11 Tips and Small Deck Ideas on a Budget for Your Backyard Oasis

Whether soaking in the sun or gazing at the stars, this small deck and patio is the perfect outdoor retreat.

With a shade-boosting pergola and cascading corner steps that extend an additional 4-1/2 feet, this modest 12x12-foot deck and patio boasts plenty of personality. Whether for soaking in the sun or gazing at the stars, the outdoor retreat greatly expands the family's living space. Alfresco beats indoor dining on an early summer day, and a pergola makes the experience even more enchanting by casting dappled light on the space below. Take a cue from this small-scale deck and patio with these budget-friendly ideas to step up your backyard living area.

wooden front porch with blue seating area
Jason Donnelly

1. Start with the right tools.

The right tools make a big difference when completing a project like this. For help in getting deck boards straight, perfectly spaced, and connected easily to joists, we loved the EasyGo board straightener ($46, Amazon) and Jig-A-Deck spacer tool ($26, Amazon). For the step corners, a miter saw proved indispensable.

2. Provide shade.

For a bigger break from the sun: Use a freestanding patio umbrella, fit a retractable awning onto the pergola, or install a sail canopy in the pergola's corners and a pole connected to the handrail.

3. Refresh outdoor furniture.

white and blue porch seating
Jason Donnelly

Secondhand metal chairs and a table received a light sanding, then several coats of Rust-Oleum gloss spray paint ($7, The Home Depot). For an easy project, cover old seat cushions with new fabric in fresh, breezy prints. If the fabric you love isn't weather-resistant, apply NeverWet Outdoor Fabric Spray ($16, Amazon).

4. Add character to a pergola.

jigsaw pattern on decorative rafter tails
Jason Donnelly

Cut decorative rafters and rafter tails using a pattern and jigsaw. For more-substantial tails, sandwich three boards together using wood glue and screws.

5. Decorate with DIYs.

hanging planter with metal ring and flowers
Jason Donnelly

Once cleaned, sanded, and painted white, this vintage metal birdcage stand opens up many creative display possibilities. We suspended a bud vase from twine, beads, and a decorative metal ring. You could similarly hang an outdoor lantern, wind chime, or bird feeder inside the circular frame.

6. Plant colorful containers.

rattan chair with blue striped cushion and towel
Jason Donnelly

Versatile and mobile, a container garden is a small deck idea on a budget that adds color and life to outdoor spacesInclude a few perennials, which can be moved to bring a touch of nature indoors during winter. Strategically placed, a series of hanging planters doubles as a subtle privacy screen and keeps fresh herbs handy for the cook.

7. Craft easy macramé hangers.

hanging plants on porch
Jason Donnelly

To make macramé hangers

  • Cut six strands of polypropylene rope to 6-8 feet, depending on the size of the planter and desired hanging height. 
  • Thread strands through a metal ring, then knot all strands together.
  • Separate the strands into three pairs and knot each to accommodate your pot and plant. 
  • Divide the paired strands and pair each with the strand to the other side, then knot. 
  • Bring all strands back together for a last big knot on which your pot will rest, leaving a length of rope tails underneath. 

To keep the rope ends from fraying, use a lighter to seal them.

While white is nice, rope also comes in various colors. Once you've mastered basic hangers, add wood beads and more-intricate macramé knots.

8. Organize essentials with outdoor storage.

white shelving with artwork
Jason Donnelly

Flanking the door with storage keeps seasonal essentials such as gardening supplies, yard games, and outdoor tableware organized and within easy reach. The surfaces are also convenient drop zones while fishing keys from a purse or pocket. Coated with white gloss paint and outfitted with coordinating bins, our narrow flea market finds take up little desk space.

9. Set up a grilling zone.

copper grill near wooden porch
Jason Donnelly

A backyard icon, this charcoal grill is upgraded with a metallic copper hue. White landscape rocks match the balusters and conceal grease or food stains better than pavers or decking. Paint the top portion using outdoor crafts paint to perk up plain terra-cotta planters in just minutes.

10. Install a walkway.

walkway with plant and gravel
Jason Donnelly

To prepare for a perfect walkway, level the area and frame it using treated 2x4s set into the ground. Fill the framed space with pea gravel and top with leveling sand, tamping to compress and level before setting pavers. For a pleasant mix of textures, frame the grill area with brick and fill with white landscape rock.

11. Choose budget-friendly deck materials.

corner of stair railing on wooden porch
Jason Donnelly

Cedar-tone treated lumber mimics the real deal but costs less. To save even more, use standard-treated lumber for the structural beams and joists under the deck that won't show. Copper post caps and white aluminum balusters lend a subtle modern sensibility without detracting from the home's traditional architecture.

Decks don't have to be huge to make a big impact. Extending living space just a few feet can establish a retreat worthy of the staycation you deserve.

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