Last summer, I spent many evenings re-building our crumbling, rotten deck by hand. It was hot, dull, inefficient work. But it was also free, as our DIY budget dictated. And it went from a gravel-laden wasted space to somewhere we could rest chairs and, in theory, enjoy our garden.
Except…we didn’t. We had a lovely barbecue where we filled the garden with good friends and we ate and drank and spent a good deal of time squeezing past each other through poorly placed door in and out of the tiny kitchen.
Commonly for a Victorian terrace, our kitchen is a too-small-really extension on the back of the house, with a door in the corner to access the garden. It’s just a back door; useful for taking out the bins but it doesn’t make for a natural flow of movement, and it meant our deck didn’t become the extension of our living space that I had been convinced it could be with just a lick of deck stain.
Speaking of the deck stain – I sort of grew to hate it. Oops! After weeks building the thing, I rushed the decision to stain it in a warm mid-oak tone and it never really worked for me. Then there were the dove grey walls which I felt were too pale, and the world’s ugliest PVC window divided into no fewer than FIVE sections. I mean.
So, how were we to fix all these problems and turn the now-structurally stable deck into a properly useful space?
Fixing The Flow
The biggest problem was the flow. Until we fixed that, there was no point making the deck look nicer. We still wouldn’t be inclined to shimmy through the kitchen and squeeze through that corner-door-that-doesn’t-even-open-all-the-way-because-it-hits-a-cabinet.
So in early spring I made the decision to open up the back all with some French doors.
While our narrow little dining room wouldn’t allow for the statement bi-folds I would have loved, the charcoal grey doors with brass hardware are nevertheless a thing of beauty.
I used Safestyle for our doors. They haven’t sponsored this post (of course not, I wish!) but I do want to tell you truly great they were. I chose them because…they do doors, right? But from booking in the initial consultation, to choosing every visual element myself (which was handy for a control-freak-wannabe-interior-designer) to getting the whole job done in just a day, I was super impressed.
The cost for the whole project – building work to open up the wall, install the doors and re-plaster the walls – was £2,000 (though I did have to haggle down from £2,500 and yes, I felt like a total boss doing that).
So now our access was fixed, but if anything that warm oak stain (not properly represented in the pic above because of the thick layer of dust created by the door installation) and the pale grey walls bothered me even more now.
Distressing The Brickwork
Driving back from Cornwall one weekend, as we wound our way through countless rural Cornish villages, I became a little obsessed with the sight of agricultural barns with their charred black larch cladding, next to old brick farmhouses. The contrast between dark and light, sleek and roughly textured was perfect.
So a plan was born: I’d re-stain the deck much darker, and rather than repaint the too-pale walls, I’d distress them to reveal the brickwork beneath.
Removing paintwork from an exterior wall is an easy but almost indescribably messy job. Get a decent jet washer, take aim and go. Be aware that every single thing in the vicinity – including yourself – will be plastered in paint chips. I looked like a piece of human terrazzo within ten minutes.
Protective goggles and a mask are truly non-negotiable.
But also be cautious if you have any doubts over the integrity of the brickwork – pressurised water is a destructive force and can cause weak mortar to crumble. If in doubt, test on a discrete sample area before you really go for it.
Staining The Deck
If you’ve never stained a deck before, you might be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is. As far as DIY jobs go, it’s pretty straightforward. Invest in good quality deck stain – I used Cuprinol Anti-Slip Decking Stain in Black Ash and it’s really, really good. It applies easily, gives good coverage and dries quickly.
Remember to check the weather forecast to make sure it isn’t going to rain the same day you stain. And whatever you do, do buy a proper deck-staining brush. They’re designed to be just wide and rigid enough to easily cover the ridged design of decking boards.
However dark you’re going, you’ll want to do two full coats. The picture before shows how one coat will look – it’s a little patchy and uneven still. A second coat evens all that right out.
The Finishing Touches
With the same old furniture from last year (now sold out but there are similar chairs here, here, and here, and similar table here, here, and here), a few new shrubs and cushions (the patterned is Ikea and the pale pink is Made – now in clearance!), plus some bistro lights (that I strung up just after I took photos like the incompetent blogger that I am), we were done.
Now the deck is truly an extension of our living space. The French doors have truly transformed how we live in our home – the first thing I do when I get home on a warm day is throw them open.
And while our living and dining rooms have been turned upside down for replastering, this is currently our primary sitting area. Whether it’s coffee, crumpets and crossword (alliteration isn’t compulsory but it’s certainly appreciated) on a Sunday morning, or a cold beer on a Friday night (wild, I know), I think we’ve successfully designed a space and flow that works in both form and function.
Mission accomplished…until next summer.