I recently completed a project I'd been planning for years - excited to share the finished result with you all.
The highlight of this project is a low level (44mm) deck using custom Merbau decking tiles. Scroll down to Part 5 for full details.
I split the project into six parts:
Ever since purchasing my apartment, I've dreamt of transforming my apartment balcony from the dirty, overgrown space I started with to an inviting outdoor retreat that I'm motivated to use every day. I had countless ideas to achieve this, ranging from a clever BBQ stand to hide the aircon, to crazy ideas to try to construct a low-level deck. (At one stage I even considered trying to raise the height of the balcony railing to accommodate this!)
After years of planning and indecision (and some wise words from the Workshop community - special shoutout to @MitchellMc), I'm thrilled with the results.
Before & after:
I poured over reference images on Pinterest to identify the style I was after, and two images stood out to me - both featured timber decking tiles and artificial grass. I initially wasn't keen on the idea of decking 'tiles', but I later came around to the idea.
After taking measurements of the space, I got to work planning and designing the project in Figma. I made countless iterations on this layout - with the final design shown below:
Part 1. Building an airconditioner cover / BBQ stand
I completed this project and shared a detailed write-up in 2020, so I won't go into too much detail here. Using Merbau decking, my Dad and I constructed a custom aircon cover which doubles as a BBQ stand. This did an excellent job of hiding the unsightly aircon.
Part 2. Staining the timber uprights / window frame
The timber uprights around my windows are a key feature of my apartment, however the exterior was looking a little tired. I sanded these back to bare timber and stained them with Cabot's Exterior Varnish Stain in Maple.
Part 3. Painting the steel railing and screening panels
The balcony railing was also in need of some TLC. After a good clean, I brought the white screening panels back to life with a fresh coat of paint. I then sanded the steel railing and painted it with White Knight Rust Guard in Aluminium.
Part 4. Building a bar table with matching stools
My late father made amazing timber benches and tables using Merbau decking - including the aircon cover / BBQ stand above we worked on together. A special part of this project for me was building a bar table in his signature style using recycling timber Dad had on hand. I also put together a pair of stools to match, taking inspiration from some examples I'd seen online. I stained these with the same can of maple varnish I'd used on the timber uprights.
Part 5. Building custom decking tiles for a low-level deck solution
Years after my initial obsession with trying to build a 'real' deck on my balcony, I came around to the idea of timber decking tiles. The key restriction was the deck could be no higher than 55mm (as my balcony railing is 1055mm high, and must maintain at least 1000mm clearance above the deck).
I considered the composite timber decking tiles offered by 'Decko', but the look wasn't quite right. Through my research, I came across 'DeckWise' in Florida USA. DeckWise's Deck Tile Connector system was perfect for my situation. These connectors are low enough to ensure the deck is low-level, while still lifting each tile high enough off the tiled surface to ensure adequate drainage underneath.
I couldn't find these stocked anywhere in Australia, and no international retailers were willing to ship to Australia. I eventually contacted Deckwise directly, who were happy to ship the connectors to me themselves. (Attn. Bunnings: these tile connectors are amazing - please consider stocking them!)
With the connectors on their way to Australia, I got to work constructing my own timber decking tiles. Running low on recycled timber, I decided to use the 70mm Specrite Fence Pickets for this project. Based on 70mm timber, 6 boards per tile, and 5mm board spacing, I decided to make my tiles 445mm x 445mm.
The fence pickets come pre-oiled, but I decided to sand them down to bare timber before making my cuts, because:
a. this would allow me to later oil them myself to accurately mimic a timber deck,
and b. I knew all the cut ends would need oil regardless, which wouldn't usually be an issue for someone using these as fence pickets
(This step might have been unnecessary - I could have layered my decking oil on top of the initial stain and dealt with the cut ends as part of the second coat. Interested to hear the communities thoughts on how this might have turned out)
I needed 269 individual pieces for this project - which meant almost a full day of cuts. With the cuts completed, I gave the ends a quick sand and then began oiling them by hand with Cabot's Aquadeck in Merbau. This was an incredibly long process - but I wanted to ensure each piece (including those underneath the tiles which will be difficult to re-oil in the future) were protected from the elements.
Finally, I was ready to assemble the tiles. The decking boards are 19mm thick (two boards deep), so I used 30mm countersunk exterior timber screws to assemble them (36 screws per tile!) Each tile took about 20 minutes to assemble, so this was another marathon of a process. Two products made my life much easier here:
After a solid three days building the tiles, I was very nervous about the installation. (I think I had nightmares that night about them not being perfectly square). Using one of the connectors as a template as DeckWise recommends, I drilled 20mm deep / 9.5mm holes in each corner. A makeshift drill stop made this job very straightforward. I then put my connectors in place and began slotting the tiles together. Incredibly, these slotted into place without a single issue - I'm beyond impressed with these connectors.
Once assembled, I gave my new 'deck' two more coats* of Cabot's Aquadeck. *At time of writing, the ends of each tile within the deck (eg. those which are virtually hidden) have really only had one proper coat of of oil, plus the drips from the final two coats. I'm considering lifting up the edge each tile to give these a touch-up - is this worth the effort?
Part 6. Finishing the area with artificial grass tiles
With the deck completed, the space was ready for the final step - the artificial grass. I loved the look of Decko's artifical grass tiles here, which like the DeckWise tile connectors, have a plastic underlay to allow for drainage. These were easy to install, and the 'grass' surface looks and feels great. I used a Jigsaw the cut the tiles to size along the railing.
And that's it! It was a marathon of a project - but absolutely worth the effort, and I'm thrilled with the final result.
Thank you very much for sharing your balcony transformation project. It looks fantastic and the timber flooring has definitely softened the look and feel of the area. I'm sure it feels so much better on your feet instead of walking on bare concrete.
Again, thank you for sharing such a wonderful project.
Well done on a great outcome.
isnt it amazing the smaller the space you have the more planning you have to do and the more you need to swap things around for the perfect feel and outcome,
I think the matching stained timber work makes it all work together especially the door and window frames.
If I owned that space. I would add a beautiful art panel covering most of that slatted timber wall at the end. Or stain that seat and wall to the same standards of your floor and tables you put so much hrd work into,
Or leave as is still a great space.
Absolutely love this! Well done! I admire the effort and attention to detail you’ve put into it, and the reward is certainly obvious. Hope you enjoy your lovely new space.