Before & After: Black Slate Stain Deck & Repair

Although it's really nice to see outdoor living spaces, including pretty patios and decorated decks, all set for Summertime enjoyment, sometimes these outdoor spaces are in need of repairs, cleaning, and even a fresh coat of stain. One of the tasks the home inspector included before we purchased this home last November, was to inspect the structural integrity of our two-story deck (Also see: 5 Deck Safety Tips). Attached to the house with weather-proof flashing and bolts, we were structurally sound. But after winter, we began to notice some changes happening to the wood. The deck is 10 years old, it never really had a true coat of sealer or stain, and it definitely wasn't well maintained, so before we could enjoy outdoor living in this new (to us) space, we needed to have the deck repaired and stained - with a color preferably more cohesive to the home's front exterior.

Deck repair and staining is not a DIY project we chose to take on ourselves. Instead, we met with three area deck specialist to work on the deck repairs and stain our two-story deck. The professional  we opted for (locally owned & operated + licensed & insured) asked us to select a color from Sherwin Williams Super-Deck. Since I had already created the space plans and an appointment was scheduled for work, the next three phases of the deck were: 1. Choosing the deck color, 2. Clearing the space, and 3. Deck repairs + staining.


Choosing Deck Color
Practically nothing creates a great impact and costs less to update a space, inside or out, than paint, or in this case: outdoor solid stain. Just as I do inside, I color tested swatches of 3 color options - on various surfaces (floorboards, column, railing). Although Sherwin-Williams had a color called Charcoal, it just wasn't crisp enough. Thankfully, Sherwin Williams was able to do a color match of a color we really liked from Behr called Slate. Slate is a great blue-base off-black shade, which just as greys and whites do, changes its value (color intensity) depending on time of day, shade direct sunlight and diffused light...

Tip: Easy to carry for testing: Repurposed cookie sheet as paint tray.

Note: color test of solid stain is actually paint, which can vary the actual color slightly vs. the actual solid stain - but it's close!

I've seen where people have done a full value chart of shades and tones of one color (usually when picking their perfect grey), but colors change with different light sources, furniture reflections, and times of day -- especially outdoors. Save yourself the heartache and select 2 or 3 colors, have them mixed as a tester, and paint squares in different areas of what is being stained. Watch how these three colors alter their shade with different lighting -- especially direct sun or shade, when selecting outdoor deck stain.

Left: SWSD Black Alder -- Center: Behr Deck Stain: Slate (SW color-match) -- Right: SWSD Charcoal
(Left: too brown -- Right: too battleship -- Center: just right!)

Friday afternoon, I selected two Super-Deck solid stain colors to give them a try (Charcoal and Black Alder (actually more brown than name implies) plus I brought in the color card from Behr for SW to match for deck color choice testing. Saturday morning I was out on the deck painting swatches, snapped a few pics, and walked with Jeff in the late afternoon & evening for us to see the colors plus make our selection.

One good thing left behind from the previous owners: A stainless steel counter, Jeff anchored to the deck for his grilling space.

The slate color really helps to anchor the back of the house, and works well with the existing grill,  matte black wicker chairs plus the glorious green backdrop of the property now for Spring / Summer - which I'm sure will also work with the grey-browns in the winter.

After the color choice was officially made Saturday, the color info was texted to the deck team. Sunday was time to clear the deck space of furniture, pillows, and plants...

Clearing the Space
Just as with an interior space, an outdoor space too needs to be cleared off before repairs and pressuring cleaning can begin. In a perfect world, the deck would have been repaired and stained earlier in the Spring - before it was filled with furniture and new plants - but that's now how this worked out - and it's OK. The Sunday before the deck team were to arrive (Monday morning) I cleared off the deck space, having first made a plan as to where to "stage" everything being removed. What I was probably most concerned about were the plants.

 Plants acquired during Spring - most from a local nursery closing!
Shifting plants to a temporary space requires a little more care than stacking pillows & chairs in a shed. Since these plants were already accustomed to living (and thriving) in shade, the space they moved to needed to be pretty much the same. Since there was an old wood platform nestled in the trees down our backyard slope, Jeff suggested they'd be safe there (Good idea! Love that man!) Before I brought them down to their temporary space, I gave them a lil' TLC, extra water - and yes: I talked to them. Go figure: when I brought them back to the deck 4 days later, they were even a bit larger than they were when I brought them down!

 Proud thrift score in High Point - during market week! Perfect for southern living on the lower deck -- or back porch!

The white wicker set (a Carolina thrift score!!) worked staged in the yard, near the rock garden. Other small accents, pillows and the chaise went into the shed, 4 new outdoor chairs (from Pier 1 for the new dining table) came inside, down to the spare room in the basement. Most of what I cleared was downstairs. Whatever was upstairs, I left for the deck guys to take down - one of which was a new X-leg dining table I got from Home Depot - I was able to refinish before Jeff brought it back up onto the refinished deck. As for the grill, Jeff and I just wheeled into the house (not pretty, but practical!)

