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

By Pamela Porter and Katie Leporte
May 21, 2021
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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
Credit: 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 ($22, 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 to the corners of the pergola and to a pole connected to the handrail.

white and blue porch seating
Credit: Jason Donnelly

3. Refresh outdoor furniture.

Secondhand metal chairs and a table received a light sanding then several coats of Rust-Oleum gloss spray paint ($5, 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 ($14, Amazon).

jigsaw pattern on decorative rafter tails
Credit: Jason Donnelly

4. Add character to a pergola.

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

hanging planter with metal ring and flowers
Credit: Jason Donnelly

5. Decorate with DIYs.

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.

rattan chair with blue striped cushion and towel
Credit: Jason Donnelly

6. Plant colorful containers.

Versatile and mobile, container gardens are an easy and affordable way to add color and life to outdoor spaces. Include a few perennials, which can be moved inside 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.

hanging plants on porch
Credit: Jason Donnelly

7. Craft easy macramé hangers.

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 pair 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, try adding wood beads and more-intricate macramé knots.

white shelving with artwork
Credit: Jason Donnelly

8. Organize essentials with outdoor storage.

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.

copper grill near wooden porch
Credit: Jason Donnelly

9. Set up a grilling zone.

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. To perk up plain terra-cotta planters in just minutes, paint the top portion using outdoor crafts paint.

walkway with plant and gravel
Credit: Jason Donnelly

10. Install a walkway.

To prepare for a perfect walkway, level the area and frame it used treated 2x4s set into the ground. Fill the framed area 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.

corner of stair railing on wooden porch
Credit: Jason Donnelly

11. Choose budget-friendly deck materials.

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 vibe 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.

Comments (2)

Anonymous
May 21, 2021
Excellent ideas. Thank you!!
Anonymous
May 21, 2021
Excellent ideas. Thank you!!