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
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
“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 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.
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
- 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
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.
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
Masters in Arlington, Texas, says Eric Snyder, company
president. Nearly 80 percent of his business is from composite wood
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
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
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
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.
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
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
“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
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
“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