Garden Makeover Phase 2 – Creating a Hardwood Deck

Yesterday on the blog I shared with you the before the deck stuff, how our garden has evolved, what process I went through to get to the point of choosing to have a real wood deck built for us, who we had chosen to employ to build it for us and lots more besides.

If you haven’t read that post, here’s a link, it might be a good idea to start there (but not essential) –

I had meant to write one all-encompassing post about this deck project, but as I began it was just impossible to leave out enough to make it a manageable solo piece, so you’re getting ALL the info, in 2 big slices of garden overload cake. Enjoy!

Did you follow along with the creation of the deck on Instagram? It was so much fun sharing the journey there, I’ve saved it to my Instagram highlights, head to the top of my page to take a look.

Once we had arrived at our decision to go with real wood, I then began my research on which wood best suited our needs. This can be a very overwhelming subject, with so many subjective opinions out there, so I was mostly guided by the experiences of a few friends/ people in the know.

One of those friends brought Yellow Balau to my attention, she had used it in her beautiful garden here in Cornwall, specifically around their pool and I loved the end result.

Yellow Balau is a sustainably sourced Malaysian hardwood, a very dense and durable wood which is perfectly suited to decking. The colour is comparable with Cedar, but is far more hard wearing.

It’s easy to google and find images of newly fitted decks, but it’s very reassuring to see examples of what it will look like after a few years.

I did my research online (I would advise anyone to do this and to not just take my word as law) and concluded that it was the perfect material for us, finally we knew what direction we were heading in.

Image – Silva Timber

With Covid already causing chaos across the world, I found many online timber merchants were very short on stock and unsure on the prices of any wood they would have arriving. Fortunately a local Timber Merchant, Duchy Timber, could get hold of it for me, so I placed my order for approx 45m². This was at a cost of just over £1.6k.

I opted for boards with a smooth face and a ridged back and here we will enter the portion of the class I like to call –

Why decking was never meant to be laid reeded (grooved) side up…

This is the number one question/ comment I get on Instagram when I share images of the deck, I have repeated myself a lot during the build process, we have been so conditioned to think grooved decking is designed like that to stop it from being slippery. Question, when was the last time you walked on a grooved deck, in Winter and it WASN’T slippery?!!

Random photo of a piece of decking to illustrate my point, this is not Yellow Balau.

The reeded side of decking was designed to allow air to circulate beneath the boards, encouraging moisture to drip off and help prevent rot. It was never intended to be groove side up, it’s just that it became the norm in the UK, after people insisted on it being laid that way, because they liked the look. It caught on and somehow became law.

Smooth faced decking provides more friction when walked on, due to a greater surface area being in contact with your foot and so is LESS slippery.

Grooved side up decking holds onto moisture for twice as long as smooth, staying wet longer means there is a better environment for Algae to grow, those nice, wet channels provide perfectly for their needs and so, the deck is likely to become slippery, as well as rotting more quickly.

Finally, smooth decking is just so lovely to walk on bare foot and that’s how I spend the majority of my time in the garden. It’s such a joy to be able to wander around in comfort with no grooves to create painful pressure points and no slimy ickiness.

Finally getting started…

We cleared the area the best we could, leading up to C&G Garden Builds starting in late July. I couldn’t wait to be rid of this grass.

Having done a huge amount of the physical work involved in redesigning both the front garden and the pebble and Oak Sleeper side at the back myself, along with a lot of the lugging stuff around here to clear, painting fences/ sheds, it was such a treat to think someone else would be taking over on this phase of the work.

Unfortunately when the Yellow Balau was delivered to the house and completely unloaded by the driver, all 45m² of it, I came home to find that the wrong boards had been delivered. I had received grooved on both sides, even after many conversations with the supplier about my specific requirements.

Duchy Timber did source me the correct decking after this, with the smooth side, but there was a further wait and I wasn’t impressed with their customer service at all. I would definitely hesitate before ordering from them again, this seems to be a common observation unfortunately.

I love to champion and promote local businesses and had, in the beginning, been pleased to have sourced the wood from a very local company. That warm, fuzzy feeling soon left me after the less than ideal customer care.

It was exciting to see the turf finally gone, the guys also leveled out this “lower” area, as it has long been a very uneven surface, with some places almost a foot higher than others.

I’ve been asked how I came to decide on the design of the deck, how the directions of the boards and levels were thought of and I wish I could show you some impressive drawing with it all planned out, but that just isn’t how my brain works. It was all up in my head, then I made ridiculous hand gestures and danced around the space saying “this this way, that that way” and thankfully George and Chris could see my vision.

