digital renovation project deck

Home Renovation the Digital Way: How To Save Money and Get Exactly What You Want Without Hiring An Architect

Do you have ideas for a cool new outdoor space, kitchen, or home improvement project but don’t know where to start?

That was my predicament when our dilapidated deck started caving in. We needed a new deck fast, and I dreamed of kicking it up a notch and creating a backyard oasis to replace our tired, old structure.

Our old deck. The sagging pergola was held up by a stanchion post, and the wood decking was rotted in spots.

I had some designs in my head but didn’t know where to go with them.

I considered hiring an architect or a design-build firm (a single company that serves as the designer and contractor), but I knew that would have added major expense to the project.

I went a different route and am glad I did.

The results exceeded my expectations and fell short of my projected budget. I spent less – a lot less – and got the outside space of my dreams.

It was a pretty amazing process as I watched my crazy ideas come to life in our backyard!

In this post, I will walk through the steps I took to create this new space, which can be applied to your own home remodeling projects.

How to bring your ideas to life on a budget

Step one: make an Ideabook

Find and share inspiration.

Inspiration is a nice place to start a remodeling project, and the website Houzz makes it easy to get the design engine started with its giant library of photos and Ideabooks.

An Ideabook is just a folder where you will save pictures. You can make as many Ideabooks as you want and access them when you’re logged into the website.

Start by looking for pictures with the Get Ideas button on the main menu, where you can quickly scan thousands of images. This will help you nail down a design direction.

For my project, I selected “Deck.” I looked at hundreds of pictures and decided I wanted I wanted a simple, modern deck with a water feature and firepit.

With this in mind, I moved on to the main search bar to fine-tune my search.

I searched “patio deck combination” and saved photos with all kinds of different layouts.

Then I moved on to the features I wanted to incorporate into my project.

Topping my list were a canopy, water feature, and decorative railing. While there were no shortage of photos, I didn’t find any water features that wowed me, so I turned to Etsy to look for ideas.

Luckily, Houzz lets you save pictures from other websites in your Ideabook.

Etsy is a great place to hunt for creative ideas. Here is where I found a kind of water feature I’d never seen before, called a rain curtain, from this seller who makes a DIY kit. I grabbed this photo and put it in my Ideabook.

Here’s a little clip of the rain curtain in action and a look at the lounge area on the deck.

With a good amount of photos in my Ideabook, it was time to find someone who could turn them into a design.

Step two: hire a digital designer

Find a designer online.

This was the point in my project where I really didn’t know what to do next.

I began interviewing contractors and got the feeling I was confusing them with all my grand ideas – but no blueprint to put them together.

I was basically looking to find someone to translate my ideas into a workable plan. But that’s not a contractor’s job, and I was afraid to leave the project open to interpretation.

At this point, I had gone too far down the design path to hire a design-build firm that would be charging me to create a design from scratch.

So I turned to my favorite marketplace for all things digital, Fiverr.

I narrowed my search to three designers and sent them a basic overview of the project to gauge their availability and – this is important – find out how long it would take to receive my designs.

The reason this question is important to ask is that the top designers on Fiverr are very busy. You may decide a certain designer is worth the wait. But you should definitely know how long that wait will be. ⏰

The criteria I used to zero in on my designer were:

  • Reviews
  • Price
  • The number of revisions included in the price
  • Estimated time to delivery

After a little comparison shopping, I chose a landscape architect based in Sri Lanka with expert graphic design skills.

My package included the design, 3D renderings of multiple views, a video walkthrough, and up to eight revisions to make changes and refine the style.

The price was $245.

Off to the races!

Step three: share project details

Be as specific as you can.

With the designer ready to go, I sent my Ideabook and a general description of the project.

Because we didn’t have the opportunity to meet in person, my designer couldn’t check out the yard or get a sense of my personal style. It was up to me to fill in as many blanks as I could.

In this situation, giving as many details as you can helps a designer get off to a strong start.

In addition to sharing an Ideabook, you should be prepared to share the dimensions of your space, features you’d like to include, layout ideas, and any specific materials and colors you’d like to incorporate. Some designers will ask for a video walk-through.

No worries if you don’t have everything worked out in your mind – that is where the designer comes in.

Design challenges are where designers can really shine.

For my project, I knew that I wanted a deck and a patio but I couldn’t visalize how to incorporate them. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the deck needed to be elevated.

My designer figured out only how to marry the two areas and went a step further and made the water feature visible from both the patio and the deck – functional and pretty to look at. 👀

Here are the renderings from my designer. I was amazed at how realistic our house looked … she was able to recreate the exterior and yard to scale using just our address and Google Maps!

Step four: hire a contractor

Word-of-mouth is the way to go.

With your design in hand, you are ready to hire a contractor.

In my experience, many experienced contractors don’t require technical architectural plans, (though if yours does, you can find those on Fiverr, too), and some are excited by the challenge of having to figure out creative solutions as part of the project.

You just have to find the right person.

After going through a problematic bathroom reno last year involving contractors sourced online, this time around I resolved to find a contractor the old-fashioned way by asking friends for references.

The guy we hired came highly recommended by a friend who just had her deck redone. I liked Ralph the moment I met him: he was excited by the opportunity to create something unique that required ingenuity.

“Whatever you dream up, I can build it,” Ralph said with a smile.


Step five: kickoff!

With a contract signed, the project began!

There were still many details to be worked out … what type of decking did we want to use? What style of metal cable for the railings? What kind of stone for the patio?

These decisions required lots of back and forth by email, text, and phone calls and looking at samples in person.

Another thing I appreciated about Ralph is that he frequently checked in to get my approval on various things – the type of stone, the color of Trex decking, the width of the stairs.

He also made suggestions that improved my design.

This is where a good, experienced contractor is so important. My design didn’t show lighting, but Ralph thought we should add it, and it ended up being one of my favorite features.

Lighting on the steps and railing were built into the deck. I added solar lights for the patio.

Ralph also suggested we skip the brick flower beds in favor of re-grading the land around the patio to create a more organic look that better matched the style of the deck.

We don’t have the landscaping in yet, but I like how the space seems to roll right into the yard.

As for the lighting, here is what I used:

Tiki lights, solar powered.

Overhead Edison bulb lights. Charlie Brown style!! These can be dimmed and set to shut off automatically.

Solar-powered spotlights for the water curtain feature.

For the furniture, I went with this set from Christopher Knight Home. Does that name sound familiar?

Christopher Knight is …. Peter Brady from The Brady Bunch!

Here are some additional shots of our new outdoor space. Cheers to many years of staycations ahead.

View from the porch

Advertising Disclosure: recommendations in this article contain links that may pay me a small commission, at no cost to you, when clicked. As always, thank you for your support.

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