Deck Repairs + Staining
Before the deck could be stained, it was in need of some repairs: carpenter bees (nests removed and wholes filled in), stair railing, balustrade railing, and floor boards. Jeff was able to get rid of the carpenter bees and repair their damage. The carpenters replaced damaged deck wood and hauled away removed damaged wood. After these repairs, the deck got a good pressure washing to remove debris, some old paint, and much of the mildew. Since both of these tasks were done Monday  morning, the deck had a good dose of sun for the afternoon to dry well before staining the next day.

 Deck repairs - Upper deck floor boards.

 Of all days for wind gusts - but still a clean end result!

Notice how the tone of the color changed with overcast, mid-day light!

Before & After deck railing & balustrade repair.

Although it was a team of three rapidly working on staining the deck - upper balustrade by brush & underside + lattice sprayed on - floors & stairs rolled), summer heat, and sun glare created a few 'ghosts' (just as what can happen with inside painting). This caused two tradesmen to come back an additional day (just the morning) for touch-ups . Most of the glare & ghost touch-ups were needed at the stairs -- because the black slate was a similar color value to the existing half-ass dark brown stain, which was difficult to see in the suns bright light.

Deck Repairs + Low pressure Washing + Staining by:
Wittmann Home Renewal 
Kernersville, NC
(336) 996-0460

- Plan outdoor spaces / zones / decor (see my planning boards here)
- Tend to minor repairs yourself (purging junk / removing nests)
- Inspected for structural integrity decks 10 years of age -- and check every 3 years afterwards
- Hire a professional for repairs (& larger staining projects) 
- Interview 3 candidates for the job - with your partner
- Ensure estimate + scope of work in writing (including debris haul-away)
- Test 3 colors within the outdoor area
- Communicate with HOA (changes), with partner (design goal), with hired team (expectations)
- Although team will unload deck space, personally give extra care to outdoor plants temporary storage
- After deck is repaired, power-wash and let dry well in sun before staining
- With shoes on, double check lower deck + grass for missed nails & wood-chips
- After deck stained, let it cure for 24 hrs (will be dry to touch, but avoid wetting or walking on + do not put back any plants or furniture)
- Reset deck decor
Enjoy your refreshed outdoor living space with coffee, friends, family - and neighbors!

Sneak Peek 
Refreshed Deck Decor - with secondhand style + a few new finds from HomeGoods!
(outdoor pillows + stripe mugs!)

Now that the deck is finally repaired and stained, it was time to have some fun putting it together for a multi-level outdoor living space! The repairs (for safety & longer deck life) plus a new color (for exterior cohesiveness & updated look) is just what this outdoor space needed to be renewed... for relaxing, for entertaining, and to give the neighbors something a little more pleasing to look at VS. the run-down deck littered with car parts it was when we moved in! 

(Cue the music: "Isn't she lovely?!")
 ick. You've come a long way baby!! THRILLED to pieces this outdoor space is cleaned & clear!

Deck Decor details coming up next!
Thanks for stopping by!

Exterior Home Improvements with Black - Shutters, Lights & Doors

Although there was a two day rain delay, our shutters finally got repaired and painted last weekend while we were away (Florida trip for Jeff's niece's graduation!) It's funny all the small details people don't see in a distance photo such as the faded color, missing bolts, bird-poop, even broken shutters - but living in a space, you see these details everyday (and so do the neighbors). I'm so happy they are repaired & painted (black satin - same as the front door) which now helps to give the home front a more crisp curb appeal...

Although Jeff and I are pretty hands on people, we did consult with and hire a professional for the much the needed painting & repairing shutters out front, along with a deck specialist for repairs, cleaning and staining out back. The person we hired to do the shutters was the same person we had hired to paint the interior common areas back when we moved here in November.


 Black mulch compliments the shutters - White flowers relate to window sashes and pop in contrast to the mulch.

I'd like to eventually add planter boxes to at least the four lower windows, to give some height behind the ball hedges, while still keeping a clean look out front. Since we're pacing ourselves with our home projects, that project will probably be next Spring's home improvement (or maybe for the Fall). 