I played around with some old decking we had (the bad, uncomfortable under foot, slippery grooved kind!), making sure the boards ran in the most aesthetically pleasing directions. I realise at this point^ that if you’re not inside my mind it just looks like a hot mess!

I’ll talk more about the directions that the wood runs in and why a little later.

It was important to me to create more than one level to the deck and I felt the newly reclaimed space under the oak tree should become the highest point, a little place nestled into the corner with a private feeling.

Because of the additional height the floor would be at, the branches of the Weeping Birch come down and obscure your view slightly, furthering that sense of enclosure and secrecy. I absolutely adore it.

The levels were achieved by a mixture of reducing the overall ground level down on the main deck, outside the extension, a lot of that earth could be lost under the higher level, also in front of the wall, to form a new flower bed. The timber posts sunk and concreted in help form the main structure on all levels, creating an incredibly strong, stable base.

I was so excited to come home from work each day and see how much had been achieved, the weather was absolutely incredible during the build and I could already envisage how our lives would be improved and enhanced by this new addition to our home. The wood was so beautiful.

One of the most of important details for the design was that I wanted levels that appeared to float, with a shadow gap between each step to achieve this look. It’s one of the details I am most proud of and C&G executed it even more perfectly than I had imagined. They lined the base of the step with a thick black plastic, hiding the wooden substructure and ensuring a clean, dark shadow the whole way along, ingenious.

Rather than having 2 or 3 little boring, awkward steps up to the top deck, we stretched out each level, creating a much more visually pleasing flow. This also means you have additional areas to sit, for the children play, to have potted plants, overall it’s a much better use of the space.

I briefly talked about the lines of the deck earlier, but seeing the boards beginning to be laid here makes it easier to explain.

I wanted to run the wood in the direction you’d want the eye to travel, here, running up towards the top deck, inviting the eye to follow along to that point, eventually to a beautiful fence as a backdrop. When you’re stood on the top deck it works by leading the eye down the length of the garden, down to the main garden table and Mud Kitchen, giving a sense of continuation to the whole design.

The optical illusion created, when you look down from above and 2 boards from the lower level appear to run into 1 from above (despite them being the same width) is mind boggling and George took great care to get this absolutely perfect.

I’m pretty sure my phone camera exaggerated the level of red in this shot, but when wet the wood was an incredibly intense colour.

Designing the deck to run in 2 different directions creates a sense of greater space and it also meant we avoided having too many short, stunted lengths.

It did also mean it cost more, more wood needed for the substructure, more time needed to make that framework run in 2 different directions and more decking. I knew it would be worth it though and I didn’t want to compromise.

I worked with the same theory as laying a wooden floor in a house, the lines/ direction should run with the longest wall/ run in the installation. In our house the engineered oak floor runs from the front door, through to the back of the extension, in one place it almost appears to run the entire length of the building, creating a sense of more space, pulling you through from the front to the garden.

It was important to me that the deck ran in the same direction to the floor inside, at the side of the extension, which created the illusion of the floor continuing in and out. I’ll show you this a little later.

During the build this raised bed got rather neglected and would need a good tidy up after.

Here you can see how we chose to stagger this end of the deck, so it would connect with pebbled/ Oak sleeper area, as opposed to being a straight line with wood one side and stones the other. That bare earth would eventually have more stones added, ensuring that, even though the 2 areas were designed separately, at different times, they married together in an intentional way, as though it was how it was always going to be.

That cutout, around the Weeping Birch, encasing it within the deck, is another detail I absolutely love and another example of the care and attention C&G Garden Builds took with this project.

There is enough room for several year’s worth of growth and the boards can always be taken up and recut in the future, if needs be.

Even with a makeshift fence and the shed needing a repaint, my excitement levels about this transformation were through the roof. I would come out here every evening after work and just marvel and how beautifully it was all coming together.

The way the trees and sun creates such magical shadows on the deck was something I hadn’t thought of and is one of my most favourite, unexpected things about the space.

A much needed tidy and refresh in this bed.

It’s great how the lines of the deck mirror the lines of the raised bed and I am so happy that we put that extra thought into how these areas slotted together.

The old fence between us and our neighbours had very much seen better days. New posts were put in at the start of the build, then the side of the old shed used for temporary privacy, but Stu built a more solid fence using some free pallets. We couldn’t decide how this area should be finished, I felt I needed to live with the new space a while, to work out how it would be used by us, so the finishing layer could wait.

Stu also rebuilt the stone wall around the Oak, as this had fallen away over the years. What a wonderful added bonus, to have this original feature run the whole length of the garden.

A fresh lick of black paint for the shed, we use Cuprinol Duck’s Back in Black for all the black wood in the garden, but if I’m honest with myself, I wish we’d gone down the Shou Sugi Ban route, the Japanese burnt wood technique. The black wood stain needs redoing a bit more often than I expected and I’d prefer the beautiful surface texture of the burnt wood.

