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

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:


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.


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.


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:


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!


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

Recommended Posts