Enjoying outdoor space year-round: 12 tips for getting decked

Designing the ideal deck is a bit more daunting than it seems. Go too understated and it may look like a dock. Go overboard, and it will look like the architectural equivalent of wearing cocktail attire to a backyard barbecue. But we can help.


Because we are fortunate in this area to be able to enjoy outdoor living almost year-round, I offer a dozen considerations to get you started on designing or remodeling the deck of your dreams.

1. Rules and regs. Familiarize yourself with your city’s regulations to find out what you can legally do. Your deck designer and builder will most likely need to apply for a deck permit requiring scale drawings of the framing plan and possibly an elevation to ensure that your deck will be safe and meet structural code requirements. Materials, fasteners, footings, railings, stairs and ledger boards will all need to be addressed.

2. Living the life. Is private reflection, an intimate dinner or drinks by the fire pit how you roll? Do you occasionally throw a large party or do you regularly entertain the masses? Essentially, you need to ask yourself what ages of people will use the deck, how, and how often. Whatever the answers, be clear about your needs. Think in terms of must-haves and like-to-haves and determine what your budget and space will allow.

3. In the zone. In all likelihood, your deck will accommodate a range of activities: some frequently, some occasionally. Establish zones or rooms for relaxing, dining, cooking and so forth. Designing a deck is not unlike designing an interior space with an open floor plan. Be sure to leave plenty of room for traffic flow around and through these areas. For instance, diners should be able to comfortably pull their chairs back from the table without hitting a railing and be able to circulate around the table comfortably.

4. Be materialistic. When choosing materials, be realistic about your willingness to engage in proper maintenance. Treated lumber or cedar is the most affordable, but requires power washing and, ideally, sealing. Exotic woods are rich-looking, but more expensive. Composites, PVC and the like are more expensive, but offer virtually maintenance-free longevity.

5. Size matters. The scale of your deck in relation to your home, especially, but also your yard, is critically important for a cohesive look. Some experts advise that your deck should be no larger than 20 percent of your home’s footprint. But it depends on several factors including how the deck is broken up with furnishings and such, its shape and its design. Manipulating the angle of the boards – vertically, diagonally, horizontally or in combination – can help break up the space and define zones. A bi- or even trilevel deck, or one with repeated angles, curves or bump-outs helps avoid that aircraft-carrier feel of too large an expanse.

6. Free range. If you enjoy grilling – a lot – an outdoor kitchen, complete with a wood-fired brick pizza oven, may be a must-have. But a simple grill, perhaps on a bump-out, may suffice. On the other hand, if your kitchen is conveniently located near your deck, you may prefer to cook – and possible even serve – food indoors and dine outside. Grills and decks go together like beans and slaw, but a nice gas grill that sits under its cover unused is an expensive piece of sculpture.


7. Cover up. Depending on the orientation of your deck and the trees on your property, the sun’s rays may or may not be an issue. But if you and the sun have different ideas about compatibility, design a portion of your deck to offer shade, either full – rendering it a covered porch – or partial, with, say, a pergola. How far apart the rafters are spaced and whether it is planted with a climbing vine determine how much sunlight penetrates.

8. Room with a view. Many of us enjoy our decks because of the view it provides into our yards or the surrounding landscape. But the view from inside the house out to the deck is also important for visual harmony. As you choose a design and furnishings, ensure that the view from the inside out is enhanced and unobstructed. Some strategies to help open up the view include a stepped-down design and a cable or tempered-glass railing system. If you choose a sleek contemporary cable system, be sure it won’t rust.

9. Stay connected. Visually and, often, functionally, decks provide a transition between house and yard. To ensure that the transition is smooth, consider not only the style of the deck and furnishings, but what lies beyond. Typically, decks, especially small ones, should reflect the style of the home. Larger decks, or those with more than one level, often look attractive if they become more natural or organic as they move away from the house. Where any deck meets the yard, a patio, pavers, stones or brick create a handsome transition.

10. Let there be light. Since, especially during the work week, many of us are only able to enjoy our decks at night, be sure to provide adequate lighting for ambiance, tasks and safety. Choose from under-rail lighting, string lights, well lights, stair lights, cordless fixtures and more.

