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All Decked Out


Published: 07/30/2012

by Kimberley Seldon

Increasingly, we demand more from all our spaces, and the backyard deck is no exception. A functional and relaxing outdoor living space offers busy family members a welcome incentive to slow down.

Careful space planning and attention to design principles (yes, the same ones you use inside) will leave you decked out in style -- hopefully with no place to go.

Here's how to make the most of this fair-weather location.

* For comfortable alfresco dining, choose a table that complements the scale of the deck. For example, to accommodate a four-foot-diameter table, a minimum nine-foot by nine-foot space is required. As with indoor dining, allow four feet of clearance between the table and a wall or railing for major passageways.

* Position the barbecue far from traffic flow where smoke won't enter the house and where so you can enjoy grilling throughout most of the year.

* Incorporate mature plantings into the deck area. Tall evergreens or vine-covered trellises can provide privacy, wind blockage and shade.

* A change in flooring material or the direction in which the flooring is laid helps define distinct and separate areas such as dining and sunbathing. Even a slight modification to the pattern alerts people to changes in levels or heights, especially important if there are seniors or children in residence.

* Serving counters or planter boxes can also be used to define and separate different deck areas.

* Trellis can be used as a decorative screen to hide an unsightly wall or view. Plant it with climbing roses, clematis or my favourite, Chinese wisteria, to create a wall of flowers.

* Space under built-in seating, serving counters and elevated decks offers storage for barbecue and garden tools, toys and outdoor cushions. Forgo upholstered cushions unless you have adequate storage nearby. No one wants to dash outside every time rain threatens.

* Banquette seating maximizes limited space. Extra-plump seat cushions and pillows are inviting and can easily be stored beneath the lift-up lid of the banquette.

* Freestanding furniture offers flexibility and echoes the feel of interior spaces. Look for buffets to accommodate serving and storage as well as etageres to hold plants and pots. If wood is your choice of material, nothing will surpass teak for its durability and wear. An annual application of oil will keep it looking smart.

* Flower boxes enhance views from both sides of the railing.

* Include a variety of decorative items within the garden to personalize the space: statuary, gazing balls, birdhouses, fountains and urns provide detail and interest.

* Vary lighting sources: up lighting for sculptural effects; lanterns and torches for general illumination, and rhythmic walkway lighting for evening drama. Heat lamps are a worthy splurge if extending the season is a goal.

* Shade a seating arrangement with an awning, pergola or umbrella.

Enjoy your own private hideaway within the garden. All you need is a cozy chair with arms (to accommodate comfortable reading), a footrest, and a serviceable side table for that iced tea. If possible, position your private oasis at a good distance from the house, preferably so you can't hear a ringing telephone.

Home Decor columnist Kimberley Seldon is an internationally known designer and writer, as well as host of Design for Living with Kimberley Seldon on Toronto One television and a regular guest on City TV's CityLine. For more information, visit

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