you have a balcony in an urban city, use hanging pots and fill it with seasonal flowers and plants," she says. "You can also start an herb garden, which will double as decoration and a fun way to bring fresh herbs into your meals at home."