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Homeowners seeking to create a backyard retreat often focus their attention on the design of the swimming pool, while the surrounding decking is treated as more of a necessity than an aesthetic opportunity. Times are changing, say pool builders and installers who work with an assortment of popular decking materials.

What used to be the backdrop for a pool project now is the focus, as decking materials take on a more significant role in custom projects.

“The deck aesthetically is as important as the pool to the total identity of the backyard,” says Ron Coker Jr., president/COO of Master Pools by Artistic Pools Inc., a Pool & Spa News Top Builder in Atlanta.

A look at the latest trends among the assorted specialty decking materials shows that pavers, stone, decorative concrete, wood and composites are being used in new and innovative ways.

PAVERS

Pavers are available in essentially two categories: rectangular bricks made from shale or clay, and concrete varieties. While traditional bricks have their advocates, concrete pavers are dominating much of the market nowadays. (Click here to view a project using pavers.)

“They are strong, dense and the color lasts, and they come in multiple sizes, shapes and patterns,” says Bill Renter, owner of The Deck & Patio Co. in Huntington Station, N.Y.

Here are three key reasons pavers are attracting attention:

  • Versatility
  • Pavers are available in a variety of sizes, which allows for the creation of random, intricate patterns. Rather than long, repetitious lines of bricks, you can achieve a natural, free-form look by using three to six brick sizes.

    “We can meet most people’s expectations with this product,” Renter says.  “They can be laid down in different ways, and they have a smooth side and a pickled side.”

  • Instant age
  • Pavers have been engineered to emulate the aged, rough-hewn look that is trendy right now. The newest pavers give a nod to this look with their tumbled edges and earthy colors. The most popular hue is a blend of gray and tan, which serves as a universal, rustic color.

  • Weatherability
  • The use of stabilized joint sand during installation offers a trio of benefits and has effectively eliminated some of the negatives formerly associated with pavers. Using this compound means less moisture between pavers, thus less deck heaving in freeze-and-thaw climates. Grass and weeds can’t grow in the joints once the sand hardens. And, the use of joint sand prevents ants from tunneling through the sand base.

  • WOOD/COMPOSITES
  • While not always the first choice around water, many installers like the look of wood or wood composites for their decks. Traditionalists tend to take the natural wood route.

    However, low-maintenance, slip-resistant wood composite products are significantly outselling natural cedar and redwood decks at Deck Masters in Arlington, Texas, says Eric Snyder, company president. Nearly 80 percent of his business is from composite wood decking.

    Snyder says he used to spend about an hour in each customer’s home attempting to upsell them from wood to a composite. Now, homeowners use the Internet to do their own research on composite products and come to the bargaining table already interested in synthetic options. (Click here to view a project using wood/composites.)

    Current trends feature the look of exotic woods from around the world. A favorite in wood and composites are the dark, rich Brazilian hardwoods such as Ipe (pronounced ï-pay). Other popular preferences in the wood-composite deck market include: 

  • Texture
  • Natural wood grain textures and mottled colors are “really changing up” the composite market, Snyder says. While the first wood composite products were smooth and gray, the product now is available in hues and finishes that more closely resemble natural wood.

  • Curves
  • Upper-end composite decking projects are incorporating curves. “The deck boards are heated and then bent to create designs and inlaid curves within the deck,” Snyder says. This allows for sweeping patterns in addition to popular linear designs.

  • Concealed hardware
  • Many composite manufacturers have introduced hidden clip or fastener systems, which eliminate exposed fasteners between boards on the deck top. While these systems have been available for nearly six years, they have become more popular with customers of late, despite the additional cost of $1 or so per square foot.

  • STONE
  • Natural quarried stone comes in an assortment of colors that can complement the exterior of almost any home. As a decking product, stone gives a project an air of lavishness or, in a more rugged form, can emulate a natural environment. (Click here to view a project using stone.)

    “Our decks are getting more free-form, just like pools,” Coker notes. “These decks are as creative as the pools themselves.”

    Builders seek stone for numerous reasons. Some examples:

  • Multipurpose material
  • Natural stone is currently being used to unite the elements in backyards because of its horizontal and vertical versatility. Stone products can complement the masonry on a home’s exterior, unite horizontal decks and walkways, and be used vertically on fireplaces, seat walls and retaining walls.

  • One-of-a-kind patterns
  • When working with a natural product, free-form designs that reflect the outdoors are second nature. Many of Coker’s clients want to create a “pond-type atmosphere” that reflects real-life outdoor environments. This look can be achieved by using assorted hues of irregular-shaped stone.

    For Atlanta’s traditional style homes, however, he selects natural stone that is cut in geometric shapes and installed in formal patterns.

  • Durability
  • While many installers place flagstone on a concrete sub-base, Coker has turned to using a fine particulate form of granite. This M-10 granite dust is forgiving in freeze-and-thaw climates, but becomes nearly as hard as concrete.

    “The flagstone can sort of float on this 6-inch sub-base and doesn’t heave as concrete would, even with expansion joints,” he says.

  • DECORATIVE CONCRETE
  • Just as pool designs have advanced, so have the techniques, patterns and colors used when installing decorative concrete. (Click here to view a project using decorative concrete.)

    “I think that concrete is becoming the icing on the cake,” says Jay Tucker, owner of Swim World Pools Inc. in Gallatin, Tenn. “People are wanting to do more patterns. We’re giving projects character with borders and saw cuts.”

    Here are some favorite trends:

  • Mixing it up
  • The leading trend in stamped concrete is pattern mixing. Stamped herringbone patterns are being paired with slatelike brick designs. Saw-cut score lines are used to give dimension to stained and sealed concrete.

    “The same patterns and colors get monotonous,” Tucker says. “We’re using stone-look cuts in the concrete or mixed textures.”

  • Natural palette
  • When it comes to color preferences, neutral bases are leading the way. Homeowners are coloring the concrete in tones of brown or gray, then adding a contrasting border in a band form around the edge of the deck.

  • Added details
  • Taking a cue from inlaid wood flooring, which is popular with homeowners, Tucker has created inlaid concrete “area rugs” within larger decks.

    “We recently formed up an area that was a rectangle and had a different pattern and design than the rest of the pool deck,” he explains. “The client put a rectangular table on it. It breaks up the deck and gives it some uniqueness.”