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How To Refinish A Wood Deck – A Look Back At Our Old “Yard”

I ’m looking to refresh our current patio after 3 years (the blue tile, English Tudor one) when I came across this old post via google for research and inspiration. At first, the photos felt familiar until I realized that it was OUR old house. That’s me, my long hair (tears), and my two babies. Maybe it’s from having two kids so close, running the business and then moving, but I had kinda forgotten about that year.

You may have noticed that we played with not posting on Wednesdays in February, but now we are going to dig up old great posts and add in some new thoughts. This way you aren’t missing a blog day and we can have a little more time to put towards the new content (and so I can finish writing that book). Some of the posts are definitely worth a revisit – and seeing Charlie’s side deck play space, with the astroturf and his cheeks flooded me full of nostalgia. If you want to join me in little a trip down memory lane and visit the past, or if you never saw our deck transformation in the first place, here you go….

First, let’s give you the full deck-bio. But don’t worry at the end of this post, you’ll see more of that play space (and that cute fleshy baby) that I’m pretty darn obsessed with. Ok back to the deck, when we first moved in, (now 6 years ago), it looked like this:

The wrought iron was black, the brick was old and beige (and broken in places), and the pergola was painted brown. The wood was in good condition considering it was 50 years old, and while I knew it could use a freshen up, I didn’t quite know what to do with it.

Right after we moved in, Domino shot our house (remember that?) and they wanted to shoot the deck despite the fact that it was definitely not done, nor was I totally happy with it. But with some styling help it looked pretty lively in the photo:

While I love that shot because it has so much energy and life, it was mostly styled for a shot and totally impractical. Almost all those pillows/throws were for indoor use only, the rugs were vintage and some of my favorites which would have gotten destroyed out there and the side table situation was fairly impractical. It looked cool, but not a way we could really live.

A year later I finally had it looking really good (above, see full post here) and I really loved it. I chose at the time not to refinish the deck because I liked how the redwood looked well enough. It had a pretty grain and was a nice grayed out shade of wood. There were times when I wanted it to be more finished, but not enough to take the time to refinish it.

As we were finishing up the exterior though, everything was so moved around outside with the old vinyl siding covering the deck, equipment everywhere, etc, so we couldn’t really use the deck anyway. Once the debris was all gone and the exterior was looking so pulled together, we finally decided to invest the 2 days and $600 to refinish it. We figured if/when we sell (which we ending up doing in 2017) we would want the wood to look as beautiful as the new siding, with the same elevated level of design.

Here you can kinda see how it looked post new exterior, pre-refinished floors:

It was pretty, for sure, and I had no intention of painting it or replacing it because I loved that it was warm wood but the good thing about real wood is that you can refinish multiple times throughout its life, making it essentially new again.

As you look closer you can tell, though, that it was time for a clean, sand and stain to bring out its natural color.

I had Remi (now an EHD alum) pull a bunch of stain options and she grabbed both transparent and semi-transparent. Exterior deck stains are not like interior or furniture stains because once applied it has to withstand so many more elements. So while I was used to having all these normal options there are way less for decking. I personally love the transparent stain as opposed to the semi – which is the top row. Remi sampled all of those up there before the deck was sanded, which we thought didn’t give us the most accurate color. To get the most accurate test, I had it sanded so I could see what it really looked like:

Crazy, right? I don’t think that the deck had been refinished in decades. The guys working on it had to use a hand-sander because the boards were slightly unlevel. The sanding took 4-6 hours by two guys.

We re-sampled, nixing the transparent paints. I toyed with the idea of giving it a gray wash but ultimately decided that since the house was gray that it would be too cold and potentially look new and contemporary instead of mid-century.

We chose the one on the far right, which was Natural by Behr, although I liked the the lighter one next to it, too. My advice would be to buy a bunch of sample pots and stain them on your wood so that you can really tell what they look like with your wood. Every wood and color will be slightly different per application. For mine, I knew that the stain would lighten over time so we went with the darker tone, but I asked the guys to not do two crazy thick coats.

