Don't Miss the Forest for the Trees

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Designing and building a deck is both an art and a science. It blends structure and aesthetics, says designer and builder Shawn Leonard, who works with Silent Rivers, a design/build company in Des Moines, Iowa, that specializes in exterior structures a...

March 01, 2003

 

Most of the home's rear fatade is glass overlooking the wooded yard, so Shawn Leonard designed a railing for the upper-level deck from galvanized steel posts and stainless steel cable. "The railing is nearly transparent when looking out of the house," he says. "The combination of steel and cable eliminates the bulk you would have with a wood railing." The railing is an alliance of galvanized steel posts at the end points and stabilizing pickets in between. Quarter-inch stainless steel cable runs horizontally through the posts and pickets 4 inches apart on center. The force is focused on the posts. "The pickets are mostly there to keep the cables from deflecting," says Leonard.

Designing and building a deck is both an art and a science. It blends structure and aesthetics, says designer and builder Shawn Leonard, who works with Silent Rivers, a design/build company in Des Moines, Iowa, that specializes in exterior structures and whole-house remodeling. Materials and style are important, but in this case the environment also became an inherent force in the design.

The existing deck was small, poorly constructed and warping. The owners wanted a more livable deck that was larger and creative, a deck with "an aesthetic of its own and that fit in with the land," says Leonard. They also wanted space that could be used for entertaining large groups as well as accommodating intimate family gatherings. Access from the house on all levels was important, and retaining existing trees was a must.

The result is cascading layers of seven interdependent decks. Stacked limestone planters rather than traditional railings define the outward edges of walkways. "The limestone planters blend with nature and really anchor the space," Leonard says. (Coon River Landscaping created the planters and landscaping.)

The various levels wander around existing trees, and in some cases decking surrounds them. "I wanted the trees as part of the deck as if you were moving through the forest," Leonard says. "It was important that the deck blended with nature."

"It was difficult to work around the trees and provide adequate footings without killing the trees," he adds. It also was a challenge to dig footings without getting into the root system. Footings were moved to accommodate the trees while maintaining the load-bearing distribution of weight. The deck cost $40,000, including planters, some landscaping and irrigation.

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