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3 Simple MUST HAVES For The Ultimate Rooftop Deck (The Sunset Is Calling!)

I’m not sure if we have a mission statement here at EHD, but if we had to make one for right now it would be something like: “we strive to teach others the art of zhuzhing their outdoor space for a pandemic summer.” Outdoor content is useful right now because well, for the obvious reasons and we firmly believe that your patios, yards, and balconies can all be living their fullest life!

So we’ve chatted budget backyards, styled out 3 new outdoor spaces, did a reader-submitted DIY post, talked tiny balconies, and even showed you our own team’s backyard plans. So what’s missing? Come with me, we’re going to the ROOF people!

A lovely reader from in our EHD community (sign up here if you haven’t already) asked this insightful question on our “join the brainstorm” page:

To which I replied something like: NANCY, YES THIS NEEDS TO BE A POST! because I genuinely love to use all caps to show people my excitement and hopefully they feel like I’m not screaming at them. But seriously, townhouses with rooftop decks seem to be popping up all over (I know from experience), so why not talk about the best practices for designing a functional one? Okay so now that you know this incredibly fascinating and detailed backstory on why I’m writing this, let’s get into it. 

A while back my family moved to the most “city-esque” area of suburbia (what a contradiction) and set up home in a tall and skinny urban townhouse that’s lacking any sort of “yard” type thing that would come with any traditional suburban home. There are, however, 3 nontraditional outdoor spaces: a small front porch, a little side balcony, and a BOMB rooftop deck that spans the entire length of the house. So NATURALLY, the outdoor deck is where we’re focusing our time and energy, because that’s our backyard replacement.

So we’ve been working on getting this rooftop deck together for about a year, and we’ve officially landed at a place where it’s VERY functional. Now please don’t yell at me because it’s not perfectly styled & photoshoot ready. I know we could add some more fun pillows, throws, plants and maybe do a cute wood DIY wall instead of all the stucco, but this is real life and #organic:

So today I’m not teaching you how to style out the perfect rooftop, but I am teaching you how to BUILD IT FROM SCRATCH to make it FUNCTIONAL so you and your (virtual) guests can use it every day.

STEP ONE: Decide what function the space should serve, then build the layout

This can be the hardest part because much like a lot of backyards and outdoor spaces, there’s a big square and endless possibilities. Think about what function you want this space to serve. Do you want it to be an entertaining space? Think about adding lots of comfy seating and maybe a bar. Do you want it to be a space for you to read and relax? Create room for a hammock or hanging chair. Think about what function will best serve you, then create zones for each area you want, this will break up your square and make it feel more intimate and inviting. Here’s the layout we decided to go with for our roof:

So for our space, we knew we wanted a lounge, bar area, and an outdoor dining area (bbq area would be a plus). For the sake of time and the fact that our dining area is a complete dump right now, we’re going to focus on the lounge/bar side of our rooftop since it’s closer to being done (dining table zone on the other side is for another day, sorry!)

STEP TWO: Add a “floor” and a “ceiling”

So you’ve created your zones. Again, that could be a hammock and dining area, a bar and firepit lounge, an outdoor movie zone with a bbq/outdoor kitchen. You have the layout idea that works best for you and your needs, so now make it feel like a room. The EASIEST way to do this is to focus on the foundation. What’s below you and what’s above you? Most rooftops (like ours) have this nasty stucco floor and walls or other alternatives that aren’t so “design-oriented” because, well, they’re roofs for christ’s sake and they’re just trying to keep the rain out of your house. So this is where you come in. From budget-friendly to not so much budget-friendly: add a rug, paint the floor, add astroturf (real grass is ideal if you can figure out a way to do it), add a wood deck or tile across (like Em did on her patio). This gives your space some instant style and will make everyone feel more comfortable up there. Here are some roof flooring ideas:

And if you want to get real fun and crazy…

image source

See what I mean?? It’s hard to ooh and aah at a design that’s filled with gross flooring. It’s truly an essential.

Next, think about what’s above you. There’s no ceiling on a rooftop, so what can you put up there that makes the space feel cozy and intimate?? Some good “ceiling” options would be: string lights (very budget-friendly), an umbrella (also budget-friendly) or a pergola (not usually that budget-friendly but looks nice). Creating the ceiling is a good time to think about when you’ll be using the space most, which leads me perfectly into my next step:

STEP THREE: Add heat or shade (or both)

via mr. kate

Are you going to be using this space mostly in the day, night, or split evenly?? Weather on rooftops is way more extreme than in any backyard because you’re up HIGH and you’re that much closer to anything coming down from the sky. We use our roof mostly at night for a pre or post-dinner hang, so we focused on making it warm when it gets cold and windy. So we invested in a firepit and two standing heaters that provide the MAXIMUM amount of warmth we need for any rooftop gathering. If you’re using your roof more for day time activities, I highly recommend getting an umbrella or a pergola if you have the budget for one. This will give you the most shade (and you’ll most likely need a lot of shade). Just make sure you seriously secure these either by getting a strong base or using hooks secure them into the roof’s structure to make sure they don’t go anywhere when it gets windy.