11. Upstanding. We tend to think of decks as floors, but it is often the upright elements that create the most visual impact. Today’s market boasts an almost overwhelming range of railing styles from rustic to highly refined. Take your time, do your research – look at lots of photos – and pick the perfect railing for your application. If your deck is significantly raised, your skirting can be simple vertical or horizontal boards or something more decorative to complement the style of the home. Be careful, though, not to choose something overly busy, as it will provide an unwanted distraction and create an unintended focal point.

12. Decorate rich. Think function, comfort, style and longevity when choosing outdoor furnishings. As with decorating any space, choose a color palette and style – preferably ones that complements your home – and stick with it. Define areas with indoor-outdoor rugs and soften with occasional tables – ceramic garden stools are nice because they can provide extra seating for small folks – and incorporate indoor-outdoor pillows and potted plants. For upholstered furniture, invest in furniture covers and perhaps a decorative bench with an open-close top in which to store it. If you have to retrieve and return covers to a shed or garage that isn’t conveniently located, you won’t use them.


Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, contact Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to http://www.vbhomesliving.com.


Want a better closet? Here’s how to get started.

You might think that efficient, highly functional, and beautiful custom closet design begins with space planning. But you would be wrong. It begins with a purge.

Most people have clothing and other items tucked – or stuffed – into their closets that they haven’t touched in a year or more. Donate or discard all of those out-of-style, unneeded and unwanted items before you begin the closet design process. In doing so, you will best understand not only how many items you have, but what types. Even if your result is a few steps down from a boutique or haberdashery style space – for which we advocate – an accurate “audit” of what needs to fit back into the closet is the only way to plan a space tailored to your needs, whether you are designing a walk-in or reach-in closet.

Consider making a built in “hutch” the centerpiece of your new closet, complete with drawers, a catch-all surface on top, and shelves or cubbies above to save space in the bedroom by eliminating the need for a dresser. Then build out from there, thinking in terms of zones, especially if two people share the closet – or might in the future – and designing from the floor to the ceiling to make use of every square inch. No closet ever had too much storage space.
Closet Picture

Decide what might be better folded or rolled, like sweaters and T-shirts – clothing made of fabrics that can stretch and become misshapen – and even jeans and shorts. Allot adjustable shelves – and maybe some handy rollouts. These could be cubbies or deep drawers. For ease of retrieval, it is best that folded items are not stacked more than 5 feet tall. The top shelves of your closet are the ideal place for bins that hold less frequently used items like luggage, totes and shoe bags for travel, or seasonal items like bathing suits.

Drawers with clear acrylic fronts make it easy to see what is inside, but may also contribute to visual clutter. Figure out which matters more to you and choose accordingly. Shallow drawers are nice for hosiery, underclothes and nightclothes, though some people prefer an open bin or basket on a shelf for quick retrieval of these items, especially, socks.

Those slanted shelves designed especially for shoes are not the most practical, adaptable or space-saving design. We recommend flat adjustable shelves to accommodate shoes of different heel and platform heights, as well as booties and boots. Save the most space by turning each pair heel to toe. Other items requiring shelf space that you might want to stash in your closet include linens and pillows for the adjacent bedroom and bath.

Clothing on hangers takes up the most space, but is, obviously, a necessity. Measure the width of your hanging clothes to determine exactly how much space you will require. Be sure to include long hanging space – usually some 18-24 inches in width – for women’s dresses. Consider hanging coats in a foyer or mudroom.

Most everything else can be double hung, but it is still a good idea to make sure that rods are adjustable. In a walk-in closet, hanging clothing can be concealed behind doors for a very upscale look. Just keep in mind that they will take up more space and, unless the area is expansive, could lend a closed-in feel. For the neatest, tidiest and most cohesive look even without doors, decide on one type of hanger – plastic, wood, or velvet; not wire! – and stick with it.

