I usually don’t like to tackle a home improvement project until bloodshed or bankruptcy is imminent, but sometimes you just can’t tell.
Could I have known that my deck needed resurfacing before my 10-year-old son, Luca, hopped into the house a few weeks ago with a splinter dangling from his foot?
“We have to fix that deck!” he shouted, writhing in pain.
Apparently I should have known. To be fair, though, I was occupied with the other 28 half-broken things in my house that require constant ignoring.
Also, I don’t normally think of my deck as something intended for human use.
Shaped like the state of Oklahoma and measuring less than 60 square feet, the thing sits 20 inches off the ground yet boasts a high, thick railing evidently built by someone who really loved prison. We keep a monster grill confined there, and that’s it.
But after Luca’s splinter episode, I resolved to look at the deck with an eye toward its potential, not its present. For help, I called Steve Cory, author of “Deck Designs” (Creative Homeowner, 2009); Mitchell Ross, who owns the online retailer Patio.com; and Anna Powers, an owner and the lead designer of the Busybee Home Store and Design Center in Philadelphia.
Revamping a deck can be a pricey undertaking, they said, but for folks like me who aren’t sure the deck is something the family will actually use much, there are ways to hedge. Before I could reimagine the space, though, I confronted the planks, which were gray, stained and about 15 percent splintered.
I had three options. I could spend a weekend sanding and resealing them with products like Penofin or Sikkens, which Cory recommended, or I could pay someone to do it for me. As a final option, I could cover it with a new product called Deck Restore, a colored goop that swallows splinters and gives the surface the texture of a running track.
None of my panelists had tried Restore, but Cory said he was considering it. The process is fast and cheap — $39 for a tiny space like mine — but it’s also irreversible, so if I didn’t like it I’d have to replace the deck or cover it with outdoor tiles.
Wood tile can cost $5 to $12 a square foot, with teak tiles often occupying the top end of that range because the wood is virtually impervious to the elements.
“You can leave it out there and you don’t have to do any maintenance,” Ross said.
As lovely as that sounds, given my deck’s design I figured I’d try the Restore first, and see if we liked the deck enough to use it. If not, we might want to spend our cash on a bigger deck instead.
So I bought a two-gallon package of Restore and set aside a weekend for the job.
First comes prep, an arduous process best approached with kneepads, coarse sandpaper and good music. (If you have old pressure-treated lumber, it may contain arsenic, so Cory suggested wearing a mask while you sand and minding your water runoff.)
After washing off grease and allowing the wood to dry for a day, you get to apply the product, which is the thickest stuff I’ve painted with since my childhood mud phase, except it’s more like painting with peanut butter — the gritty kind you’d find at the health-food store.
So if the idea of painting with organic peanut butter thrills you, painting with Restore will likely give you spasms of ecstasy.
It gave me the urge to curse.
I slopped the stuff onto my deck and pushed hard with the roller, which I had smartly attached to a broom handle to save my back. On the second plank, the broom handle snapped, so I smartly grabbed the handle from the only remaining broom in our house.
That one lasted about 10 minutes before snapping, at which time I smartly reached for the first expletive I could conjure and released it to the high heavens.
This evidently helped, as I did not snap another broom handle for the remainder of the afternoon. Of course, my knees and arm ached from using a roller without a broom handle.
When the first coat was dry enough, I pulled out the most dangerous weapon in my power-tool arsenal, my reciprocating saw. I needed roughly an hour to reduce the height of the deck railing to 24 inches and screw it back into place. (At Cory’s suggestion, I cleared my plan with town officials beforehand.) What a difference.
I applied the second coat of Restore, waited for it to dry and beheld a coffee-colored deck that might not have been gorgeous, but was definitely a place to relax.
Now, what to do with it?
Most homeowners, Powers noted, use their decks as plant nurseries.
“People buy way too many plants, they forget about furniture and they don’t think of accessories or that outdoor rugs exist,” she said.
Keep the plants to a minimum, she said, and think of furniture first, keeping in mind your lifestyle habits.
“If I never really entertain and I’m just going to eat outside or read a book, I might need a comfy chair and a side table,” she said, “versus a table and four chairs.”
Before buying the furniture, Powers added, choose a color scheme and go rug shopping. In recent years, fully synthetic outdoor rugs have reached the market, with mold-resistant fibers and designs more akin to indoor rugs.
Pottery Barn carries a good selection of outdoor rug options; less expensive ones are available on Overstock.com and HomeGoods (where I bought an earthy-orange one from Safavieh for $60).
I bought a contrasting nine-foot umbrella for $79 at Target, which Ross and Powers predicted would last maybe two years. More durable ones cost at least four times that amount, and Powers said $900 would buy complete peace of mind, but so would a Porsche.
When I hit the lottery I will have peace of mind, but until then I’ll live with a sub-optimal umbrella.
While at Target, I also bought an accent cushion for a pair of older wooden chairs we pulled out of storage — another cost-cutting measure that would soon become important.
If I’d had a bigger budget, I would have considered a classic chaise longue (like the Outdoor Classics Steamer Chair, $700), or a piece from a new line of upholstered, waterproof outdoor furniture from Lane Venture, which looks and feels like something you might put in your living room.
To cut costs further, Powers suggested buying inexpensive cushions at Ikea and covering them with Sunbrella outdoor fabric, which my wife and I put on our to-do list.
Finally, in a nod to horticultural restraint, I added a simple window box to the railing ($15 from Home Depot) and a planter ($60 from Pier 1 Imports).
My wife and I put everything together and loved the space. Almost.
The color and texture of the Restore didn’t quite live up to the elegance of the rest of the space. We stood at a crossroads. Do we live with it? Buy a new deck? Splurge on tiles?
At around $500 (for Infinita’s Le Click teak tiles), the new deck surface was less expensive and perhaps more beautiful than what we’d have gotten with a new deck.
As a bonus, it was a breeze to install. I unboxed the tiles and Luca snapped them into place, like oversize puzzle pieces, then slid across the finished product in his bare feet.