  (both pics taken before shutters painted - updated pic at end of post)

Here is a outline of the home-exterior improvement progress:

1. Change the door hardware.
2. Paint the front door.
3. Change welcome matt & add potted plants.
4. Refresh house numbers.
5. Paint the railing.
6. Refresh the front yard landscape & pressure-wash walkway.
7. Repair & paint shutters.
8. Replace builder light fixtures

1. Repair & stain two-story deck.
2. Pressure-wash driveway
3. Paint garage & shed doors.

The back yard two-story deck is what we're working on now. We called three area deck specialists for a work-scope, quote and timing (they were booked to start in May) - I'll share more about the deck in the next post - but for now, here is a sneak peek at the color choice:

Left is too brown. Right is too grey. The center, which is Behr Deck-Over Slate color, is just right - but it will be color matched by Sherwin Williams Super Deck (because this is the brand our hired deck professional uses). The black deck in the back will also help relate the home front's shutters, doors, and lighting details, giving the exterior a cohesive feel -- just like we do on the inside... and the deck is almost done now!! - but back to the front...

After the deck is painted, and now that the front yard details are refreshed, I'd like to update the builder basic outdoor wall sconces. Not only are they faded, but they are too small for the scale of this house and the door proportions. 

 As of now, we're more the diagram to the left shown above. 

I've been sourcing locally and online for fixtures. Below are some lighting style options I've found online. Some outdoor light fixtures can cost upwardly well over $300 to $600 each (because of craftsmanship, quality, size, and brand) but I did find some better sized fixtures, for $90 to $120 each online - and even a customized house numbers plaque on etsy for only $25. I'll have to also check out the Habitat for Humanity ReStores, which is where I lucked out and found use a great casual dining area light fixture for only $35 (would sell for $350 easily!) When working with a small budget, you've just got to have patience...

In addition to updating the front of the house and the back deck getting painted black, we've also discussed eventually updating the look of the house side exterior from the builder basic white garage doors to a satin finish black, add black shutters to the centered window above, and also paint the shed door black - I've got the outdoor paint, roller and brushes, so this paint project can be an easy DIY, helping to save on the exterior improvement expenses (it just needs to be worked on at sunrise, when the temps are cooler, and sun on the east side). The only expense would be adding the extra pair of black louvered shutters, I believe would be $45 for the pair at Home Depot.

 I tried a dark grey first on the board, but the house side still looked washed out - The door accents look more striking and updated with the black, relating to the front. It's not that it's horrible right now, but it (to me) looks a little washed out. The home was built in 2005, and builders (even just up our street) now are using darker trims, accents, and colored carriage style garage doors.


I know -- it sounds like I'm using a LOT of black. But for this style house (symmetrical -  Georgian Colonial), plus the scale and existing colors, black is what helps keep the styling classic as well as add interest to an otherwise 'box' structure. Inside, using black helps to anchor a space. Outside, black  gives contrasting interest to the existing ecrew siding, mocha brick, and white trim.

As I've mentioned before, we're pacing ourselves with home improvements - nothing too shocking too the neighborhood and nothing too major to the wallet, because you never know when an unexpected expense can pop up (such as a crapped out water heater or an unexpected trip to the ER) But just simple refreshing treatments can make a difference. With the deck the focus now, the outdoor lights can be the 'Fall Update'... and next Spring: flower boxes at lower windows...

What color are your exterior doors (front door / garage door / back door)? Do you have shutters? If so, are they the same color as your doors? Our neighborhood has a few different color options people have done with their home exterior (front door, shutters, siding), and this detail, along with light fixture styles, is another way to bring your inside style - outdoors!

Thanks for stopping by!

Weekend Gardening: Landscaping Improvements On A Small Budget

One small change we've done to our exterior this Spring was to better manicure the front shrubs into spheres, enlarge the front beds to layer in smaller plants / flowers, change the old red mulch for new black, plus treat the ground around existing shrubs and new plantings with garden soil, fertilizer, and water. To enlarge the flower-beds, I re-aligned the existing - meandering - cobblestone boarder to be squared off, and pulled it out (about 12-18") away from the shrubs, to give a little for space to low plantings (a mix of goldmound spirea & impatiens to the front, with a dark loropetalum to the back of the ball hedges). I started to run out of the cobblestone boarder, but I remembered there were a few extras tossed around the side of the house, which helped to finish off the front yard update...

 goldmound spirea

Purchased at Lowe's:
6 goldmound spirea $32
6 dark loropetalum $32
12 impatiens on sale 4 for $10 
(12 for $30 - used impatiens both out front & potted on deck steps)

Purchased at Home Depot:
mulch 5 for $10
6 sod tiles
2 bags of fertilized garden soil

Cobblestone boarder - free (already had)
Power Washer - free (Jeff's mom gave to him when he visited her in ATL, February)

Need to buy:
8 stepping stones (local landscaper)

These dark loropetalum are supposed to get pretty large, which will give a great contrasting back-drop to the ball hedges and black mulch. In between each, I'm going to add some stepping stones...

Bringing the stone boarders to the front helped to finish off the new beds, plus I also had enough to add to the mailbox for a few plants (a climbing madison jasmine and two white lantana) plus black mulch...

