DIY Disaster Diary: The two-toned deck

Halloween is coming up, so this weekend I shared my version of a DIY horror story: the two-toned deck. Like all horror stories, it starts off cheerfully, but then there’s a lot of screaming and crying and it ends on kind of a dark note.


I can sum up two-toned decks by ripping off a classic nursery rhyme: When they look good, they look very very good — but when they look bad, they look horrid.

Actually, wait, I have another one: If you want to test your patience and your marriage, try a two-tone deck!

When we moved into our home in the fall of 2011, the deck, porch and basement stairs were just plain wood weathered to a grey-ish colour. We didn’t touch them for the first summer because my project-weary husband, Michael, insisted they were “a special kind of wood that can’t be stained.” Yes, I’m really that gullible.

Once I learned he was pulling my leg — and punished him appropriately — I started browsing photos of decks and decided I loved the two-tone look.

The rationale behind a two-tone deck is that you can have the beauty of a high-maintenance shade — like white paint, or very dark stain — on the parts that won’t be exposed to foot traffic and patio furniture scraping back and forth. Since the horizontal surfaces undergo a lot of wear and tear, you stain them a more serviceable shade so they last longer.

I chose a rich dark stain for the deck boards and stair treads (Sico’s “Autumn Brown” in exterior semi-transparent) and crisp white (Sico’s semi-gloss exterior paint/primer in “Natural White”) for the railings and risers. It was going to look so classic! I couldn’t wait to get started.

Now, this first round of painting and staining was in the summer of 2013, but I still have vivid memories of how very awful it was.

Endless power washing (which is only fun for the first five minutes). Scorching July heat. Michael and I taking turns juggling a three-year-old and a one-year-old and begging my mom to come watch them for a few hours. Dehydration. Paint dripping onto stain. Accidentally brushing stain onto the white paint. Touching up your touch-ups. Acres and acres of naked deck boards stretching before us. So much squabbling.

You don’t realize how large your deck and porch really are until you are crying sweaty, angry tears and cursing the day you ever saw a two-toned deck on Pinterest.

It was done, finally, and our marriage survived. We could hardly appreciate the finished product because the memories of those hot, miserable days were too sharp.

But when the snow melted the following spring, a cloud of despair settled over our porch. Months of shovelling snow off the front steps had scrapped the stain and chipped the paint. Nooooooooo!

Michael was ready to tear out the steps and swore up and down he’d never be on board with one of my Pinterest ideas again ( … I think we all know how long that lasted). So I bought more paint and stain, and spend more hours in the heat scraping, staining, and re-painting the beat-up areas.

This summer? Yep, I was back at it again. Except this time, I decided it was finally time to do the two-tone treatment on the neglected basement steps and railings — which had spent the last three years without a lick of paint or stain.

As I toiled away yet again, on one of the hottest days in August, I kept thinking “A nice light brown stain on everything would have looked so good. WHAT WAS I THINKING?” While I worked, I watched our next-door neighbour do a fresh coat of light stain on his deck and porch, and he breezed through the job — it hadn’t even needed to be redone for years. Oh yes, I had major DIYer’s remorse that day.

When it’s been freshly done, I still do love the look of our two-toned deck and porch. The trouble is that it doesn’t look perfect for very long, and I’m pretty sure the hassle of maintaining it has taken years off my life.

Looking back, a better two-tone option certainly would have been to choose a light stain for the horizontal components and a dark stain for the verticals. Then I still would have had the high-contrast look I love, but without all of the maintenance.

Or, you know, I could have just stained it all a nice light colour and not had to bother with it for a few years. *weeps into T-shirt covered with stain drips*

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