Right after it was stained it darkened a tiny bit as it dried, but it already looked so fresh and the stain really pulled out the color of the grain. I actually really loved how the wood looked naturally and was super tempted to keep it, but it would need to be sealed and sealing it would change the color anyway. Plus again, our house is mid-century and I wanted to keep it that way.

Let’s talk about the decor changes over here. While I liked the overall design of the deck last year, I wanted to add more contrast to help it pop more and yet I didn’t really want to add more color. Enter our deepest neutral – black. By adding it to the scheme it tied in better with the exterior as our sconces are black, and also just gave it more depth and texture.

The rug that we had was great but got ruined during the demo of the exterior so we had to throw it away. I put down this new one from Dash and Albert that I love – just enough texture and the perfect shade of denim-y blue that can hide dirt, but isn’t too dark.

I replaced the original Target chairs with newer ones and handed those bad boys down. Everybody who sees or sits in these chairs wants them and they can’t believe they’re Target. They are excellent in every way and if you have a modern house could even definitely work inside (and they are still available if you can believe it).

I really tried to style this for everyday life, not for a shoot. But the stylist inside of me broke free and put a few indoor pillows (the black graphic and the stripe) and that striped throw out there. So this is how I would style it for guests, but technically I should keep those inside. Every other pillow, however, is from Target and is made for the outdoors.

The wood, gray, blue, white and black combo was my new jam both inside and out at that time (and I still love it). And I picked up that adorable little side table from Potted in Atwater Village.

In my quest to keep the deck a more usable space for the kids we moved the planted pots (that were mostly dead anyway) to another location. I just wanted more space and less things to take care of.

I never really loved the wicker round table (from before), functionally because you couldn’t put drinks directly on it. It was just what I had on hand that year. So when I saw the outdoor teak mid-century line from DWR I knew what had to be done. Rarely, if ever do you find exterior teak that doesn’t have the slats in it and with that beautiful mid-century shape. Also note the black bars on it, too. They are so amazing.

Ok, let’s see what is happening on the other side of the deck:

We used to have a dining table with chairs, but we found that we rarely used it and we wanted more space for Charlie to scoot around on his tricycle or kick around a ball. So I stacked those chairs and we were going to buy a folding table that would be easily stowed away after we did eat out there. We typically don’t have the umbrella hanging halfway off the roof, but Brady (another big EHD alum) lent a hand so that we could get some more shade for the final shots that Zeke took.

So this side of the deck became a lot more empty. I found that amazing bamboo chair and bench from Potted and borrowed them for the shoot. I would have bought them, as I loved them so much them, but they were on the splurgier side.

The BBQ is stored in the back now and we wheel it out when we use it. Charlie’s play area is basically the same (you are almost to that part) so we didn’t shoot it. I added that outdoor bar cart because we had nowhere to set the bbq tools when we are cooking out there. 

The week after we shot this, I threw a sponsored party out there so I borrowed a dining table and chairs to properly entertain. It looked soooooo good and I was tempted to keep them after all.

Meanwhile, the entrance to the guest room/Brian’s office downstairs got a little makeover as well.

We put this entrance in the year before and had that deck quickly built. The door + the deck cost $2,000, by the way, including labor and materials. Here is what it looked like after the door and exterior were finished.

Now it looks pretty darn great, it just needed some furnishing to help it feel more inviting.

It took everything inside of me not to put an outdoor rug there for the shot (besides, we are here to talk about wood) but man, my heart wants a rug there. We moved that spiky plant down from upstairs because every other adult in the world thought it was going to poke their child’s eyes out when their kids were over on playdates.

I love love love the combination of materials here – the white wood paneling with the black sconces, the white glass pendant, and the warm wood. I even love that it’s built into the stone hillside. I don’t think I have photos of this area before because it didn’t really exist (it was just weeds without the deck or an entrance), so the value that we added by putting in this deck was huge.

