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Meet Malcolm! And His Soon To Be “Collected and Classic” Outdoor Deck (Because This Hot Weather Isn’t Going Anywhere)

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Hi! I’m Malcolm. I’m a designer by day and an interiors enthusiast pretty much 24/7 (check out my blog!). I live in Arlington, Virginia, where I recently purchased a colonial-style condominium built in the 1940s. I’m in a perpetual process of making it my own, which has involved a lot of intentional design choices meant to maintain the original quality of the home (mixed with tons of elbow grease and many, many, many, gallons of black paint).

After spending a few months focusing on interior choices, I’ve decided to pivot to designing my back deck! We’re all spending …tons… of time at home these days, so I figured that I should create a little outdoor oasis at home while we’re still baking in the heat of the summer. Back when I was looking for a new home, the number one item on my wishlist was an outdoor space. My mom instilled in me an appreciation of flowers and landscaping as a kid (although her green thumb was NOT passed down…more on that later), so I’ve always envisioned having a space to cultivate and curate a little plant collection of my own. Also, I work on so many home projects that require an outdoor space for the sake of my sanity, so honestly, it needed to happen.

When I toured my condo for the first time, I fell in love with the little back deck and shared backyard space. It’s quiet, nicely shaded, cozy, and cute little woodland creatures are THRIVING back there. Honestly. My neighbor’s bird feeder is the place to be. However, I knew pretty immediately that it would require some work to make it work for me. The wood was old and covered in moss. Spiders were running amok (…not the woodland creatures I wanted). Its small size would require some seriously intentional thought and consideration. A challenge! Sold!

Let’s dive into some “before” photos.

I already pressure washed the wood in these pictures, so most of the moss and grime are already gone. Pressure washing—by the way— is now one of my favorite and most satisfying pastimes. 

I’ve deemed the general vibe for my home “collected and classic”, so the design plan for my deck follows suit. I want it to feel lived in, layered, and modern, but also have a sense of individuality so that it doesn’t feel too cold. I mean, nothing is cold in Virginia in July, but you catch my drift. With that in mind, there are a handful of major elements that I’ll be sure to incorporate:

ZONES

My deck is pretty small (roughly 10 feet by 11 feet), but I would still ideally like to create three distinct zones: a lounge area, a grill area, and a gardening area. While planning the layout, I’m putting a lot of consideration into the pieces that I choose. Size, placement, and proximity will be integral to making it not only appropriately styled—but appropriately functional. Here are some layout options that I’ve considered:

I initially wanted a huge, comfy sectional to take up most of the deck. However, after laying it out, I noticed that it wouldn’t leave much space to comfortably move about. It also didn’t leave any room for my little gardening area. I realized that I needed to opt for something a little less obtrusive, which leads us to option number two…

I decided to ditch the sectional and opt for a loveseat, coffee table, and armchair instead. It still wasn’t quite right, though, as the lounging area was still taking up more of the deck than I liked. It was at this point that I truly realized how affecting the small footprint of the deck is, so I had to rethink the general concept of the layout (this is the perk of working through layout options like this—it’ll tell you a lot more than you’d learn otherwise!).

I played around with the idea of a bench as the anchor of the seating area, and everything else fell into place. The shallower depth of the bench allows for adequate flow, and the longer width still provides ample seating opportunities. A small armchair and coffee table round out the seating area, with space remaining for a bar cart (that can double as a gardening center! Huzzah!) We now have three dedicated zones that feel separate, but connected. Synergy.

GREENERY

photo and design by therese knutsen

My backyard space already has a ton of natural appeal. My deck is shaded by a huge tree, the ground cover is nicely grown in, and beautiful hostas are speckled about. As such, I won’t do much landscaping around the deck, but I do want to add some potted plants to add a bit of liveliness. I don’t want the potted plants to feel foreign to the natural environment, so I’ll add them in a way that doesn’t feel too structured. I’m thinking Boston ferns. I’m thinking vibrantly-colored impatiens. I’m thinking a little herb garden. Can you see it? I can see it. Now…I don’t have a great history of keeping plants alive…but it’s a new day! I’m ready to learn! Some foliage will also provide a bit of privacy, which leads me to the next element.