An array of other closet accessories is available, and one can easily get carried away. One that is practical, though, is a pull-out belt/tie rack. Another that we really like is the pull-out hamper located in the bottom section of double hung space. If two people share a closet, each person ideally will have his or her own hamper or, even better, a pair of them for separating different fabrics. We favor the bag-style that can be unhooked from its sliders and taken to the laundry room.

If your closet offers enough wall space – including behind a swing door – where anything built out will not work, many women, especially, like a rail-type system with hooks for jewelry, scarves, hats and the like. Being able to see all of your jewelry hanging over hooks or in organdy bags suspended from hooks means it is likely to get worn more often.

Lighting is as important in the well-designed closet as it is in a kitchen and bath. If you can accommodate natural lighting from a window, we highly recommend it, though some fabrics can fade in direct sunlight. Because you lose storage space on window walls, we find that the space beneath windows is the ideal spot for bench seating for putting shoes on and taking them off. A small sturdy bench that doubles as a kind of movable step stool is nice for retrieving items up high.

But you will also need overhead lighting, which can be as stylish as you choose; just make sure it is bright and not behind you, or your body will cast shadows on what you are trying to see. Opt for a cool type of bulb, as incandescent light fixtures can cause heat to build, and all of that fabric in an enclosed space can become a fire hazard.

Other considerations for your closet, if space allows, include a television, radio, flip-down ironing board, full-length mirror from which you can stand back about 3 feet, and wastebasket for laundry tags and bags, receipts left in your pockets, and the like. Closets can be difficult spaces in which to vacuum, but area rugs underfoot can feel nice.

By keeping these guidelines in mind, your closet may become the best room in your home.

If you have a question on building, remodeling, or designing your dream closet, please email me at chris@ vbhomesliving.com.

Virginia Beach native and James Madison University graduate Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. Ettel serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors and is past chairman of the TBA Remodeler’s Council. Contact Ettel at Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

2018: VB Homes helps Complete 11th House Project for the Virginia Beach Education Foundation


On June 4th, 2018 VB Homes (in partner with the City of Virginia Beach Education Foundation and other local businesses) helped celebrate the 11th house project built by Virginia Beach students. We are honored to have participated and are proud of the students’ successful accomplishment. This home will be up for sale in the Fall of 2018 located at 1905 Evar Place, Virginia Beach, VA. For more information regarding this exciting project, visit the Virginia Beach Education Foundation website http://www.vbef.org/house/index.asp

North End House for Sale

Our remodeled spec home is now up for sale! This updated brick ranch is located at 55th Street and Myrtle Avenue has an open concept with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Contact Chas Ferguson or Larry Blum to schedule a showing at 757-416-8280. #wholehouseremodel #remodelproject #northend #virginiabeach #brickranch #vbhomes

Home for Sale at the North End of Virginia Beach, VA

Our North End spec home is NOW up for sale!! Here are some sneak peak photos of this gorgeous new home! Call Chas Ferguson or Larry Blum at 757-416-8280 to schedule a showing.

Prospective pool and spa owners should think S-L-A-M before jumping in

If warming weather has you fantasizing about the ultimate in backyard pools and spas, before you jump into the deep end, we have compiled a list of considerations to both help you make a splash and prevent you from getting soaked. Though any licensed pool contractor or landscape architect can help prospective pool owners wade through the design and installation process, we encourage you to inform yourself about some of the basics, both practical and aesthetic. As you wade in, just think “S-L-A-M,” as in your beautiful backyard retreat will be a slam dunk.


Site: A pool can be built on virtually any site, but the cost may be prohibitive if the property isn’t naturally suitable for construction. Issues to consider include soil composition, water table, elevation changes and accessibility. Generally, the heavy equipment needed for pool construction requires at least 8-foot- wide access.

SHAPE: If you are determined to have a pool, there is probably a shape that will work for your application, even if it isn’t exactly what you had imagined. For example, a long narrow rectangle is ideal when space is limited.

STYLE: Though it probably goes without saying that your pool and surrounding area should complement the style of your home and landscaping, be it classic, rustic, sleek, modern or whatever, there is another possibility. What happens if you are dead set on a hip South Beach-style escape that seems completely at odds with your Tidewater Colonial? All may not lost be lost, as a top-notch designer will likely be able to create a transition from one world to the other through expert selection and placement of landscaping and hardscaping materials, not to mention the design of the pool itself from tropical lagoon to urban plunge pool.