We had a huge debate over what a conversation piece actually is on our insider community and in our EHD zoom meetings because I was utterly confused. I asked everyone: what the heck is a conversation piece? Is it just something weird and unexpected? Or is it just something that people comment on when they show up to your house? Does it have to be an oversized thing? I’m still confused about the real definition, but for this post, I’ve landed on “something that makes your space unique & adds interest” and a second definition is “one of the first things people comment on when they walk into a room”

So I guess it’s those two things..but now how do you find those things??? Finding a conversation piece for any room can be a real challenge, and now you have to find one that can work outside which is way harder (weather is a real thing to think about). You really do have to think OUTSIDE THE BOX (no pun intended but yes it was bc outdoor content). Can you guess what Emily’s conversation piece is on her patio?


photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: emily’s patio reveal

If you guessed the giant bird, I believe you’re right.

So when it came to getting a conversation piece for our roof, unfortunately, I couldn’t find any giant birds at the flea market and besides, the wind would probably blow it off the side anyway (wouldn’t THAT be a sight to see). So instead we invented our own luck and had this sign created for the space. If you didn’t look at my name in the byline and laugh already, you can laugh now: my last name is Wackerman. So obviously, we had to lean in when my boyfriend came up with the idea to hang a sign that said “Wack Shack.” It was too good to not immediately contact an Etsy seller and see what the deal was for getting a sign. And thus, our conversation piece was born:

I’m not kidding when I say this cheesy but VERY fun sign made our rooftop go from drab to fab. I know there’s still a ways to go with this roof but boy when we threw this sign up there, it CHANGED THE GAME. It’s such a statement piece and every time someone comes up here, they have to say something about it. So heck yes that meets our conversation piece definition! Wow I’ve always wanted one of those and it feels good.

So there you have it! The 3 (with an optional 4) main things you need to build a functional rooftop. The design we’ve created thus far was fairly budget-friendly (especially compared to any tiling or pergola construction options). So if you want a budget-friendly method of getting the lounge of your dreams without ANY renovation, feel free to follow the steps we did 🙂

Hope that helps! Let me know what you guys think & I’d love to know if you have any rooftop tips of your own! We’re still chugging away at ours so as always any additional design advice is much appreciated. Have a happy Thursday xx

Opening Image Credits: Design by Andrea Jaramillo| Photo Christian Torres

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3 years ago

What brand of Fire Pit did you get for your rooftop? I didn’t see it mentioned anywhere… (though I might have just missed it!)

3 years ago
Reply to  Gen

That was my question. Also, is it a natural gas or propane fire pit. And it gas, how did you go about getting the gas line extended to the roof.

3 years ago

Thank you! We are in the midst of a massive backyard deck build and LOVE these tips. I’d love to know where you found that firepit– it appears to be the right scale and size for our lower deck lounge area.

Roof Top Dreamer
3 years ago

(2nd attempt at posting…) We have a townhouse in a city with a partial rooftop deck (10’x10’, although the actual size of the roof is about 2.5 times that…). We currently have renters, but once we move back we are planning to (hopefully) expand the deck and zush it up ;-). I’ve been doing research for this for five years now and have also spoken to a lot of contractors. Some general thoughts: —CEILING?: If you’re in a city, there may be regulations stating that you can not have anything on your rooftop deck that can be visible from the street — This includes canopies. —PERMITTING: If you are building a new rooftop deck, expanding one, or even potentially just making significant changes to it, you’ll need to go through the permitting process. Otherwise, you’ll have difficulty when you go to sell your property. —FLOORING: If you’re putting flooring in, look for something that comes up easily in pieces, so if something happens and areas of your roof have to be accessed, you don’t have to pull up the entire deck! —GREENERY: You mentioned having real grass on the roof — does anyone have experience with this? My dream would… Read more »

Erin Perkins
3 years ago

This. We have a few things that are restricting us from doing anything. We’re not allowed to have grills (or fire pit, but we have one anyway, it’s sitting on 4 cement tiles) for protection, and we maybe have used it twice it’s too hot these days!

Canopies aren’t allowed, but umbrellas are allowed. but our roof top has mostly shade during the day, so we lucked out. Besides the fact that I’m just not traveling 2 flights of stairs to bring my entire dinner upstairs, it’s mostly for lounging and hanging out.

Also the floor plan above shows that’s a MASSIVE roof top deck. Ours is 16 feet wide. we have a couch that goes from one side to the other on the left side. then we have 2 casual chairs on the right side with a table in between. the fire pit is in the middle. and we have a couple of stools that can be used as seating. We can probably have 8-10 people up there, and still be comfy. and we had to use fabhabitat rugs for covering cuz the roof material is HOT!

Amy KS
3 years ago

A mini fridge is a must have on a roof deck, and running water, too, if possible.

Erin Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Amy KS

I’m trying to plot as to whether I can have a diverter in the bathroom sink that will allow for me to run the hose from inside to outside to wash the deck, otherwise we basically have to run the hose from the garage all the way 4 flights.

3 years ago

Such a fun, useful post!