PRIVACY

photo and design by wendy correen

My backyard space is shared with about a dozen other units—aside from my personal deck. While I generally don’t mind that, it would be nice to have just a wee bit of privacy when I have company over. I’m not planning to do any major construction on the deck, but I think that there is a way to use simple trellises or privacy walls to create a little bit of separation from my immediate neighbors. My plan is to incorporate trellises only into the corner of the deck, so that I get some privacy without completely sacrificing the views in the backyard area, like so:

LIGHTING

photo and design by jessica garvin

Is there anything more intimate and cozy than an outdoor space dimly-lit with fairy lights?! I think not. The real challenge here will be determining the best way to hang them with no overhead structure, but I think that the trellises will make it easily doable. There is one existing wall-mounted light fixture on the deck. It doesn’t provide much light, so the additional string lighting will serve both ambiance and function. A recurring theme!

LAYERS

Rugs. Pillows. Textures. I love an outdoor space that feels grounded in comfort for cozy summer and fall nights. As I mentioned previously, the style of my home is “collected and classic”, so intentional layering will be integral to making the deck gel with the rest of the house. With all of these glorious things in mind, I sought to pick out the fun stuff!

1. Lights |2. Pillow | 3. Pillow | 4. Bench | 5. Grey Planter | 6. Table | 7. Armchair | 8. Rug | 9. Bar cart | 10. Grill | 11. Grey Planter | 12. Garden Kit | 13. Black Planter

This is feeling pretty collected and classic to me. It’s. All. Coming. Together.

Comments? Questions? Interested in a little DIY tutorial of the privacy fence? Let me know! I thrive on dialogue. And stay tuned for the reveal in a couple of weeks!

Opening Photo Credit: Design by Megan Gilger via The Fresh Exchange

Fin Mark

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Roof Top Dreamer

Hi Malcolm, looks like you’re building your own little deck oasis! Excited to see how it goes. One thought — we live in DC and by law we can’t put up any fences or privacy screens that are less than 50% open or above a certain height (I think 4′). Doubt your neighbors would say anything and I believe Arlington is less regulated, but just wanted to mention in case!

isabelle

Definitely a possibility – for people dealing with similar rules I’d recommend a linear planter against the wall with tall plants in it. Gives you some visual privacy without having to build anything permanent.

Ally

Definitely would like a follow-up on the privacy wall! Also a big NO vote for the Boston fern proposal…messy, messy! My vote goes to the Kimberly Queen fern which is actually featured in the pictures. Kimberly is a clean girl, likes sun or shade, grows upward in a happy fashion and requires no mid-season haircuts of split ends and other dead fronds. Sorry, Boston, you have been replaced in my heart and garden!

Herselfindublin

I’m a huge and longtime fan of Malcolm on Instagram, so I’m delighted to see him here!

Malcolm, I love this design and how you considered and adjusted your different options to get to the final plan. I love that in the the final design you’ll to be able to relax in the armchair and you’ll be facing out into the garden, not back at the house. For that reason I think it could be worth treating yourself to a more comfortable armchair. I know you need a small footprint, but that one just looks a teeny bit formal for lounging comfort.

Really looking forward to seeing the finished deck. As I say, I’m a longtime fan of your style so I know it’ll be terrific.

Katie

Looking forward to the big reveal!

Meredith

Hooray, this looks delightful! If my own garden is any indication, even a black thumb gardener can handle mint and lemon thyme in pots – very difficult to kill, incredible smell when you brush past, and tasty in a cocktail. Can’t wait to see more! The trellis, especially.

R Remington

herb option I’d recommend is rosemary.

Char

I’m growing pots of mint this year. It’s the summer of the Mojito!