We added the chairs down there, too because we loved them so much. I didn’t think Brian would go for them, I thought that he would want just a bench or something simple as no one is really going to sit down there, but after I put them there he said that he would definitely pop out of his office and take calls out there. That table and the rug are both from Potted as well, the amazing-super-hard-to-find mid-century-inspired pendant is from Hip Haven, the pot is from West Elm, and the sconces are from Rejuvenation.

When I had that deck and door put in I was out of town and I told my carpenter I wanted affordable decking (so he chose redwood to match the upstairs) but I didn’t specify the door. It’s actually a clear glass door that we put Gila film on for privacy and light (the frosted still lets in light which is what we wanted). I kinda wish I had done something really custom and mid-century, but this was such a simple, cheap, and fast option.

So that, folks, is how I refreshed my deck and brought it back to life. It was 60 years old but it turned out looking as new as my baby. For those of you about to embark on a building project, whether it’s building a house, re-siding one, or adding a deck – I strongly urge you to consider using real wood like pine, redwood, or cedar as opposed to a composite. I’m sure the composites can look good, but wood will ALWAYS look good. In a lot of ways I wish that I had not painted my exterior wood paneling of the house and just used wood, but by the time I wished I had done that the siding had already been prepped for paint instead of stain – there was some patching that would have looked messy if stained and thousands of nail holes from it being clad to the house. But the look/feel and quality is there of wood that would have been totally absent if we had done hardy board or one of the other composite materials (by the way, our house re-siding was done by H&A My Design, and they did such a nice job). What we used on the deck and exterior of the house is more affordable, available, classic, warm, and will never be dated whereas the alternative likely would have. And while I understand that vinyl siding is a very inexpensive option and can be really transformative, I’d warn you against it as ultimately it’s not the look that you probably want.

Real wood, folks. You never tire of it, it never goes out of fashion, it’s always warm and easy to transform into different colors and finishes or stay totally natural if that’s your jam. This refresh took 2 days and all of it could have been DIY’d if we had the time. It’s not really a highly skilled situation, just man hours. So while it cost us $900, I seriously think that you could do it yourself or, if you got multiple quotes, you could have it done for cheaper. I, for one, will always be on the “real wood always” side of life.

And for your viewing pleasure, we broke down step by step how to put together your patio for the summer:

Finally, if you’re into it, get that look (some are out stock since this is an old post:)) :

1. Wood | 2. Deck Stain | 3. Coffee Table | 4. Rug | 5. Globe Pendant | 6. Sconce | 7. Patio Chair | 8. Side Table | 9. Outdoor Pillow | 10. Black & White Textured Pillow | 11. Directors Style Chair | 12. Ceramic Planter | 13. Diamond Lumbar Pillow | 14. Dining Table | 15. Bar Cart | 16. Standing Planter | 17. Small Lantern | 18. Large Lantern

But that’s not it. We ALSO, a year or two earlier, started on the side deck, under the covered area and turned it into a play space for Charlie, with astroturf and everything.

I grew up way out in the country in Oregon. We may have only had 2 acres but it was backed up to a forest so it felt like 1 squillion acres of backyard with streams and rivers and just endless nature and fort making. When Brian and I bought this house I was pregnant, desperate for a home that I could actually make better, but fairly realistic about what we were and were not going to get for our money. On my top priority list were 1. good natural light and 2. enough space to live/function, but what failed to make top priority was a backyard. Instead we got this deck and while this deck is decent sized (600 square feet), on its own it wasn’t exactly going to make Charlie’s childhood fort-making dreams come true. But let’s face it – parks exist down the street. Kids don’t need acres to play in, in order to have a happy childhood. Is it wonderful to have mother nature at their back door, opening her arms for a big exploratory hug? SURE. But it’s also wonderful to simply have a home of any size with any area dedicated to playing.

Basically what I’m saying is that while it’s not my fantasy childhood backyard for Charlie and his sister, a big deck isn’t exactly a stick in the eye. But it took some work to turn it from what it was into what it became.

