Decorating Ideas: Decks and Patios
With all the great weather we’ve been having here in South Georgia, I’ve been dusting off some of my decorating ideas. I haven’t done much indoors, as I’ve been focusing mostly on our deck. In the warmer months, we spend a lot of time outdoors, and in the summer, I practically live in the pool. Our pool is surrounded by our deck. We have a lot of family and friends nearby, and we enjoy hosting events on the deck. I find that much easier and far more enjoyable than having a crowd in my house. Everyone seems more at ease outdoors, and the kids can act like kids, so most of our gatherings are laid-back and casual. We recently hosted a big fish fry and shrimp boil, and I wanted the deck to look nice for that. I mean, I would have “fixed up” the deck for pool season anyway, but the party prompted me to do it a little earlier this year. I decorated the deck and refurbished the patio furniture on a tight budget, a little work, and a little creativity. I’m including some decorating ideas here, along with some photos, to get you started.
Cheap Decorating Ideas
I’ve been using cheap decorating ideas. We just had to spend much of our disposable income on taxes, so there wasn’t much money left for decorating and sprucing up our deck. I did want it to look attractive, though, and I also wanted it to be functional and comfortable. In my opinion, decks are for using – not just for looking at! Our deck functions as a combination of living room, outdoor dining room, kitchen, playroom, garden, and spa. You don’t need a huge decorating budget to make some big differences in the appearance of decks and patios. Refurbishing your outdoor furniture is a good way to start, and doing so it fairly inexpensive. Even small touches and cheap decorating ideas can add up, especially when your efforts are coordinated.
Before you get started, do some exploring and some planning. If you don’t have at least some basic thoughts on the direction you want to go, you’re going to be overwhelmed once you start shopping for items. Get some deck ideas from magazines, television shows, friends, and the internet. If you happen to like some expensive ideas, find a way to turn them into cheap decorating ideas, or substitute them with something similar.
We really enjoy decks! I heard a builder on television the other day make a statement that I totally agree with. He said decks are adult versions of tree houses. If you think about it for a minute or two, you’ll probably agree with the opinion. I always wanted a tree house as a kid, but I never got one. Perhaps my adult obsession with decks stems from that.
My first deck was large and was very well built, but it didn’t have much character. It was basically just a rectangle, so it wasn’t very interesting. Our current deck is much more interesting, and it’s also more functional. It’s a great place to cook and eat, to have parties, to sit and visit with friends, to sunbathe, to swim, and to relax in the hot tub in the winter months. Sometimes I take my coffee there in the mornings and watch the birds and squirrels at the feeders, which provides peaceful solitude.
Decorating Your Deck
Before you begin the actual process of decorating your deck, try to decide on a color scheme. Personally, I like to use two main colors and use a few accents to add another color or two. Color has a lot to do with mood and atmosphere, so you can create a certain "feel" to your outdoor living space just by selecting certain colors and shades.
Generally speaking, colors are categorizes into three types: warm colors, cool colors, and neutral tones. You don't have to choose all your colors from one category. It's your deck, so choose any hues you like! In case you're wondering about which colors are warm, which are cool, and which are neutral, I've created the following table. Perhaps it will be helpful when you're trying to decide on a color scheme for decorating your deck or patio.
Before we added a deck onto our home, I got some deck ideas from books, magazines, and the internet. I had some of my own ideas, too. I found out quickly, however, that my husband and I had very different visions when it came to decks and patios. Since he was building the entire structure by himself, I agreed he should pretty much have free reign in the deck design.
We already had an above-ground pool, and we wanted part of the deck to be built around our swimmin’ hole. Hubby did that, so it’s like our pool is built in. You can see what I mean from the photos. Basically, our deck area has three levels: the ground level, the first level, and the second level. The ground level is covered with brick tiles, and we use it for cooking. Steps from the cooking area lead up to the first level of the deck. The first level includes a sitting area, a hot tub, and a dining area with two tables. One table is shaded by a patio umbrella. Leading from the first level, steps go up to the second level. The second level includes the pool, an area for sunning, a bird and squirrel feeding station, and another table, chairs, and umbrella.
