Deck is 'a new thing' that's special to owner Nice railing, great views and dog-friendly


October 05, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie & Randy Johnson

IT'S NOT the biggest deck in the city. It's not the most elaborate. It doesn't have a lot of levels, or a hot tub, or built-in seating, or integral planter boxes. No tree grows through it. But it does have a very nice railing, terrific views and, as far as Karol is concerned, it's the most beautiful deck in the world.

Maybe because it's her first deck (after a half-dozen houses), maybe because she has finally gotten her first French doors (from the deck to the kitchen addition), or maybe because it seemed to go up so quickly that she is still amazed at its existence -- whatever it is, something about this little deck seems pretty special.

So, one recent night while she was sitting out under the stars, she tried to identify what is so satisfying about this space.

Perhaps most obviously, it is "a new thing on the Earth," as author Michael Pollan wrote about his own unique place, a writing hut near his Connecticut home. Like the hut, the deck is man-made, it is brand new, and it gives a different vantage point to a familiar landscape. So that's one thing: It's a new look.

The deck is just 8 feet square, and it sits in the corner created by the new kitchen addition and the existing back wall of the house. It faces east and south, into the woods and the ravine that all the houses on the tiny street back up to. The house is a simple, circa-1912 bungalow, pretty square itself. So the deck is also appropriate; it fits the look and scale of the house. That's two.

Still, while it looks pretty simple, it has some interesting touches. The railing is nice: simple square balusters anchored at the bottom into a toe plate, and at the top against a 2-by-4 topped by a 2-by-6. There's railing on only one side of the steps, so they have a pleasant, open feel. The steps are wide and somewhat shallow, leading off the far back edge. It's three steps down to a square landing, then six steps down to the ground. As predicted, Karol's three small dogs (all Shih Tzus) found the open steps daunting, so there are three narrow slats across the front of each riser.

And then, because Karol happened to mention that she wanted finials on the stair posts, the carpenter put elegant ball finials on little platforms at the top of the posts at the head of the stairs, at the landing, and on the bottom post. The stairs are remarkably graceful, and the finials are a small touch that offers a lot of design oomph. So that's three: Good detail.

In one way, Karol was lucky, because construction delays gave her extra time to think about how she would use the new spaces. Not at all its least function, the deck would serve as the dogs' primary exit and entrance to the yard. This is terribly important to the dogs, and Karol wanted them to be comfortable. The shallow steps and closed risers make it easy for them to go up and down. It's so easy they all got the new routine within three or four days (although they are still baffled by the screen door, which they don't seem to see). So that's four: It's dog-friendly.

Karol loves to entertain -- one of the main reasons for enlarging the kitchen in the first place -- and the deck will be a pleasant extra space for parties in good weather. But as she continued to entertain with even less of a kitchen than originally, and then as the kitchen space opened up, she realized that the deck would be more of a private space than a public one.

Because of the way the deck is tucked into an ell, and because it faces the woods, it's not overlooked by any neighboring houses. Because it is about 6 feet off the ground, it feels a little like a treehouse. With a small potted tree and a couple of chairs and a table, it's furnished like a small room.

And indeed, that's the way she's used it. It's a place to take a cup of morning coffee and watch the rising sun glinting through the leaves, a place to spend a quiet Sunday with a pitcher of iced tea, the newspaper and a laptop computer, a place to retreat after dinner with a glass of wine to think over the day and plan for the next one. So that's the fifth thing: It's a haven.

As she sat on the deck with one dog in her lap and two at her feet, she thought that, first, all spaces should be planned so felicitously -- the marriage of form and function beloved by architects, but more elusive to the rest of us, who already have a zillion other things to think about and decisions to make.

Because our lives are so scattered, it's a good idea to have a little space built into a project, or some time before it begins, to think carefully about how the new area will be used -- or, more importantly, how it will be enjoyed. It's a good idea to spend a little extra money on details, because they transform the mundane into the marvelous. And it's a very, very good idea for everybody to have a place like this in their daily lives, a place that is cozy and pleasing and utterly gratifying. It can change not just your house, but your entire outlook.

Randy Johnson is a Baltimore home-improvement contractor. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail us at, or write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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