THE CANVAS: Steep backyard drop-off, scampering pets, a leafy panorama

THE PALETTE: “Strands” of honey-blond Ipe wood, herbal scented potted plants, matching foliage embroidered into the scenery

THE MASTERPIECE: Furniture-quality finish, a warm opalescent retreat, quiet Pacific Northwest sanctuary

Ariel Asturias and Rick Knight had their work cut out for them. They had to design a deck with a portable spa for a busy homeowner who not only liked to entertain, but also wanted a space that could easily accommodate the activities of his two playful German shepherds.

To meet those needs, the Craftsman-style house in the Madrona area of northern Seattle required a tough but beautiful deck. The design duo decided to recess the spa into a 30-by-16-foot, gouge-resistant Ipe wood deck. Then they surrounded it with carefully placed potted plants, intimate half-moon post lighting and a shady, waterproof spot for the dogs underneath the deck.

Good wood

Unlike the more popular cedar, Ipe is a heavy, strong wood that resists wear and tear. However, working with the material served as the biggest challenge in completing the project. “It doesn’t scratch easily, but it doesn’t cut easily either,” Knight explains.

Each piece was hand-selected to match the redwood-colored spa. The ends were treated with wax sealer after each cut and the boards were prestained prior to installation. The deck was secured with hidden fasteners instead of nails and screws.

In addition, the backyard suddenly dropped off to a steep 40-degree incline. Therefore, Asturias and Knight added deeper, larger footings to the deck for extra support on the incline. The railings were created with a mix of Ipe and clear vertical grain cedar wood to complement the Craftsman-style home.

The deck was built as a split-level project to break up the look of the long geometric lines and add character. One side houses the spa while the other provides a dining spot and social corners.

The spa was recessed into a concrete slab and the deck constructed around it. A 24-by-42-inch-wide equipment panel built in two parts rests in front, affording easy access for a service technician.

The spa sits outside the owner’s office, where French doors open onto the deck. “The purpose of the French doors was, ‘Can we please pull him outside?’” Asturias says.

The deck’s warmth and intimacy would draw anyone outside. From within the spa, you have a panoramic view of the valley. Ceramic pots of greenery — including Japanese maple, gem magnolia, Angelina — flank the deck and enhance the honey highlights of the wood.

“I placed the plants where they are part of the ebb and flow of how we envision people using the deck,” Asturias says. A few of the plants were chosen for their drought tolerance.


Situated prominently next to the spa is a basin of herbal plants, such as rosemary and gold box honeysuckle. The scents from the plants blend with the steam from the spa to create a simmering herbal tea.

Half-moon lights on a low-voltage system illuminate the lower yard beyond the deck. The indirect lighting, set up on posts about a foot from the deck’s surface, turns the wood into warmer strawberry hues and heightens the soothing ambiance of the spa.

Controlled from inside the house, the lighting also can be expanded to include the rest of the landscape. “Ambient light is what we were trying to accomplish,” Knight says.

The homeowner and dogs were pleased with the results. “He’s always out there,” Asturias says. “He likes to entertain, but he also enjoys his private time.”

Rick Knight (left) and Ariel Asturias, co-owners, Urban Refinements, Seattle
Rick Knight (left) and Ariel Asturias, co-owners, Urban Refinements, Seattle