Don’t tell Stu, but it might be something I want to explore in a few years time. Ssssh!

My lockdown gift to myself, the Hay Palissade furniture is so perfect for the space.

The excess earth from leveling the ground has helped to form this banked bed at the edge of the deck, which has increased my planting area substantially. I will talk about the plants I’ve used in a future post.

I’m not going to focus too intensely on the added extra finishing touches around the deck area just now, I will write another post about those once we have completed the fence and other surrounding details, but I couldn’t not share the beautiful Cedar shingle clad shed wall Stu created. He did such an amazing job and I’m thrilled with the direction this is heading in.

The shingles were leftovers from The Lost Gardens of Heligan, their main buildings as you enter are all clad with shingles and it looks wonderful. I love that there is this added extra story behind them. We had *just enough* to complete the side of the shed, but are now thinking we will continue around and do the back fence too, so will source more for that soon.

The guttering on the side of the shed needs replacing with Aluminum or similar, we’ll get to these jobs eventually.

I used a wide angle to get this shot, which makes the space look bigger than it is.

These wonderful ferns came from the Rare Plant Fair, at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens. I’ve had so many questions about these since sharing on Instagram.

We went for a children going back to school, post Summer Holidays celebratory brunch last September, before a swim at the Jubilee Pool in Penzance. We didn’t know the Fair was on, so what a brilliant surprise, my Mum and I came away with one of these beauties each. The black stemmed one (right) is mine, a Cyathea Medullaris and the other one, Cyathea Cooperi, is my Mum’s. The seller came all the way from Ireland with a van full of the most amazing ferns I’ve ever seen.

If you haven’t been to the Jubilee Pool then you must visit, it’s the UK’s largest Art Deco Sea Pool and is incredibly beautiful. They now have a Geothermal pool too. Random fact, it’s where my Mum used to gave her swimming lessons at school.

The photo above is a great illustration to bring the conversation back to the question Is smooth decking slippery?

That image was taken at 9:15am, mid September, after a heavy night of rain. At that time of the day the sun is just beginning to come around the side of the house and already you can see that the swing area is completely dry, the rest of the deck will be completely dry within an hour. This happens even in the middle of winter, as soon as the rain stops, areas begin to dry out completely, where as with grooved decking, the moisture would stay there for many hours longer, if not all day in Winter.

When wet the surface isn’t slippery day to day. We did need to give it a good scrub and jet wash after in the Spring, as areas do become covered in fallen tree matter and Algae appears, but this can be said of any surface after many months of harsh weather.

Our swing setup is another question I get often and once I’ve had a proper sort out of the side of the house I’ll write a bit more about it.
Our Anevay Frontier Stove (part of a previous collaboration with Anevay) is the perfect addition to the space and all the more wonderful in the depths of Winter, with a pan of Hot Chocolate bubbling away on top.

We’ve used this new space throughout Autumn and Winter, banishing the muddy “lawn” has meant we’ve doubled our time being out in the garden, which in itself makes this one of the most transformational changes to our home and lives. It used to be a place to be avoided during wet/ cold weather, but it’s amazing how many more lovely moments we’ve noticed and enjoyed, despite Winter feeling so incredibly long this year.

Where as before you’d declare a whole day to have been awful weather, now, in the dry moments I’d pop out with my cup of tea and have a sit, wrapped up warm but still enjoying our garden in a season that, until this creation, had always felt like the time to avoid the garden.

Maintenance wise, you can’t avoid the fact we have built a wooden deck below 2 deciduous trees! Some said we were mad, but after extensive research, as well as reassurance from C&G, we decided to go for it. Wood is a very hard wearing, resistant material and provided it is cared for, cleaned, cleared of debris from time to time, we are confident all will be fine.

We sweep up the leaf and tree matter from time to time, after the main fall of Autumn there is a lot less to come down on it. It isn’t really a chore, sometimes the girls even do it without us asking, but maintaining something that has added so much to our quality of life is no hardship.

We know the deck will weather differently to say the same one created in a town garden, mostly surrounded by buildings, but we are ok with that. The beauty of wood is it can be refinished many times, so we may decide to sand it back in a few years time and it’s reassuring to know that is always an option.

You can read about the garden table we made here.

The way the decking frames this flower bed makes my heart sing, the extension flows into the space, the decking mirrors the internal floor and it all just makes me so incredibly happy.

