When designer Evette Ríos bought her Pennsylvania home in 2013, "one of the things I loved most about it was that it was this very historic home," she says of the 1796 farmhouse. "But, one of the things I grew to really hate is the because it's a really old house, it feels super closed in."
If that was an issue a few years ago, well, you can certainly imagine how it might have exaggerated in a year when we've all been cooped up at home like never before. Flash forward to 2020, and Ríos shares the house not just with her husband, but with two young children. "There was really no good way to get outside, and no place for the kids to play that felt secure," she says. As the COVID-19 pandemic stretched on, and the importance of outdoor space—for distanced gathering and at-home family time—became more and more clear, Ríos decided to embark on what just might be the most impressive quarantine project yet: A massive deck addition that turned her barely-used yard into an outdoor wonderland complete with kitchen, fireplace, sauna, dine-in counter, and more.
"I used to look out the window and think, 'I want to put a deck out there,'" Ríos recalls. "And everyone thought I was crazy," she laughs. Crazy, no, but the project did pose several hurdles: First, the home is built into a hillside, so in order to be level with the house, the deck would have to essentially be built on stilts.
Second, the cold Pennsylvania winters meant that Ríos would have to be super strategic in terms of materials and amenities so that the space would not only be usable for more than a couple months of the year, but would also hold up over time against the elements.
Ríos was also passionate about ensuring that the project was as environmentally-conscious as possible. That's what led her to her first major decision: Trex deck cladding, which is not only super durable, but made from recycled plastic.
After that, the wheels were in motion: "I spent a long time just thinking about what size certain areas should be and how we would use the space," says the designer, who comes from a large, close-knit family where (COVID-19 times aside), gatherings are hugely important. Still, pandemic-induced distancing guidelines played a part: "I wanted a space where people could all be together, but still find their space," she explains.
The final result is a wraparound space divided into a series of zones for a deck that is multifunctional, all-seasonal, and that flows with the rest of the house and its landscape. Read on for the tour.
"At first, I envisioned the dining area as right outside the door," says Ríos, "but that ended up not making as much sense, because I wanted a full outdoor kitchen" (more on the below!). As a compromise, she created a smaller dining area using a counter and an awning window from ActivWall that makes indoor-outdoor serving super easy year-round. "I wanted bifold doors, but they really weren't energy efficient," says the designer. "These keep the cold out in the winter."
It's not often that you see a full-hearth fireplace on a deck, but Ríos was determined to make one work, knowing that it would be another amenity that enables the family to enjoy the space year-round—despite lowering temperatures. Ríos selected a fireplace from American Fyre, which makes pared-down hearths ("like skeletons of fireplaces,") that don't require the traditional flue system. "They're super lightweight and have a gas insert, so you can have them on a deck surface," she says.
"This is the area that is the most used," says Ríos. For families like hers with young children who love to cook and eat together, the designer advises investing in the right dining table. "That is really where you want to put your money," she says. "You want something that's sturdy, durable, and easy to clean." Ríos sourced hers from Frontgate, and paired it with the company's Paris bistro chairs—"My family is big on sit-down meals, so comfortable chairs are a must," she says.
Of course, it earns its keep far beyond meal times, too: "You can work there, you can prepare food there, you can serve from there," she says.
Given that the family is big on food, it should come as little surprise that an outdoor kitchen was on the top of the wish list. "I knew I wanted a really big kitchen from the start," says Ríos. With her large extended family in mind, she extended the dining area off of the kitchen (with the fireplace providing a cozy connector) to create a sizable outdoor entertaining area. "The kitchen and dining room are kind of their own zone," explains the designer. "And then then you have your chill zone and your swim spa separate from that."
As a result, the seating area ended up right outside the door, a layout that ensures the deck gets maximum use—even if someone is just popping out to sit on the sofa for a quick break. And the best part? Because the house is built into a hill, "you feel like you're almost in a treehouse when you're out here," Ríos says. "You're level with the tops of the trees, which is so magical."
Who needs indoor rooms anyway?
Love this deck? You can rent Ríos's home on Airbnb!
Perfect Plants for your Deck
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