Designing in the right backyard deck ideas can make the difference between an outdoor space that's just nice to look at, and one that becomes a real extension of your home when the weather is good.
To be able to host friends and family in your backyard can be such a joy, especially over the summer. And by incorporating just a few clever decking ideas when designing your backyard deck, you can really maximize its potential as an entertaining space.
Whether you're looking to host a BBQ, create a spot for laid-back summer evenings, room for alfresco dining or even to create a party space, we've rounded up some of our favorite deck ideas with a sociable twist to make sure your backyard is a haven for entertaining during the warmer months.
10 creative backyard deck ideas that are perfect for entertaining
1. Create a conversation pit
Conversation pits might be best known as a 1970s, carpeted throwback in a retro living room, but this take on the idea brings a modern edge to a backyard deck.
'These clients are in their mid-20s, and they love to host and entertain,' explains the designer, Cortney McClure (opens in new tab). 'Adding in a modern twist on a sunken deck was just a fun element to incorporate into the design. The architecture of the home is very unique, and with the backyard being an extension of the house, a simple deck just was going to cut it.'
This unusual seating design not only creates the perfect spot for entertaining, it streamlines the deck and also means you save on buying and storing garden furniture.
Just remember to include lighting somewhere in your design – you don't want to take a walk outside after dark and find yourself stumbling into your seating pit, after all.
2. Use a deck to zone a backyard
Decks can be used effectively to zone an outdoor space, even as a small garden idea. Where you're incorporating different areas designed for different functions, using a raised deck will help to add levels, demarcate these spaces and bring a sense of flow to your backyard.
Decks can also be useful in adding useable spaces throughout a garden where the ground might be uneven, or even on a gradient.
However, how a raised deck is employed will affect how easy it feels to use. 'A raised deck can make a strong visual statement and add a lot to the landscape if placed well, or could look pretty out of place and not be that comfortable to use if not carefully considered,' says Steve Ritchey of San Francisco-based Seed Studio Landscape Design (opens in new tab).
'The higher it is relative to the surrounding landscape the more this is true. In general I try to soften taller decks with multiple levels to gradually transition between the upper and lower spaces, but sometimes you get the chance to do something bold and I try to not shy away from that if the opportunity presents itself.'
3. Extend living space from the house
Not every home has a garden that sits at the same level as the house, but the best version of outdoor living can make the transition between indoor and outdoor spaces almost seamless for when the weather's right.
A raised deck aligned with the house creates a space that's easy to spill out into from the house, making it less of an effort to socialize outdoors than climbing steps and traversing across the backyard. And when something's low effort, it's much more likely to be used.
This idea has some other benefits too. 'While an elevated deck typically provides some means of circulation to the rest of the yard, your design should, at the same time, take advantage of the prominent, raised view it provides,' suggests Nathan Fell, founder of Nathan Fell Architecture (opens in new tab).
For this exterior renovation, the deck has become a real extension of the house, with comfortable seating and even a garden TV, making it a space that can be used for more casual entertaining as well as parties.
4. Create an outdoor kitchen on a deck
Outdoor kitchen ideas have become a bit of a phenomenon in recent years, and no entertaining backyard would be complete without one. A deck is the perfect place to contain an outdoor kitchen, and might even offer you a design solution when it comes to running utilities into your outdoor space without the disruption of digging up the ground.
Consider how you can best optimize a kitchen deck for your outdoor space. A larger expanse of countertop for example will mean you can use it as a serving space for food and drinks, while including a refrigerator means you don't have to trek back to the house for ice.
You can also follow the same design ideas for the kitchen inside the house too. Outdoor islands can make your outdoor cooking space much more social, and give space for guests to interact with whoever decides to take on grilling duty.
5. Design a social seating area
Certain seating arrangements lend themselves better to socializing, especially when you need a space that can adapt and provide a few extra seats at a moment's notice. Our top tip? Add stool seating into your outdoor seating ideas.
Not only are stools easy to store during winter months if you need to, but they can also double up as side tables and don't eat up valuable deck space when not in use.
Add them into a layout that includes a variety of seating options for the ultimate social space. Choosing separate chairs over one sofa is beneficial when space is tight, as it's much easy to face and converse with your guests.
In this decking design for an apartment patio in Barcelona, interior designer Marta Castellano (opens in new tab) has created an eclectic seating area with modern outdoor furniture ideas including occasional chairs, a sofa and even a swinging day bed.
6. Make sure you prioritize comfort
No matter the effort you put into the design of your outdoor space, if it isn't comfortable, nobody will stick around for long in it.
Cozy furniture is key, but you can also embellish it with extra soft furnishings to make your space even more welcoming. 'Select pillows and blankets constructed of fibers that can endure the elements,' suggests Kristin Bartone, of Bartone Interiors (opens in new tab). 'Pillow inserts with a polyester filling that are covered in indoor/outdoor fabric will keep your pillows from fading to a dull color or getting waterlogged.'