LIFESTYLE: Before you take the plunge, get crystal clear about your lifestyle and how your new pool will fit into it now and over time. Do you want the pool for exercise, leisure sports, cooling off, entertaining, or ambiance? Your pool design should work hard to afford you the lifestyle you have worked hard to achieve. Most people spend more time looking at their pool or dwelling around its edges than actually swimming in it, so consider the likes of wading areas for young children or for adults in lounge chairs, a tanning ledge and, for the ultimate in resort style living, an in-ground spa. Consisting largely of some type of seating and jets, spas are as varied as pools but should visually harmonize. The newer “spools” combine a larger spa with a smaller pool.

LOCATION: Virtually every city government website hosts an exhaustive list of zoning and building laws related to pools, decking, fencing and insurance, including in relation to their location on your property. Work with your contractor and designer to ensure that you are in compliance to avoid a costly misstep.

LINER: There are essentially three types of pool liners: concrete (gunite), vinyl and fiberglass. Each has advantages and disadvantages related to initial cost, installation, durability, maintenance, appearance and more. Carefully study the pros and cons to make a selection that is the best fit.

LIGHTING: Since pools are valued as much or more for ambiance as they are for swimming, you will want to enjoy your pool even as the sun sets. Consider lighting both in and around the pool. Most experts will agree that LED lighting is the brightest idea for creating the desired mood. For the pool itself, LED lights can be installed in the coping or in pipes within the walls, casting a soft glow across the water, even one that can be programmed to change colors. Around the pool – for both aesthetic and safety enhancement – low-voltage lighting is generally the preferred type. Because of the presence of water, however, special considerations come into play. Let an expert guide you.

AMENITIES: Think of your project as a poolscape rather than simply as a pool. Design the entire space holistically, even if you build it in phases. Amenities to consider include a pool house, outdoor kitchen, loggia, pergola, gazebo, cabana, firepit, fireplace, outdoor shower, play area, and other sun and shade options. People typically want to both sit and lie beside a pool, so consider a variety of seating options, including lounge chairs for a resort feel, but also hammocks and daybeds. Features and focal points that make your space even more deluxe include rock waterfalls in a more naturalized setting, water spouts or deck jet water features for a sleeker and more contemporary context, a swim-up bar, underwater benches, shallow beach-style pool entries, or even a dry recessed lounge area within the pool.

MATERIALS: Concrete used to be the material of choice for pool decking, but it is prone to cracking and is complex to repair. Also, growing eco-consciousness related to run-off makes a more permeable decking more desirable. “Unit paving” as opposed to poured slabs, addresses both concerns and options now abound. Three main considerations should drive your decision besides appearance and budget: heat absorption, feel on bare feet and anti-slipping properties. Some options include unglazed tile, cast concrete pavers, stone, wood (including exotics like ipe), brick and rubber.

MAINTENANCE: Though all pools have different maintenance needs, the key is regular and routine care in these areas: skimming, vacuuming/brushing, cleaning the filter, professionally servicing the heater if applicable, maintaining water level and pH level, chlorinating the water, locating and repairing leaks, and winterizing.

Now, go on, get your feet wet and enjoy a year-round staycation.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

Looking to Move to the Beach

Great opportunity to move to the beach! Two new homes in development on 55th Street and Atlantic Avenue. Call VB Homes today for more information at 757-491-1996 or visit our website vbhomesliving.com

#beach home #northend #oceanfront #virginiabeach #customhome #coastal home #beach #beachliving




Looking to Remodel Your Kitchen

Take a look at this gorgeous North End remodeled kitchen! Our client wanted a beachy look for their new kitchen design. Call us at 757-491-1996 or visit our website vbhomesliving.com for us to design your next kitchen. #vbhomes #virginiabeach #remodel #kitchendesign #kitchen #beachhouse #coastaldesign



Picture: North End Custom Home in Virginia Beach, VA