Lines Of Sight

from Garden, Deck & Landscape
Your deck can add to your lawn and garden décor with these innovative railing techniques.

Imagine having a sweeping view of San Francisco Bay, but the moment you sit to enjoy it, it disappears behind a stucco wall and horizontal guardrails.

No wonder Diane and Todd Garrett of Tiburon, California, decided to renovate and enlarge their deck. “When you have a wonderful view, you need a great deck,” Diane says, adding that their goal was “a clean, simple look to marry with the clean, contemporary look of the house.”

For the new decking, Todd and Diane chose gray limestone paving tiles to harmonize with the soft blue-gray of the bay beyond. However, the natural stone added substantial weight to the deck. And with solid decking, water had to drain away from the home’s sliding glass doors to prevent seepage into the house.

General contractor Dan Hadley, of Ireland Robinson & Hadley, Inc., worked with a structural engineer to create an expanded deck that cantilevers, supporting the added mass while eliminating support pillars that would impede views from lower levels.

With the structural problems solved, the Garretts could focus on a railing that wouldn’t sacrifice the gorgeous view. Because of a 25-foot drop to the ground, the barrier had to be solid enough to withstand people leaning on it, “and 80-mile-per-hour winds during winter storms,” Todd says. Thick glass was their solution. Half-inch-thick panels create a 4-foot-high railing that’s completely see-through, but also acts as a windbreak. A slender band of steel caps the panels and provides visual assurance for guests uncomfortable with heights.

A drawback with glass is its tendency to get water spots. Technology came to the Garretts’ rescue in the form of Diamon-Fusion, a coating that fills in minute crevices in the glass, making it so smooth that water drops roll off instead of adhering. It also creates a more scratch- and impact-resistant surface.

The Garretts are thrilled with their new railing. “It makes our deck a perfect spot for dining, entertaining, relaxing, and sunset watching,” Diane says. “I call it our ‘infinity deck,’ because, like an infinity pool, you can’t tell where it ends.”

Jerry and Linda Bravard built their home on a wooded lot in Boone, Iowa, “as close to the trees as possible, so it would look like it had been there 30 years,” Jerry says.

Like the home, the 16 x 20-foot deck has design accents reminiscent of Mission architecture. One of those touches is the copper
that Jerry, a general residential contractor, incorporated into the railing. “We didn’t want shiny metal, or anything that would turn green,” Jerry says. Plumbing pipe seemed ideal because it weathers to a warm glow.

Jerry designed the deck with 4 x 4 posts that anchor the 36-inch-high railing to the deck floor. Horizontal wood rails span the posts at top and bottom. Between these, and running parallel to them, are five 1-inch copper pipes spaced 4 inches apart. The pipes extend through 1-1/2-inch-thick vertical posts that are 24 or 30 inches apart (depending on which side of the deck they span). Pipe ends rest in inch-deep holes in corner and intermediate 4 x 4s.
“I drilled one hundred seventy 1-1/16-inch holes, using a drill press with a jig [pattern],” Jerry says. “My only mistake was doing my test hole in kiln-dried pine, then using green treated lumber to build the deck rail. The pipe slipped through the kiln-dried wood just fine, but the treated wood didn’t cut as cleanly, so it was a tight fit.” As Jerry hammered one end of each pipe and sprayed it with silicone to make it slide, Linda guided it through the holes.
“A snug fit is a good thing,” he says. “The railing is rock solid. But if I had to do it again, I’d make each hole 1/16 inch bigger.”

“We love the results,” Jerry says. “But I told my wife, if I ever have to build another one, someone else will drill all those holes.”

To preserve her ocean view, Laura Parker took a cue from ocean-going vessels. For deck railings on her hillside bungalow north of San Diego, she turned to stainless-steel cables like those used on sailboats.

Parker, a general contractor, operates a home restoration firm that specializes in Southern California beach cottages. The 50-year-old house she bought in Del Mar was desperately in need of help.

The roof of the garage had served as a deck of sorts, with narrow stairs leading up to it, but it was surrounded by a deteriorating stucco wall. Laura refurbished this deck and added another to create a multilevel outdoor living area.

Leading up to the house from the street and sidewalk, along one side of the garage, is a new flight of 9-foot-wide redwood stairs. These end in a small landing that opens onto the 22 x 22-foot deck atop the garage. From here, a shorter flight of stairs takes visitors to the front door. Or they can continue up to a 14 x 20-foot, west-facing deck that extends the length of the house. Here, Laura replaced the home’s windows with sliding glass doors that expand and brighten interior rooms, improve traffic flow, and make the sea visible from inside.

On the upper deck’s ocean side, Laura installed 1/4-inch, corrosion-resistant stainless-steel cables for an almost transparent look. She selected them from a catalog of marine hardware at a rigging supplier in San Diego. The cable is connected to the corner posts with deck toggles. “They’re called deck toggles because they’re used on boat decks,” she says.

“I wanted to create the feel of a Nantucket home with an enhanced street presence,” Laura says, “while carving out additional space for entertaining and taking advantage of ocean views.” The sleek marine hardware she chose, which graces the deck like architectural jewelry, helped her achieve her goals with stylish character.

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