Everybody gets the same mental picture when they hear th && word "deck": a square or rectangular structure attached to the back of a house, generally built of pressure-treated lumber, with straight beveled balusters or lattice sides.
Well, stop it. There's no reason a deck has to be any of those things.
It doesn't have to be square, it doesn't have to follow the line of the house, it doesn't have to be (and probably shouldn't be) made entirely out of pressure-treated wood, it doesn't have to have prosaic architectural detail.
Think of the deck as another room. It may be outside and seasonal, but it's still additional living space. It should be as interesting as the inside.
Put away the cookie cutter. There are all kinds of ways to personalize the space:
* Triangular, trapezoidal, pentagonal or round shapes add interest and may make better use of space. The framing is only a little more complicated for a home deck builder, and a professional deck-construction outfit should have no trouble at all with a multi-sided or rounded deck.
* Spaces can be defined for different functions -- eating, sunning, soaking in the hot tub. Add a trellis overhead to shade a table; bump out a curve; change the level.
* Some of the most dramatic decks we've seen used decking patterns to define space: straight under the loggia, diagonal in the sunning space, or even a starburst in a rounded area. We're used to defining kitchens with tile and living spaces with carpet or wood, why not apply the same principle to the deck?
* Add a gazebo or screen house to provide shelter from sun or insects.
* Different construction materials can make a dramatic difference. Instead of pressure-treated wood, use cedar or redwood or some other lumber, stained, varnished or primed and painted. Even a painted surface will last for years if the original finish is good and it's well maintained. White-painted rails and balusters have a nice, old-fashioned look, even where the decking is redwood.
Pressure-treated wood is relatively inexpensive, but it has a tendency to split, warp and splinter. It's not a no-maintenance surface, it has to be treated with preservative to be maintained. In addition, there are a number of precautions manufacturers recommend when you're using pressure-treated wood: work outdoors; wear a mask, goggles and gloves; wash up thoroughly before eating or drinking; don't wash work clothes with family laundry.
OK, so you don't want to paint the whole deck every five years. Think about using pressure-treated wood only for support structures (posts, joists, beams) and using cedar or redwood for decking and trim. The initial cost might be higher, but, with care, it will last longer.
Stop and think about materials and design. Even if there's not a historically correct deck model to cling to, a little imagination can go a long way in making your 20th century amenity blend in with an older house.
Next: Deck construction.
Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.
If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.