LouAnn

I am super interested in how the DIY privacy wall turns out. We have the exact same problem on our deck, but I always felt like erecting a wall was somehow … rude to the neighbors. Which is nuts, right? Yet I also would like some privacy when various neighbors are also outside as we are trying to have dinner or whatever. So bring on the DIY post! 😉

isabelle

I think a trellis or a row of tall plants is more hospitable for the neighbors – I’d probably be annoyed if someone built a fence in close proximity to my deck, especially if it was blocking any sort of views or light from the yard. If you use planting as the privacy barrier it feels more natural and gives them a view of some greenery, rather than just the backside of a fence!

Lisa

Love it! So happy to see a DC based designer featured here!

Rachel

Hi Malcolm – thanks for sharing this, I’ve been working on plans for my own outdoor space and I don’t think I need to anymore – your mood board is pretty much exactly what I’d like my deck to be ,- the design is simple but intersting and just plain lovely. I can’t wait for the reveal (and to check our the rest of your place on your blog)!

Lane

I look forward to seeing more. I love that this is a smaller space. My outdoor space is also smaller. I am a big fan of trying to make smaller homes more functionsl and more luxe.

A

I love seeing you think out your seating plan!! So helpful!

Rebecca

Yeah so happy to see a small garden space being transformed. Can’t wait to see the reveal, especially the plant corner

Crissy Perham

I love your little porch! I was excited to read about your plan as my family and I have lived in an Old Town Alexandria row house (with the exact same porch). We also lived in Park Fairfax…we are retired Air Force. Can’t wait to see how it all comes together!

Emily K

Can’t wait to see you bring these ideas to fruition! One thing I wanted to say – you should reconsider putting a charcoal grill on a wood deck. That is a safety hazard – we actually had a duplex in our neighborhood recently have a huge fire that was started by a grill on a wood deck. I would stay away from this, both for your safety and your neighbor’s.

Carol

Team EHD: Your video started with a Chik-Fil-A ad – not exactly onbrand, I think? Talk to your peeps!

Such a lovely spot and delightful introduction! I headed over to your blog and IG, Malcolm and adore your style!

Michelle H.

Love the mood board and looking forward to the final reveal!

Jacquie

Love this, can’t wait to see the reveal!

Lindsay

I loved seeing your process – can’t wait to see the final product. I’m sure it’ll be amazing!

Shakti

I can’t wait to see the reveal!

Suzanne

What a great setup for a small outdoor space. I love the privacy trellis, especially how it’s just a corner, so the deck doesn’t feel too closed in. I can’t wait to see the results. And I’ve peaked at your blog, and I can already see I’ll be spending too much time looking at all the beautiful rooms. Thanks for sharing!

Rebecca

Fabulous, can’t wait to see how it all turns out! I love your style, Malcolm!

KP

I live in Arlington as well! Loved hearing your voice come through in this post, Malcom. I’m so excited for the reveal!

NC

Can’t wait to see the reveal 🤩

I love the results here! The sleek black furniture looks fantastic
Do you have any tips for maintaining the outdoor furniture

Ashley

Loving this design! Malcom, we can’t wait to see how this turns out!

KellyJo

I am.here.for.this. I am a DC resident living in a rental, and although Malcolm has a bit more of a “clean” aesthetic that I am usually drawn towards, it’s nice to see a different perspective here. Also loving that Malcolm appears not to be a white/white passing white woman! Go Malcolm!

drinklevoss

wanted to mention my distaste for those under-deck trellis panel things that are crisscrossed. they have ones that are squared instead of diamond shaped, and i think those would look so lovely with the clean lines you’re going for!

Meredith Smith

Oh PLEASE give us that privacy fence DIY! It’s exactly what I need to block out my own too-close neighbors!

Sahaja

So great to see a DC based designer. Hi from Alexandria, neighbor! We also have a small outdoor space we made over this summer. Excited to see how it turns out!! My original minimal and clean vibe has been overtaken with plants and various kids toys, but it’s truly been a godsend during this pandemic time to have a place to play and socialize outside.

Irene

Great post. I liked every single thing in the “Get the Look” photo.

Malcolm, your back door looks exactly like mine. (My house was built in 1949.) I’ll be visiting your blog to see what it looks like inside.

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