The retaining wall was crumbling. The hot water heater was crumbling and gross, it was dark and shady and the floor was concrete. But there was so much to play that clearly needed to be utilized. At one point I thought that it could be a dining area but ultimately where we want to hang out is by the view and out in the open.

So we started fixing the major problems (which was pretty simple, by the way):

We opened up the ceiling so it was just a pergola and repaired and painted the retaining wall and the pergola. The hot water heater closet was always a hot button issue for us – we really wanted to switch it to a tankless heater but it’s $2500 – $3k. Then on top of that, I’d have to figure out what to do with the siding behind it (which was a much larger, more expensive problem ). So we replaced it with a non-toxic-paint-crumbling closet, which I think cost $200.

Here’s how it all turned out:

I can’t tell you how happy this space made and still makes me. Charlie LOVED it. We played house, read in the forts, blew bubbles, played in the water table, wrestled all over the grass … it was so awesome.

How cute is that playhouse? VERY VERY CUTE.  We actually just put together two playhouses to form that larger modular house. Those gray cement tiles in front of were the heavy tiles that held the old umbrella down that we had on the front patio. Not necessary but we thought that it looked cute.

Let’s talk grass. Real sod wasn’t really an option here. It would have needed too much water to grow, then if/when was watered it would have made it muddy. There was also cement underneath it so I have no idea if it even could’ve grown there. Plus California was in a major drought and putting IN grass was just not even an option. There is such good artificial turf out there these days so we knew we were going to go that route.

We ordered 15 feet of it (it’s sold anywhere between $30 – $50 a foot) and then cut it with a razor blade to fit. I thought that the install would be super annoying, but it was actually totally fine (although to be fair Brian and Brady did the bulk of it).

A couple of things to think about when laying astroturf: you can piece it together but you have to make sure that the “grain” is going the same direction, and then as you are initially placing it make sure that all the grain is the direction you want because like carpet it looks different from different angles. From one direction (looking at it from the patio to the pergola) it looked really dark and pretty but looking back at it, towards the patio it looked like fake grass. So just make sure you lay it out. And no, we didn’t prep the floor at all besides cleaning it.

I’ve been asked about whether the deck/house, in general, was kid safe as it sits on a hill. Inside the house, I think we overdid it – we hired one of those companies that comes out and recommends every single thing you could do to prevent every single bruise and scrape. We listened to some (possibly too much) and skipped some other stuff. When it came to the outside I was waiting for them to tell us that we had to plexi the entire deck but they quickly told us that all the ironwork is too small for a head (and subsequent body) to get through and fall. So strangely the deck was actually totally kid-proof. It was such a relief to know that one thing about this 1964 house on a cliff was kid-safe.

So there you have it. All in all it was ABSOLUTELY worth any time, energy and money that we put into it – and I can’t always say that on my own home projects. But it really did give us a whole other room to play, be messy, roll around. And sometimes just simply getting outside for 1/2 hour is all you need to change the mood of a bored child. And this little play area certainly does that trick.

1. Play Cube 2. Rug 3. Trike 4. Lantern 5. Bird House 6. Sand & Surf Table 7. Tall Planter 8. Ride-On Excavator 9. Iris Planter 10. S – Chair 11. Play House 12. Astro Turff 

There you go. We are currently debating astroturf up at the mountain house. Neither of us are set on it, but we are convinced that we’d use the yard more with that rather than the bark. Stay tuned…

If you are interested, here’s the deck over the years: Our First Home, Part 2 + Our Deck Progress + The Patio Makeover

*Patio deck photos by Zeke Ruelas

*Play area photos by Tessa Neustadt c/o Lonny Magazine. Hair and Makeup by the always lovely Danielle Walch.

Want to see more of our Glendale home? Check out all of the reveals here. 

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4 years ago

I love seeing old pictures of your homes.