The cooking patio is the perfect place to use the charcoal grill, the gas grill, and the fish and turkey fryer. It’s also where we fire up the big cooker for boiled shrimp, Low Country boils, and crab boils. Because this area has a brick floor, we don’t have to worry much about fires. Also, the area is adjacent to our kitchen door, which makes it handy for preparing food. In the winter, we sometimes use this area for our fire pit. At such times, we place some deck chairs around the fire to enjoy a cold night outdoors.
Part of the deck is enclosed by a wooden privacy fence, and the rest is flanked by a railing. We can close off the pool area and lock the gate, which is safe and convenient when we have toddlers around. Hubby used treated wood, and we haven’t painted it. I prefer the look of weathered wood to painted wood on decks. I think it reminds me of my favorite ocean pier.
If you have a deck or patio, or some other outdoor living area, you probably have patio furniture of some sort. After all, you have to have somewhere to sit and relax. Otherwise, what’s the point of having decks and patios? Of course, some decks have built-in benches and tables, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll need some outdoor furniture.
Patio furniture can run into some big bucks, depending on what type you get. Some sets can cost thousands of dollars and be extremely attractive and elegant. In my opinion, the patio furniture should be in keeping with the deck. In other words, if you have a big fancy deck, you’ll need big fancy outdoor furniture. If you have a more rustic deck, you can get by with cheap patio furniture. Another strategy is to have a mix of cheap patio furniture and a few nicer pieces as focal points.
Before you invest in patio furniture, be honest with yourself about how often it will get used. If you spend a lot of time in your outdoor living areas, nice patio furniture can be a worthwhile investment. On the other hand, expensive outdoor furniture that will rarely be used is a waste of money. You need to remember, too, that just because outdoor furniture is more expensive doesn’t make it more comfortable or more functional. Keep that in mind when you’re shopping for outdoor furniture.
What pieces of patio furniture will you really use? You’ll most likely get a lot of use out of a dining table and chair set. If you enjoy sunbathing, you’ll get good use from a lounger. If you enjoy kicking back and relaxing on the deck, Adirondack chairs are hard to beat. Be careful with more “specialty“ pieces, however. I know several people who have laid out a lot of money for fancy bars and bar stools, and they never use them. The same goes for hammocks, swings, and gliders. If you’ll actually use such items – fine. If you won’t, though, your money and deck space will be better spent on something you and your family will use and enjoy, even if they’re not as trendy or fashionable.
Cheap Patio Furniture
Most of our outdoor furniture is cheap patio furniture. I picked it up at discount stores, thrift shops, and from yard sales, for the most part. I have no problem with plastic or resin patio furniture, as long as it’s sturdy. Stains and nicks don’t bother me, as they can be cleaned and spruced up with paint. The same goes for wooden and metal pieces.
To paint plastic furniture, I use spray paint. I don’t skimp on the paint, as good spray paint is going to hold up a lot better than cheap paint. For best results, use spray paint that’s made especially for plastics. For my recent deck projects, I used Rustoleum and Krylon. I chose a couple of different shades of two basic colors: red and green. First, I rinsed off the furniture, then I scrubbed it with soapy water and a brush. I then rinsed the furniture well and allowed it to dry completely. Place the furniture on a large drop cloth. I always turn the furniture upside-down and paint the bottom first. Shake the can of spray paint well, and hold the can about a foot or so away from the piece of furniture. Use a back-and-forth motion for painting, applying a thin coat of paint. Once the first coat is dry, apply another coat or two. For the top side of the furniture, I usually apply four or five coats because that side will get more wear and be more visible.
You can use basically the same process for painting wooden deck or patio furniture. I had an old bench that had belonged to my mom, and it looked pretty bad. I had to sand some bad places in the wood first, and then I had to really scrub it hard to remove years of grime. I used an olive green spray paint on the bench and dressed it up with two small outdoor cushions. I now use it in a sitting area, along with a glass-top wicker coffee table and two chairs.
And speaking of wicker furniture, it looks great on decks, but real wicker doesn’t hold up well outdoors. I have a wicker and glass table I use on my deck, but it’s treated to be more weatherproof. Hubby sprayed the wicker with several coats of polyurethane. Also, you can find faux-wicker outdoor furniture that’s made of a type of plastic or vinyl, so it’s much more durable outdoors than natural wicker is.
