Beth Allen’s patio was falling apart. The corners, sagging. The cement, cracked. And without shade, the 10-foot-by-16-foot slab sat unused in the unforgiving Pennsylvania summer sun, leaving the beautiful view of the woods behind their home unseen and therefore, unappreciated. But Allen, a licensed contractor and DIY educator at Hip Chicks, knew what it could be…by looking up. All she needed was a pen and a Post-It to sell her husband on her ideal dream deck, built on top of their aging patio.
“I sketched out the whole thing—the staircase leading down to the backyard, a gas fireplace with a TV in the corner and spaces for living and eating,” says Allen of her initial design. “He was like, ‘Why didn’t we talk about this sooner?’”
Equipped with her Post-it plan and an above-average level of DIY gumption, Allen set out to create a deck that’d maximize the “gorgeous view” and also serve as a functional space for her family of five, including three school-aged boys. “I knew I wanted a fully covered space, one that we’d be comfortable on from early in the morning into the evening,” says Allen, who often works on her blog and design projects from home. With comfort top of mind, an outdoor gas fireplace was always part of the vision. “I love being outside and knew the fireplace would extend the amount of time we could enjoy the space.”
After landing on a layout including designated zones for eating and relaxing, Allen worked shoulder-to-shoulder with a contractor on the deck construction before turning to their local Hearth Expert Ambler Fireplace & Patio, for help finding the right outdoor fireplace for their space (and budget).
“I immediately liked the Courtyard because of the natural look of it, the silver finish and simple brick refractory,” says Allen. “I wanted the interior to be simple so it wouldn’t compete with other patterns.” Allen was also drawn to the Courtyard’s affordable price point (models start at $2,647) and the convenience of gas ignition was a must. “I wanted to be able to walk out, push a button and enjoy the fire.”
Building upon the desire for a neutral backdrop, Allen then selected and installed a dry stacked stone veneer in “Autumn Harvest” color palette from Airstone for the fireplace surround. Fleshing out a plan for a non-combustible mantel that’d keep her outdoor TV safe from the heat of the fireplace was a little more complicated of a project. “I wanted the look of wood, but it had to be tolerant of a range of temperatures,” says Allen. “What I came up with was a metal stud base, installed by my contractor, which I wrapped in cement board, which I covered with chicken wire and then covered in stucco. Once the stucco was set, I mixed plaster of paris and sculpted it by hand over the stucco base, using a graining tool to get a realistic faux wood grain.” The seven-step process took about a week to complete, but the resulting mantel? So worth it. “I absolutely love it.”
After such a hands-on undertaking, Allen and her family have reaped the rewards of her labor of love daily. “My husband and I are outside almost every evening, curled up under a blanket, watching TV in front of the fire,” says Allen. “It’s our little retreat. We feel like we’re on vacation sitting on our deck. The fireplace cuts the chill and adds an ambiance and emotion that feels like we’ve escaped away from everything outside. The value it’s brought to our house is unreal.”
Beth Allen’s Top Tips for Creating the Deck of Your Dreams
- Be picky about who you partner with. Allen’s first contractor insisted that a corner fireplace wouldn’t look good. Instead of compromising her vision, Allen found a partner who was confident in her vision and open to working in tandem on completing the project, leaving her to complete the fireplace facade and allowing Ambler, the fireplace expert, to do the fireplace install. To find a hearth expert near you, head to our dealer locator and enter your zip code.
- When it comes to fireplace clearances, triple check the fine print. When obtaining the fireplace installation permit from the township, Allen overlooked the clearance to vinyl specification, which forced a change in material choice for the deck’s ceiling. “Instead of a vinyl soffit, we had to go with a solid pine tongue-and-groove paneling,” notes Allen. “At the end of the day, it looks beautiful, but it did put us a little over budget and make for a funny fiasco of a weekend. All five of us were out there, painting 92 12-foot boards!”
- Invest in elements that maximize comfort. Hunter ceiling fan fixtures not only provide light, but keeps the air moving, making the deck bug-free and cool. “We also installed some curtain rods and weather-proof curtains that help block the sun,” says Allen. “They also give a cabana feel, which adds to that feeling of escape.” The outdoor fireplace, too, has been a game-changer. “Our kids bring their friends out there, so there’ll be eight boys watching Netflix with the fire on. We use it year-round. Even in November and December, there’ll be nights where we fire it up.”