 It's funny - these cobblestone boarders I brought back to the mailbox were here in 2012, but got moved to the side (for no real reason).

In May, Jeff pressure washed the existing front walkway and brick-step entrance + he gave the railing a fresh coat of black in a satin finish. I'll be giving the door a fresh coat (I gave it a quick fresh coat back in November, after Jeff had changed the door hardware) as well as the front door trim in a bright exterior white...

Before we removed the existing red mulch (at the end of April), Jeff gave the holly berry balls a trim with his new clippers. The following Sunday, I trimmed  the lower ball hedges, removing dead debris build-up at their root base, to allow sun and water to get in...

 Jeff power washing the existing front walkway - it really did help to make the concrete brighter!

Later in the Fall, we'll give the front lawn a good treatment before the winter colds come again - something we weren't able to do when we moved in last November, and the poor lawn has evidence of neglect, along with a mole Jeff has been trying to steer away with some beeping mole device. The mole left the front yard, but the mole had headed to the back yard. Jeff relocated the devices, but the mole came back to the front, digging up trenches in the new flower beds. Thankfully, the mole is gone now.

Jeff also pulled up so many weeds in March, we had two large brown patches in the front yard grass at the entry walkway, so he picked up some sod to replace it with. The sod has taken root and looks great (on that spot - not pictured), but it's not the same species as the rest of the grass, which actually has a patchwork of probably three others. The Lawn care specialist suggested we remove all (kill front) and re-seed (in the Fall), which is less than re-sodding the space (re-seed: $175 vs. re-sod $800).

 Eventually, we'll layer in a plant boarder along the walk-way, with a brick boarder, which should help keep the ice-melting salt away from the grass. And next Spring: flower boxes at the lower windows!

Giving the ball shrubs a fresh cut & new garden soil already has them looking more green! (Pic here before walkway pressure cleaned)

For the side of the house, I'd really like to switch the 3 low shrubs for 3 arborvitae (a tall thin conifer (evergreen), similar to an Italian Cypress - aka "green giant"), which would give some interest to the side of the empty siding of this two-story house. For the moment though, I just cleaned up the weeds and gave the shrubs some pruning -- which they must have liked because they filled in with tons of new green chutes! 

 3 arborvitae - a tall conifer (evergreen) - aka "green giant" - these were 50% off at the closing local nursery nearby.

 We started stocking up on gardening supplies back at the beginning of April...

Although we didn't have enough black mulch to wrap around from the front yard to the side, Jeff recently picked up some more during another 5 for $10 sale (this should do it now. Next year though, we may go for the scoop truckload delivery from a local landscape facility - but it sure is easier to carry bags than wheel barrow and shovel mulch into small spaces...

 August Beauty Gardenia

Three additional shrubs, still on the house side - but towards the back, have also been removed (they died) and I  replaced them with four August Beauty gardenia shrubs. Planting gardenias should give a nice scent towards the deck plus its greens and white colors will flow with the front and the green, white and black I'm doing on the deck (after the deck is repaired, cleaned, and painted (slate!) -- next week!)

The grass was green (in 2012), and with some TLC, we'll get it to be green again. 

Green Perennials + White Annuals + Black Mulch
(same color scheme to be used on the deck)

Rather than throw away the old mulch in the trash, we loaded into a wheeled recycling bin, and Jeff unloaded it down the hillside, around the trees in the back. He also used a spade to remove the grass for the new bed extension - Some of the grass he was able to reuse as plugs in some of the brown patches in the back yard. I used an old paint brush to dust off / clean the cobble stone boarder before re-setting. Although the goldmounds will remain, after summer the impatiens will need to be replaced, probably with juniper (lasts longer) or mums for Fall.

Little by little, we're transforming this house into our home back east!

This experience has once again demonstrated how just as the inside can be refreshed, so too can a home's exterior. And without any major renovations, or major re-landscaping, which can both cost a pretty penny. With a vision, planning, and pacing ourselves, just two people, working together on a few Sunday's we were able to refresh our home's curb appeal with weeding, cleaning and:
  • Fresh accent paint
  • Mulch color change
  • Extend an existing plant bed
  • Reuse existing cobblestone boarders
  • Layer in contrasting, but repeating color scheme
  • Communicate via text who is getting what, when, and where
  •  Watch for sales to keep expenses low 

If you're new to lawn-care, give it to a professional to care for the first year in a new home as you learn more about how to care for it. As we learn more about lawn care, we are also learning about the tools (and brands) we'll need, as well as watching for sales to invest in the seasonal lawn care equipment we'll need to care for the property ourselves. Winter will be here soon enough, and we're both enjoying being outside, working together on our home improvement projects. 

Have you too been working an any landscaping or gardening projects this Spring? A little TLC and getting your hands dirty can go a long way! Coming up next will be exterior home improvements with black! Thanks for stopping by!


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