Update Decks and Patios for Fall
A well-planned deck or porch can bring families new options for entertaining, relaxing, playing, even working. Now that the dog days of summer are fading, take advantage of décor and design tips from local experts to update your outdoor spaces in time for cooler weather.
Hit the refresh button
The heat and high traffic of summer take a toll on decks and porches. Just freshening up the space can offer a new look and longer life to outdoor areas, according to Molly Simmons, interior designer with Design Lines in Raleigh. "At the end of the summer season, everything is kind of crispy and ragged looking," Simmons says. She suggests refreshing pots with fresh fall plants and replacing old, melted candles with new colors and scents as easy ways to bring a fall feel to decks.
Refreshing the wood on older decks and screened porches also brings new life to outdoor living, according to Art Scherer, owner of Go Out and Play, a Triangle outdoor construction company.
"Use a rinsing and sudsing agent like Super Deck's Wood and Masonry Cleaner that will pull the dirt and the fungus out of the wood without any scrubbing or pressure washing," Scherer says. "You put it on with a little sprayer like a weed sprayer, wait for 10 minutes, and it gets all of the gunk out of the wood," he adds.
Fall entertaining finds
Keep your dinner gatherings outdoors this fall by getting creative with lighting as daylight hours start to diminish. "You may just think of light from the fan or candles, but you actually can purchase lamps that can stay outside," Simmons says. "It can change the atmosphere if you're having a party, just by adding that low-lighting."
An iPod docking station adds fun to outdoor spaces, according to Simmons. "You can have separate music outside that way, rather than just wiring speakers onto your deck or your porch," she says. "Anybody that comes over can pop their iPod in. It can change the mood pretty quickly just based on what music is playing."
To give outdoor areas a festive fall look, Simmons suggests adding throw pillows or accent pieces in fall colors. "Multiple tones of greens are nice," she offers. "There are so many browns and taupes or mushroom colors that can be found." She suggests heathery purples or cobalt blues if you want to go beyond traditional fall colors.
Cool, quiet relaxation
A comfortable seat is the key to creating an outdoor space ideal for curling up with a good book. Get creative with your deck furniture by adding a hammock. "It may not be ideal year-round because it takes up so much space, but if your furniture arrangement is flexible enough, then something like that can be nice," Simmons says. She suggests keeping the connectors up even when the hammock is removed so that reintroducing the piece is quick and easy.
"Porch swings and cocoon swings can be nice, too, if you have somewhere to hang it from above," she adds.
Water and wind accessories offer a touch of Zen and can work to counteract distant neighborhood noises like lawn mowers. "You can add in a small water feature if you have an accessible outdoor outlet to kind of change the feel of your space," Simmons says. "Wind chimes are also nice."
A new place to play
Decks and porches become fun kid zones by adding art tables, easels, or sand and water tables. Confining messy activities in an outdoor space allows for some creative freedom for little ones.
Simmons suggests adding game tables to covered spaces to lure teens and tweens outdoors. "One of my clients had a great big porch and ended up putting her pingpong table outside," she says. "It just stays outside year-round. They love it."
A variety of deck accessories are available that can bring enjoyment and togetherness to the whole family. Adding feeders for birds and squirrels is a great way to entice nature's little entertainers into your outdoor space. "People think about hanging hummingbird feeders around bay windows, but it can be fun to hang them around outside the deck, too," Scherer says.
Whistle while you work
Outdoor spaces can become functional workspaces with the right design. Protection from the sun to prevent computer glare is key when transforming a deck or porch into a temporary office. "In the direct sun, a large umbrella can help create a little shade," Simmons says. "You can also add a retractable awning. They can be electrified so that you can just flip a switch and they can extend for a nice amount of space," she says. "It also allows for a little coverage if it's kind of rainy."
Being able to check e-mail or access the Internet is often a requirement when playing catch-up on work. "Having wireless access on your deck can be really nice," Simmons says. "You can steal away by yourself with your laptop for work or play — e-mail friends, play on Facebook, whatever, rather than being tied to a desk or the kitchen table," she adds.
Sit back and enjoy
A fall facelift for decks and porches can turn an ordinary outdoor space into a new fun and functional room for the whole family to enjoy. "Kids camp out on them. Parents do their exercises on them, like Pilates," Scherer says. "We've done a lot of deck extensions over the years and people really like them. I think it changes the way a family lives."
Mary Parry is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chapel Hill.
Photo provided by Design Lines (Designed by Molly Simmons, ASID & Jeff Weatherspoon Photography)
Keep your deck looking its best
Art Scherer, owner of outdoor construction company Get Out and Play, offers the following tips to keep decks in top condition:
- Seal and/or stain your deck within the first year after it is built. Sealant is more important than stain. It protects your deck from the elements.
- Put sealant and stain on thick, especially on horizontal surfaces.
- Seal or stain when it's 60 to 70 degrees on a windless day if possible. Avoid heavy pollen days and rainy days.
- Be cautious when power washing older decks. It can blast off soft wood and create puddles that will degrade your deck faster.
- Use a wood and masonry cleaner to give older decks a fresh, new look without power washing.
Plants for Fall Containers
by Mary Parry
Fall-hardy plants make a striking accent in containers on and around your deck or patio. Karen Nash with Dickinson Garden Center in Chapel Hill suggests planting bulbs like daffodils (naturally deer resistant) under pansies in your outdoor planters. The daffodils will bloom up through the pansies in the spring for a container with a beautiful presence.
Nash suggestions the following options for container plants, depending on the lighting:
Sun-Loving Container Plants
- Pansies and Violas
- Huechera (Coral Bells)*
- Sedum (Angelina)
- Ornamental Grasses*
- Liriope (Variegated)*
- Low-Growing Junipers*
- Small Evergreens (Upright Junipers, False Cypress)*
- Vinca Vine*
- English Ivies
- Spreading Euonymus*
- Small Hollies*
- Ornamental Kale and Cabbage
- Small Mums*
Shade-Loving Container Plants
- Hakonechloa (Japanese Forest Grass)*
- Evergreen Ferns*
- Vinca Vine*
- English Ivies (Variegated)
- Euonymus (Winter Creeper, Woolong Ghost)
- Small Japanese Maples*
- Huechera (Coral Bells)*
- Hollies (Skypencil Holly)*
- Liriope and Mondo Grass*
Plants marked with an asterisk (*) are deer resistant varieties.
Play it safe with grills and fire pits
Outdoor fire pits and chimineas are popular outdoor accessories that can offer fun and warmth on a cool fall night. But local experts urge families to use caution and obey ordinances.
"If you choose to use a fire pit, it needs to be used on a concrete, masonry or other surface that will not burn, and be 20 feet away from any portion of a building. It's a good idea to use the same precautions with gas and charcoal grills. As with all fires used by adults for recreation, constant attention must be provided and an adequate means to extinguish the fire nearby."
— David Dillon, Apex deputy fire marshal
"A propane grill is safe. You may drop some meat juice when you're grilling, but with charcoal grills or chimineas, you have to be careful because sparks from the charcoal or wood fire can fly out and ignite any flammable material nearby."
— Art Scherer, owner of Get Out and Play