I have friends who have astroturf in a smallish spot and it looks really, really good. Of course it doesn’t look like real grass, but they went with a high quality one and it definitely adds a nice green look to the space that otherwise would have dead grass in it all the time because upkeep and watering would be a nightmare (Florida). So much better underfoot than bark. Plus, you’d have to haul in bark and redo it every year. Can’t wait to see some more spring content!

4 years ago
Reply to  Dena

You have to redo bark EVERY YEAR?! I guess I always wondered how people keep gravel, pebbles, sand, and bark looking good when it’s getting slowly diminished and this makes sense. BUT THAT SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF WORK.

4 years ago
Reply to  Sara Tramp

You don’t really have to re-do bark EVERY year, but yeah, you just bring in a little bit to cover up the thin patches. Less work than mowing a lawn, and less work than raking dead leaves off the astroturf.

4 years ago
Reply to  Jenms

I think it all depends how much underfoot use it gets, how much sun, how much rain. It definitely freshens things up!

4 years ago
Reply to  Sara Tramp

Sara, we brought in a HUGE pile of bark for the MH before the reader event! It was crazy what a difference it makes.

4 years ago
Reply to  Dena

The more you know!

4 years ago

First of all, I’m glad the Wednesday posts are back, even if they’re “re-runs” 🙂 It feels like an oldie but a goodie.

Second, NOOOOO ASTROTURF AT THE MOUNTAIN HOUSE! It’s got such a HUGE carbon footprint!

4 years ago
Reply to  Jenms

I agree to no astroturf at the Mountain House. It made sense for this play space, as it was covering concrete. It was more like an outdoor rug. I imagine at the Mountain House you can have lawn and plants. I know we (California) are entering another drought (come on, rain), but there are other practical options. A native garden with crushed granite paths. My kid loved to explore “jungles,” so gardens can be fun and kid friendly, too.

Also, love that Wednesday posts are back and totally enjoy the flashbacks!

4 years ago
Reply to  Jenms

Thank you so much for this feedback! We really appreciate it x

4 years ago

Astroturf totally works in a house like this bc of the mid-century quality of both elements. lots of astroturf went down in the 60s in california and arizona midcentury ranch homes. they just fit together! glad that you took that risk in such a small place that doesnt really take away anything from this GORGEOUS LA home.
I have those black outdoor club chairs from target, as well as the couch, and I LOVE THEM.

4 years ago
Reply to  ellen

Agreed, those chairs are so comfortable and timeless!

4 years ago

Love this! I was just thinking of how mine should be refinished.

Also, how do rugs and grass terf hold up on wood decking? I live in Nashville and I’d love a rug or something on my deck, but afraid it would get wet, stay wet, and rot the wood. Thoughts?

4 years ago
Reply to  Josh

Go for it, Josh! Most outdoor rugs have a synthetic backing that will help with drying time and is a protective barrier against your wood to help it keep from rotting and your rug from not deteriorating over time.

4 years ago
Reply to  Josh

We have 2 outdoor rugs on our wood deck and have no issues with them drying within a day of any rain. The deck is facing south so when the sun shines, it dries out the rugs quickly. I took them up for the winter and laid them out in the basement and they held up well last year ( my first year). The wood that was under the rugs was lighter and less worn since it was a little more protected from the elements, but we will power wash and clear coat the deck this spring before we put the rugs back down. I think the rug materials play a big part in how quickly it dries.

4 years ago

What great inspiration! I am working on my backyard now and I am still stuck on the fencing options out there! Wish I had mine done.

Ashley Hall
4 years ago

Is there a link to the sectional? Its exactly the style I have been looking for!

4 years ago

I have a love hate relationship with my cedar deck. Even stained with an outdoor quality stain (Sikkens) it’s only lasted 2 years and we have to sand and start all over again! Stained wood takes such a beating outside I almost wish we’d done composite over real wood even though I love the look of the real wood! It’s such a maintenance nightmare! I’m wondering if clear coating after the stain would help prolong it even more?