Also consider outdoor rugs, which can make it more comfortable underfoot if you want to really relax on your backyard deck.
If you're short on garden storage space for cushions to put away (after all, they're not for leaving out in all weathers), then consider making a slight shift in how you approach using the space.
'If like us, you’re stuck for space to store cushions made specifically for the outdoors we make it part of our daily routine to make our outdoor daybeds as comfortable and inviting as possible by bringing out our cushions from the living room,' says Jamie Watkins, co-founder of interiors brand Divine Savages. 'It's a quick, simple job that really does make the difference between us choosing to sit inside or out.'
7. Add a pool deck
If you're lucky enough to have a pool in your outdoor space, it's sure to become a favorite place for friends and family to spend time together during weekends and holidays.
Incorporating a deck idea with a pool is one of the best options, making a space that's good for children and adults alike to use by minimizing trip hazards.
'Wood doesn't conduct heat the same as some hardscape materials, so it can be really nice to step on with bare feet,' says Ryan Prange, owner of San Diego-based landscape designers Falling Waters Landscape (opens in new tab). 'The natural gaps in decking provide good drainage and slip resistance too.'
'It's important though to understand that wood will degrade faster around water,' continues Ryan, so bear in mind the upkeep and maintenance on a timber pool deck and whether a composite alternative might be a better choice.
8. Think about flow when designing a backyard deck
So much about creating a garden that's great to entertain in is making it enticing to guests, and this goes way beyond just the design features you've installed. You also need to think about how to plan a modern garden in terms of flows, how easy it is to move around in and the views across the space.
One way to use a deck as part of this flow is to make an elevated walkthrough to lead you through the space. 'A raised deck can act as a corridor or main artery,' says Ryan Prange. 'It's like a pier, it draws you out to a space.'
Stairs also need careful consideration, as their placement will change how a deck flows into the rest of the space. Wide steps that flank your backyard deck can be the most space optimizing way to create a transition between levels.
'A very wide stair may seem counter initiative for furniture arrangement, but because it offers multiple paths of circulation, it is much more flexible,' explains Nathan Fell, founder of Nathan Fell Architecture. 'Wide stairs are often used not just for circulation but are more likely to be areas where people will sit, talk and dwell in place, not just walk through.'
9. Choose the right outdoor lighting
To make your outdoor space useable in the evenings when entertaining, good outdoor lighting is a must. Fortunately, there are just as many great modern outdoor lighting ideas today as there are for indoors, and you can create a rich layered scheme using a mix of floor level lighting, freestanding lamps and overhead lighting.
'Whatever type of lighting fixtures you choose, make it soft, warm-color temperature light and provide the ability for dimming to suit the moment,' says Seed Studio's Steve Ritchey (@seedstudiolandscapedesign (opens in new tab)).
When designing a backyard deck idea, consider the lighting in terms of safety too. Using it to illuminate steps and level changes is particularly important for guests, who might not be so familiar with the terrain of your outdoor space when it comes to navigating after sun-down.
10. Make a firepit the focal point of your deck
Lighting isn't the only thing you'll need to extend your guests' staying power when entertaining in the garden. A source of heat is also important, especially for those months with warm, sunny days but where the temperature drops after dark.
Yes, you could go down the patio heater route, but a deck idea with a firepit also brings atmosphere that makes it perfect for entertaining.
You do, however, need to weigh up your options. Burning wood isn't always considered the most eco-friendly option for a firepit, and it can give off smoke that can make it less pleasant to sit around. Modern alternatives such as bioethanol fires produce heat with no smoke, and no need to keep scrambling for logs to keep it burning. You may miss the sound of a crackling wood fire however, and you can't toast marshmallows on one.
Should I choose a deck or a patio for my backyard?
'First look at the practical aspects,' says Falling Waters Landscape's Ryan Prange. 'For example; Is there a grade change? Is a deck a solution to capture a view without adding significant retaining walls?'
A deck is raised from the ground on timbers, making it useful for evening out uneven landscapes and sloping gardens. However, there's extra work and therefore cost that goes into building a deck compared to a patio, especially when more luxurious hardwoods are used.
'Decking is a good option for entering and exiting the house,' continues Ryan. 'There is something special about stepping from timbers into a home. It feels good on the feet, usually meets with wood floors inside, and allows us to have a pervious surface close to the house to avoid water issues against the foundation or siding.'
Paving tends to be more durable and long-lasting than deck woods, especially lower-grade decking materials like pressure treated timber. With the availability of thermally & acetylated treated woods like Thermory, Kebony and Accoya I don't see a reason for pressure-treated wood or plastic and composite materials for surface decking outside of cost considerations,' says Steve Ritchey.
Hugh is the Deputy Editor of Livingetc.com. From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2022.