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Beyond the Deck

Designing and building outdoor living areas for your clients triggers a quandary: What style should it be? The easy answer is to slap a wood or composite deck onto the back of the house. But your clients are likely to be more delighted with an outdoor living area that takes its design cues from the house itself.

April 30, 2007

This stately gazebo would complement a Colonial-style home with its columns, moldings and crisp white paint.

Designing and building outdoor living areas for your clients triggers a quandary: What style should it be?

The easy answer is to slap a wood or composite deck onto the back of the house. But your clients are likely to be more delighted with an outdoor living area that takes its design cues from the house itself.

For instance, if the home has a Colonial flair with shiny black doors, white columns and brick floors, why not carry out that theme on the patio or outdoor kitchen?

"There's a formality to Colonial architecture," says designer Kitty Bartholomew.

Victorian, on the other hand, is more whimsical, with ornate corbels and turned spindles. The deck or gazebo should reflect that.

And for a contemporary home, it's another story altogether.

To get clarity on which outdoor elements complement which architectural styles, we asked Bartholomew, who spent 15 years traveling the country for shows on ABC-TV and HGTV, for advice.

The following pages offer tips on designing and building outdoor spaces for the most popular architectural styles.


Bricks, columns and white planter are very Colonial.

The defining characteristics of New England Colonial homes are symmetry, clapboard siding, shutters and columns flanking the front door. Thomas Jefferson's Monticello is one of the more spectacular Colonial buildings in the United States.

"Brick would be the mainstay of a Colonial home," says Bartholomew.

Modern production homes sometimes have hints of Colonial style — perhaps two-story, composite lap siding and shutters — but not the full package of columns and extensive brick work. However, a new outdoor kitchen that included a portico held up with columns and brick decking would feel right and help increase the home's Colonial credentials.

Colonial/Traditional Style at a Glance:

  • Symmetrical shapes
  • Brickwork
  • Wooden columns painted white
  • Clapboard siding
  • Cornices
  • Shutters
  • Simple, rectangular shapes
  • Stone planter with topiary flanking door
  • Wood planter with topiary, painted glossy black, white or dark green
  • Pediment over door
  • Brass door knobs
  • Divided light windows
  • Extensive white moldings

A Victorian conservatory can provide a connection with nature through the year. The filigree work gives it a Victorian flair.


Victorian architectural style is characterized by steep roof lines and lots of ornamentation with corbels, scalloped shingles and spindle work. This work blossomed at the beginning of the machine age, when fancy woodwork no longer had to be done by hand. Victorian gardens usually have a lot of ironwork. "Think New Orleans," Bartholomew suggests. Inside, Victorians are likely to have marble somewhere. A steep-roofed pergola with an outdoor kitchen and marble counters would be keeping with the style.

  • A gazebo made of lacy ironwork is ideal for a Victorian garden.

    Steep rooflines

  • Curlicue details
  • Scalloped shingles
  • Lots of ornamentation
  • Decorative corbels
  • Ornate detail
  • Marble
  • Filigree ironwork
  • Multi-colored elements

In this modern home, the Craftsman theme is suggested with shingled siding, brackets under eaves, tapered wood columns on brick bases and divided-light windows.


Craftsman houses are well-named, as they show off the craftsmanship of the carpenters and ironworkers who build them. Bartholomew says the patina of wood is most valued in Craftsman homes, as well as the homes' iron hardware and glazed tiles. Of all the home styles explored here, the Craftsman bungalow lends itself most comfortably with a standard wood or deck that looks wooden.

Craftsman/Bungalow Style at a Glance:

  • Exposed timbers

  • A slatted covering over a wooden deck would work well for a Craftsman home.


  • Iron hardware
  • Hand-forged iron
  • Burgundy and hunter green colors
  • Tapered wood columns
  • Glazed tile
  • 4-over-1 or 6-over-1 double-hung windows
  • Front porch beneath extension of main roof
  • Eaves with deep overhangs
  • Exposed rafters
  • Brackets under eaves

This whole package - a stone patio, black iron sconces, a wood trellis and massive wood pillars - would dress up just about any Spanish- or European-style home.

European/Old World/Spanish

The European style referenced here is characterized by stone decking, tile roofs, masonry, stucco, pillars and antique woods. On the West Coast, many new production homes have an Old World feeling to them. Stone patios and fountains will suit these homes well.

European/Old World/Spanish Style at a Glance:

  • Stone
  • Stone benches
  • Arches
  • Masonry columns
  • Tile roofs

  • This tiled fountain would be perfect outside a European- or Spanish-style home.


    Terra cotta stone

  • Pillars
  • Stone decking
  • Stone walls
  • Columns
  • Metal grille
  • Antiqued wood
  • Decorative straps
  • Hand-hewn finish
  • Stucco
  • Metal lamps

The gray stone of this patio harmonizes with the home's gray roof.

Cape Cod

Cape Cod-style homes evoke the Atlantic Ocean, sun-drenched decks, sea birds, wild grasses and the sound of fog horns. Wood or composite decks are the perfect look for Cape Cod homes, either painted or left unpainted to weather in the sun. The latter option will cut down on maintenance issues for the homeowners.

Cape Cod Style at a Glance:

  • Gable roofs
    Plain white railings are perfect for the Cape Cod look.


  • Shutters
  • Divided-light windows
  • Wooden clapboard
  • Sun-bleached wood
  • Weathered shingles
  • Cedar
  • Sun-dried grays
  • Blues, reds, patriotic colors
  • Native grasses
  • Square posts

This aluminum trellis over a deck coordinates with the home's modern vocabulary. The deck is visible from the house through large corner windows. 
Photo courtesy of Robert Nebolon


The term contemporary architecture does not necessarily mean the building is new or nearly new. Rather, the term refers to a certain style of architecture that is very sleek and without ornamentation — think the opposite of Victorian. Many houses built in the 1940s and 1950s could be labeled contemporary and are now sought-after and known as "mid-century modern" homes. Outdoor spaces for these homes should follow the same aesthetic and use the same exterior materials and colors.

Contemporary/Modern/Mid-century at a Glance:

  • Angular
  • Stainless steel

  • Concrete blocks and geometric shapes like this bench fit well with a contemporary or modern house. Photo courtesy of Flower to the People


  • Geometric shapes
  • Stucco
  • Concrete
  • No ornamentation
  • Cable-deck railing
  • Sleek

Victorian Style at a Glance:

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