My Sweeten Story: Backyard Deck Goes Wall-to-Wall in Brooklyn
modern deck renovation transforms an overgrown Brooklyn garden into a family room
“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten
Homeowners: Jess + Henry posted their Brooklyn deck renovation on SweetenWhere: Brooklyn, New YorkPrimary renovation: Renovating a 350-square-foot backyard with a raised deck, built-in seating, and plantersSweeten general contractorSweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.
Written in partnership with homeowner Jess
Overhaul an overgrown urban garden
Two years ago, we bought this 2,000-square-foot townhome, located between the Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts neighborhoods. The attached single-family house was built in 1908, and we’ve been slowly working on updating it. Last year, with the pandemic grounding us at home, we got to work renovating our backyard.
The yard was a blank canvas. The previous owners had laid concrete slabs on the ground in the area closest to the house, but the space was otherwise covered in grass. We allowed it to grow wild our first summer here. The brush got so high that our dog, Sasha, would walk out and disappear. We wanted to turn our barren backyard into a place that we—my husband, Henry, our son, Gavin, and myself—could enjoy.
Solving the issue of rain
Henry and I knew we wanted a deck with built-in seating, and we loved the modern look of horizontal fencing. We liked bluestone and wanted to incorporate it. But our first concern was to identify and solve some engineering problems. We’d had a water issue in our fence-enclosed backyard since we bought the place—flooding whenever it rained. We needed a contractor who could fix that.
Seeking the right expertise
The process of finding our Sweeten contractor was streamlined and direct. We posted our project and soon received a bid from a small firm we thought we wanted to hire. We threw out many concerns as well as ideas when we discussed the job with the contractor, and when we saw his great sketches incorporating everything, we knew he was the one we were searching for.
Our contractor started the job as soon as the state of New York allowed his profession to return to work in 2020, when COVID-19 was ongoing. We wanted the job to be safe for him and his team, and we were very cautious given the situation in New York City. Since the project was outdoors, we decided to go ahead.
We were happy we did. If we’d started even a few weeks later, we would have been affected by a lumber shortage caused by restaurants in NYC building outdoor dining stalls—the only way they could serve patrons under pandemic regulations.
Starting the deck renovation
Once we had what we needed, the team began the work of reengineering the drainage system on our property. This made for a lot of holes in the ground, but they knew what they were doing and they ultimately solved the water problem. To create the deck, they drilled down in a series of spots, so large deck beams could be sunk into the earth. They then created a structural platform connecting the beams, which became the deck foundation.
Our Sweeten contractor and his team were wonderful from beginning to end. We’d decided on the raised deck to break up the flow of the backyard. We agreed there should be a clear delineation between the ground and the spot where you “step” up onto the deck, like an outdoor living room. Whenever they had an idea, they would either lay it out or draw it for us. The result was a truly collaborative design that perfectly reflected our aesthetic.
The contractor had Henry and I sit on a “mock” bench and rest our arms with drinks to determine what height to build the side tables.
Customizing a dream deck in Brooklyn
Long lengths of lumber were framed horizontally to create the high vertical walls. The contractor came up with the idea of spacing between the boards, and we loved it.
Atop the foundation they’d made, the contractors built the large platform deck. Benches and planters were built around the perimeter. They customized everything. The contractor had Henry and I sit on a “mock” bench and rest our arms with drinks to determine what height to build the side tables. The bench seat slides out to reveal built-in storage for pillows and gardening tools.
We picked a wood stain in a color we love—it gives the wood a mixture of brightness and warmth we were looking for. A small but impactful detail was that the design team chose nails in a similar color so it blended with the wood. I didn’t even realize that nails came in different colors.
We chose square, untextured slabs of bluestone to pave the area between the house and the step-up onto the deck. The backdrop is the beautiful old brick of the building behind us!
Loving our Sweeten construction crew
The team and crew were great. Our project manager stayed in constant contact, giving us progress updates. He was knowledgeable, detail-oriented and efficient, and he was also great with kids. He informed us of any challenges we were running into ahead of time, so that Henry and I were mentally prepared. This helped us to make informed decisions.
Our Sweeten contractor shared everything from design and decor ideas to recipes and movie recommendations. The crew brought such great energy to our backyard that we missed them when work was complete.
Feeling beyond satisfied
Now that our backyard is finished, we love everything about it. Having a private spot of green in the city feels like an absolute must with everyone staying home more. Our backyard is a sanctuary where we can relax, eat, drink, enjoy nature, and feel at ease.
Thank you, Jess and Henry, for sharing your inspiring Brooklyn deck renovation with us!
DECKPlus Transparent Waterproofing Wood Finish in Cedar: Behr.
Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten
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