Nothing dresses up patio furniture like outdoor cushions! That’s especially true with cheap patio furniture. Using bright outdoor cushions and throw pillows in otherwise ho-hum furniture takes the focus off the less-than-attractive furniture, itself. Bright, attractive cushions can really make tired old patio furniture “pop”! Comfy cushions make decks more inviting, too.
I found some cute, inexpensive outdoor cushions at Walmart and Kmart. For my lounge chair, which is used a lot for sunning, I bought a full-length cushion with stripes of red, green, and cream. For the two Adirondack chairs that flank the lounger, I found two red cushions with a muted print.
My glass-top dining table and large plastic chairs on the upper deck are monochromatic and “blah.” Even the umbrella on that table is taupe, just like the chairs. I really don’t want to paint the chairs, so I decided to place colorful cushions in them to provide a splash of color.
If you want your outdoor cushions to be part of a special theme but can’t find just the right ones, create your own. If you can sew, that’s great. If you can’t sew, find solid color cushions and apply your own designs with fabric paint. Stencils work well for this. You can find stencils and fabric paint in the craft section at Walmart.
In the fall and spring, while it can still be a little cool outdoors, you might want to add a cheap throw or two. Fold a throw neatly and drape it over the arm or back of the patio furniture. If you want to enjoy being outdoors on a brisk day or chilly night, you’ll be all set!
Landscaping - Outdoor Plants
Landscaping can be a big part of your deck decorating ideas: natural plants and trees and/or potted outdoor plants. One side of our deck is lined with tall shrubs. There’s a wisteria vine that drapes over the privacy fence at one end, and I think it adds a nice touch. The old man has wanted to eliminate the vine several times, but it’s really pretty when it’s blooming with clusters of purple flowers.
I use outdoor plants in pots, too. Some are in the form of hanging baskets, some sit on tables, some are in wrought iron stands, and some sit on the deck floor. I use plants and vines with different shades of greens, and I use flowers in reds and yellows. I use a variety of planters. I found some small plastic planters with prints in the colors I’m using, and I placed one of them on the small dining table – the one that doesn’t have an umbrella and gets full sun.
Here’s another idea for outdoor plants: paint your own clay pots. Natural clay pots are inexpensive, and you can give them some pizzazz with acrylic paints. I did one in green, red, and cream, in sort of a block-striped pattern. I used painter’s tape to guide me. You can use acrylic paints and brushes or paint pens to decorate clay planters. If you’re not good at drawing or painting, you can use stencils, geometric designs, or very simple motifs. With a round sponge brush, for example, it’s super easy to create polka-dots. By the way, you can paint plastic painters, too.
You can also use some interesting “planters” that aren’t actually planters. Over the years, I’ve used old metal coffee pots, barrels, crockery butter churns, large crocks, cauldrons, and big metal milk cans. If the container doesn’t have any holes for draining, you’ll need to add some pebbles or gravel at the bottom, under the soil. This layer will allow excess water to drain away.
You probably have a railing around at least part of your deck, which you can use to your advantage with landscaping. Last year, I had a few flowering vines planted in pots next to a rail, and they grew up and around the railing and spokes. The outdoor plants made a bold and interesting display! Unfortunately, they died over the winter.
You can also use outdoor plants to create privacy. Use tall evergreen shrubs in large planters around the edge of the deck, or use a tall trellis and plant vines to climb the structure. Another idea for this is the create a tall vertical garden. You can even use a metal baker's rack and fill the shelves with flowers and/or foliage. For larger areas, use two or more matching baker's racks or outdoor shelving units. If you have some sort of structure or header over the area that needs some privacy, you can create a simple "privacy screen" by hanging lots of plants at different heights.
When you’re using outdoor plants for landscaping your deck or patio, it’s often best to stick to one or two basic colors or color families. That will provide some unity and “flow” to your outdoor décor. I pretty much stick to shades of red and yellow flowers on my deck, and they help bring out the colors in my other items and provide a continuation of my decorating ideas.
Some of my decorating ideas for our deck include outdoor décor. First of all, I chose the colors I wanted to use. I chose reds, greens, cream, neutral taupe, and a few small splashes of yellow. I used solid colors, stripes, and small prints. The colors are used in the patio furniture, in the umbrellas, in the outdoor cushions, and in the outdoor décor. And as I said, I even use outdoor plants and plant containers to echo my color scheme.
