Written by Sarah Stebbins
Produced By Wendy Manwarren
The right outdoor structure amplifies the design and functionality of a yard, providing extra room to comfortably lounge and dine alfresco. And because it's elevated, a deck can be installed where a patio cannot -- on steep slopes and rocky terrain. While there are some parameters (consult your city's building codes for requirements and restrictions on railing and landing heights), you can construct nearly anything you dream up, says John Mortimer, charter member of the North American Deck and Railing Association and owner of Sweetwater Deck, Inc., a design and installation company in Sweetwater, Tennessee. "Decks can be made in a variety of shapes -- other than the standard square -- with multiple levels and a combination of materials," he says. What's right for you depends largely on style preferences and budget. Materials include wood, the most popular option, easy-to-care-for composite and plastic planks, low-maintenance aluminum beams, and stone or concrete tiles. Let the following pages be your guide to creating a winning platform.