Decks are the chameleons of outdoor spaces. They can take many forms to solve a multitude of issues. Decks can sympathetically connect a structure to its natural surroundings, expand views, preserve trees, and accommodate a variety of outdoor activities. Steven Ehrlich, FAIA, of Culver City, Calif.-based Steven Ehrlich Architects succinctly sums up the contribution a deck can make to a home's livability: “It's about dissolving the barrier of indoor/outdoor space.”

  • Credit: Paul Bardagjy

Space Invasion

This multi-level deck projects 20 feet from the guest house/party pavilion to offer panoramic views of the lake below. Supported by steel and concrete, the deck originates at the wine cellar dug into the rock face, works its way up to the main living level, flanks both sides of the pavilion, meanders through intimate gardens, and then leads to the sod roof, which doubles as the lawn for the main house. “We wanted the views from inside the pavilion to be unobstructed, so we terraced the deck,” explains architect Dick Clark. “Also, it allowed us to create these more cozy and private spaces overlooking the water.” Clark selected epi—a Brazilian hardwood—for the planks because it requires no maintenance. Similar to teak, epi is so hard it won't take nails; the planks have to be drilled and screwed into place. Painted blades of steel were configured into a railing that disappears into the view.

Builder: Bill Dorman Construction, Austin, Texas; Architect: Dick Clark Architecture, Austin; Landscape architect: Kings Creek Gardens, Dallas.

  • Credit: Dan Bibb

Land Slide

Sitting along the shore of Old Mission Peninsula in Lake Michigan's Traverse Bay, this 2,400-square-foot house bleeds down a gentle hill toward the setting sun and the water's edge. Architect Peter Bohlin's elegant interpretation of an aged summer lake house features this layered porch that wraps the western end of the structure and reaches out to the shoreline. Exposed Douglas fir framing and splayed columns support a sharply peaked roof overhang that traverses up a full story from the porch's sides. Shallow steps wrap around one another and eventually fade away into the pine needles. The wood is left unfinished to better weather the northern elements as well as to blend into the densely forested site.

Builder: Golden Rule Construction, Traverse City, Mich.; Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Seattle; Custom millwork: Norris Woodcraft, Traverse City.

  • Credit: Tim Street-Porter

Connect the Decks

Architect Steven Ehrlich's plan for a “sloping site replete with beautiful sycamore trees” includes a deck that interacts with the lot while providing spaces for socializing and privacy. Because the street level is a full story higher than the backyard, Ehrlich spanned the slope with wide stairs and platforms that offer staggered seating and connect interior spaces to a floating terrace and finally to the ground. “It becomes a theater for the yard,” the architect says. Copper fascia edges the 500-square-foot terraces and mimics the horizontal roof canopies that protect several walls of custom sliding glass doors. In addition to matching bands of copper, the stone flooring in the kitchen extends to the adjacent platform, and railing details are the same inside and out. Ehrlich maintained consistent materials inside and out to make sure the exterior extensions were integral elements of the house.

  • Credit: Tim Street-Porter

Builder: CER Development, Santa Monica, Calif.; Architect: Steven Ehrlich Architects, Culver City, Calif.; Landscape design: J. Griffith, Venice, Calif.

  • Credit: Brad Simmons

Ground Cover

“We wanted to break things up so it wasn't just a big football field of a deck,” explains architect and contractor Greg Staley of a 2,000-square-foot deck on this Hebron, Ky., residence. The house sits on a heavily wooded lakefront lot that Staley wanted to leave as unscathed as possible, so the rambling deck hugs the ground and weaves among existing foliage and trees. The wandering layout also accommodates the homeowners' wish list: fire pit with built-in seating, natural gas line to the grill, spa, sundeck, porch swing, built-in planters, bridge, and a trellis for climbing plants. Staley speced rough red cedar to match the home's exterior and kept the profile low to avoid the need for railings, so that the deck unobtrusively links indoor rooms to the great outdoors. It also serves as the clients' only “lawn.”

Builder/Architect: Staley Construction/Greg Staley, Architect, Ft. Thomas, Ky.