Here you can further see how it was important to have the deck at the side of the building run in the same direction as the internal floor. You can also see how the engineered oak hasn’t done so well with the dirt traipsed inside over the years. Now that the deck is done we will need to think about sanding and refinishing the oak floor throughout the downstairs, urrrgh, sounds like a lot of effort to me.

Afterthoughts, words of wisdom + things I’ve learned…

It’s always a bit scary sharing big projects here, everything is subjective, these are my findings, feelings and experiences and I always urge anyone thinking of replicating something to go through all the investigative processes themselves first.

The deck has been down for 10 months and we are still completely over the moon with it and are so happy we took the leap of faith and employed C&G Garden Builds to do the work for us. I’ve been asked if I feel this would have been achievable had we undertaken the work ourselves and it’s a very easy absolutely not. The way in which my design has been executed goes far beyond our skill level, the Yellow Balau wood is incredibly dense and hard to cut, the guys, who have all the kit, still had to borrow a friend’s super duper saw, in order to get clean, splinter/ split free cuts and angles.

The costs came to £3300 for C & G’s work/ subframe materials and the Yellow Balau decking came to £1633. I had actually concluded in my mind that it was more than this and was still very happy to have paid it, so now I feel as though I’ve made a saving!! We feel as though we have gained a whole new room to our house.

Treatment of the wood – There are 2 schools of thought when it comes to treating the wood. Some say do it, use an oil and repeat every few years, others say let the wood do it’s own thing. We decided to leave the wood and let it do it’s own thing. 10 months down the line, I’m not sure I like the tone of the wood quite as much now, compared to when it was first down. Stu prefers the silvering, I think I miss the warmer tones but don’t get me wrong, it is still very beautiful.

Having said this, oiling it wouldn’t necessarily have kept that colour either, so I’m still not sure what the right or wrong answer in. Perhaps if we end up sanding it back at some point down the line we may try oiling then. I just cant be sure.

Things to be wary of – Metal and grease will become your enemies, avoid leaving anything with a metal bottom directly on the wood, otherwise it will result in a black mark. Accidents happen and we have some marks where the girls were making mud pies and Eula left an old Le Creuset pan on the wood. There was also an incident where an April Fools day trick (involving a plate of mashed up banana and salad cream) got thrown all over the top deck, then walked all down across the lower levels. I cleaned it, but it left grease stains everywhere. Yes I cried and shouted, Stu spent 2 hours with a whole bottle of washing up liquid, working into the stains by hand and then jet washed off. Thankfully it came out.

Well done for making it this far, a bit of a long one I know, but I just needed to get it all down and it’s such a relief to have finally have it here to share.

In a year that has caused so much stress, upheaval and worry I feel incredibly grateful to have this place to enjoy and escape to, as well as being very proud of ourselves, for all the hard work we have put in to make it a possibility. In Lockdown 1.0, when I was in my stock room, packing orders for my Alice in Scandiland Shop from 10pm until 2/3am, because that was the only time I could manage it with the girls being off school, the thought of this deck and my garden got me through and lifted my mood when I was struggling.

A huge thank you to George, Chris and Jacob at C & G Garden Builds also, for doing such wonderful job and being lovely to have around.

Don’t forget to Pin this post to come back to, maybe you’re about to create your own deck? I’d love to hear if this blog post has been helpful.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Melafrique says:

    We are in the process of building a deck (smooth profile) and your decking has been a huge source of inspiration. Thank you for sharing x

    1. Hello, thanks so much. Good luck with your project x

  2. lindyzubairy says:

    I am always inspired by you Alice and I deeply admire your energy and dedication to making your home so very beautiful. Keep ’em coming!

  3. Beckie KC says:

    I love this post. My neighbour who is very handy actually built a small deck from the same wood under deciduous trees and the wood still looks great. What brings me the most amount of joys and the lines, the levels and the marriage with the old part of the garden. We have a steep, sloped garden and this has given me so many ideas. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much Beckie, I’m so pleased you enjoyed ready x

  4. Sue Udy says:

    Alice, your garden is wonderful and such an inspiration. We’ve decided to deck our back garden, replacing the horrible crazy paving patio, couldn’t sleep last night so have been reading your blog about decking since 4a.m. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such detailed and helpful information.😊

  5. Natasha Neighbour says:

    I have been following you blog/insta for a few years now and your glass extension was a big inspiration for us creating our own glass kitchen extension.. we absolutely love the space it has created and I’m not sure I’d have chosen what we went for if it wasn’t for you. I only just stumbled across your deck post.. as we are about to be doing a deck very soon too to compliment the extension so it was wonderful to see what you have done and give me some more visual insight. Yours looks absolutely fantastic 👏

    1. Hello Natasha, thank you, I’m pleased you’ve found my posts helpful.
      Good luck with your garden plans.

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