I found some useful items at my local Dollar Tree, where everything in the store is just a buck. They have silk flowers and plants, vases, wind twirlers, small planters, baskets, candles, plastic fruit, grapevine wreaths, and natural willow wreaths. They also have ceramic items that would work outdoors, including frogs, rabbits, snails, and lighthouses. I also found a cute hanging metal frog in red.
I hung the metal frog from a hanging basket of flowers. I bought two of the willow wreaths – a small one and a larger one. I decided to use the larger one to encircle a grouping of candles, but I didn’t like the natural color, so I painted it with acrylic paint and a brush. I mixed burnt sienna with water to create sort of a stain to use on the wreath. For the smaller wreath, I spray painted it the same color I painted the wooden bench: olive green. I hung it on the brick wall above the bench, just beneath a metal gecko.
Other cheap decorating ideas you might want to consider involve plates from the dollar store. Choose plates in your color scheme, and purchase some plate hangers, too. Hang the plates separately, or make a grouping. If you want to be really creative, paint designs on the plates with glass paint and seal the design with a fixative.
You might also want to consider using items and objects from the natural world for your outdoor décor. I’ve used seashells, driftwood, hornets’ nests, bird nests, cut flowers, cypress knees, a steer skull, shed deer antlers, rocks, pinecones, glass stones, dried twigs, interesting seed pods, and grapevine wreaths. All of these are cheap decorating ideas. In fact, they’re free! You might also want to use a basket or bowl of fruit. I do this sometimes in the fall, when I can fill the spatterware bowl with apples, gourds, and squashes. Also during the fall months, I often decorate my deck for Halloween and Thanksgiving, with pumpkins, scarecrows, and Indian corn. Our autumns are mild, so we can still enjoy being outdoors then, and the fall decorations make our outdoor living spaces fun and festive!
Another type of outdoor décor you might want to use on your deck or patio are garden totems. You can buy these, or you can make your own. Use plates, wine glasses, fish bowls, and saucers. Create the totem tower by gluing the pieces together with E6000 glue. If you want to place objects inside the bowls or globes, you’ll need to secure them before gluing the pieces of the totem together.
We use a couple of examples of metal art on our deck, too. I already mentioned the metal gecko, which I found for $7. Hubby found a rustic sunburst in sage green, and he hung it on the privacy fence by the pool. We also found a sun sculpture in a brick color, and we hung it on a brick wall that adjoins the deck. I think wire sculptures would look good on a deck, too, and they’re usually inexpensive.
For some soft lighting, use lots of candles. I like to group my candles, but you don’t have to. You can also make a mini tabletop fire pit for very little money. By a small candle – wax, soy, or gel – and place it in a metal, glass, or ceramic bowl. Surround the candle with tiny seashells, pebbles, or colored aquarium gravel.
Other decorating ideas for outdoor décor could include metal lanterns, Japanese paper lanterns, wind chimes, wind socks, rugs, fountains or other water features, thermometers, sun dials, whirligigs, statuary, flamingos, bird baths, bird houses, bird feeders, flags, strings of lights, tiki décor, outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, trellises, wind sculptures, gazing balls, wagons, carts, tin signs, and wooden signs. If you decide to use wooden wall décor, make sure you treat it first with a protective sealer that makes it impervious to moisture.
I saw another neat idea for outdoor décor in a magazine last week. The deck in the photograph had a tall privacy fence around it, and the owner had hung up a large, colorful fabric kite that was shaped like a bird in flight. I found some kites at the dollar store, but I didn’t think they were appropriate to use for my purposes. I think I’ll check out the toy store for a larger selection of kites.
When you’re considering decorating ideas for your deck, patio, or other outdoor living areas, choose things you like. There’s no wrong way to go about it. It’s your deck, and it’s an extension of your home, so do what makes you happy. You’ll probably spend more time there than anyone else will. If you choose outdoor décor based only on the opinions of others, you won’t be happy with the results. Yes, I’ve provided some of my personal thoughts in this article, but they’re only my opinions, and maybe they’ll help prompt your own creativity and imagination. Decorating a deck should be fun. Give your deck or patio your own special touch. Be unique and make your decorating ideas personal!