Installing a roof deck: ideas, plants and awnings

Torben Schröder

Lush plants, relaxing lounge furniture, good sun protection – all high up in the air: roof decks are gardens for the urban population. Find out here which elements and materials you can use to create a piece of nature at a lofty height – and increase your quality of life.

View of a roof deck framed by two chimneys.
© Getty Images / iStockphoto

In this article

Check the conditions for a roof deck

Are you the proud owner of a roof deck that you can’t wait to furnish comfortably? Before doing so, you should check the condition of the roof in order to adopt the best approach and avoid any unpleasant surprises. Here are a few important planning tips.

  • Roof waterproofing: make sure that the roof underneath your future roof deck is sealed properly – especially if you want to place flower beds or plants directly on the ground. If necessary, you may have to use a special root protection foil.
  • Roof load: plant pots, natural stone slabs and perhaps even a fountain on the roof represent a great deal of weight. Check the maximum load capacity of the building with the architect in advance.
  • Water supply: plants are an essential feature of a nicely furnished roof deck. And plants need water. A separate water pipe up to the roof deck makes watering easier.
  • Power supply: atmospheric lighting, a whirlpool or an irrigation system require electricity. You should therefore plan to install sockets on the roof deck.
Four orange chairs, a table and a folded sunshade can be seen on a roof deck.

What is the load capacity of the roof? Do you want to install special lighting? There are a few basic questions to be answered before setting up a roof deck.

First step for furnishing a roof deck: plants

The larger your roof deck, the more important the division of space. Plants can help. They not only look good, but also offer wind and privacy protection, create a cozy atmosphere and serve as partitions between the dining and relaxation area. You can arrange ornamental grasses in raised beds or large plants such as bamboo, for instance.

When choosing plants, you should look for robust, frost-resistant varieties, because they will be exposed to extreme weather conditions and find themselves with relatively little protection on the roof deck. Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary and thyme, shrubs like barberry and yew, or hanging and climbing plants such as clematis and ivy can be admired on a roof deck for a long time.

To enhance the impression of sitting in the garden, you can even grow small trees in tubs. But watch out: not all trees are suitable for this type of planting. Possibilities include various species of maple, the dwarf pine or the boxwood. Make sure there is an adequate supply of nutrients and water. You should also check that the plants are well secured and will be able to withstand even strong winds or storms.

A young woman is watering plants on a roof deck.

Plants not only create a garden atmosphere on your roof deck, but also divide the space.

A comfortably furnished roof deck: ground surface and furniture

You can use wood, natural stone or grass on the ground. Even gravel surfaces achieve a great optical effect. They are also easy to maintain. Here are some ideas:

  • Natural wood: wood looks very natural on the ground, but also needs a lot of care and protection. There is a huge variety of types of wood. Softwood from larch, Douglas fir or pine trees will give you the best possible ratio of cost to durability. Other woods are more expensive, but also more weatherproof, such as the tropical wood Bangkirai.
  • WPC: this is a composite material of wood and plastic, known as Wood Polymer Composite (WPC). WPC is easy to work with and very weather resistant, but still gives the roof deck a wooden look.
  • Natural stone: due to the weight of stone, the maximum load-bearing capacity of the roof is important here. If natural stone can be envisaged in your case, it is extremely visually attractive as well as being sturdy. Granite is particularly popular because of its even surface. If you have more extravagant tastes, you could choose slate. Limestone provides a Mediterranean look.
  • Grass: grass is a somewhat more unusual option for a roof deck. You can sow it on your roof just like you would in the garden. However, this requires special conditions such as a substructure with drainage and ventilation. A rapid solution is to use rolled turf, which can be laid in a short time. This will require less maintenance than a freshly sown lawn. If you want to keep things even simpler, you could opt for artificial turf.

In principle, the same applies to furniture as to plants: go for large rather than small. What’s more, the emphasis should be placed on relaxation.

Make yourself comfortable on a daybed, large recliner, hammock or Hollywood swing, for example. Make sure that the material the furniture is made of is as weatherproof as possible. In addition, the furniture should not be too heavy, so as not to put too much strain on the roof.

An essential consideration: sun protection

On a roof deck, you are exposed to the sun just as much as your plants. There are a few practical accessories that not only protect you from too much UV radiation, but also serve as design elements.

Large awnings provide sufficient shade and ensure a certain South Sea flair. At the same time, they protect against wind and, when correctly positioned, serve as a privacy screen to hide you from prying eyes. They are usually quite easy to install: simply attach the supporting masts to the railings of the roof deck, or fix the awning to the house facade with ropes for support. The awning itself is usually made of polyethylene fabric, which is particularly robust and UV-resistant. You can choose between rectangular, triangular or diamond-shaped awnings. Prices range from 50 francs for a simple model to 5,000 francs for a tailor-made version.

Sunshades, canopies, sun sails or pergolas perform similar functions.

Two blue sun loungers can be seen under a large white sunshade on a roof deck.

It can get very hot for people and plants on a roof deck. Provide adequate protection with a sunshade or awning.

Pure extravagance: water features

Water is a must if you want to create the full Mediterranean atmosphere on your roof deck. Here are three ideas.

  • A roof pond: a pond does not always have to be dug into the ground, it can also be installed above ground – in the form of a high pond. There are different types ranging from a simple small trough filled with water to a large, high-tech model with an integrated filter system, which may even have seats around the edge.
  • A fountain: the models available include stylish stainless-steel ball fountains, rustic wooden fountains with pumps, and esoteric water features with terracotta vases – the gentle sound of water flowing will increase the feeling of well-being on any roof deck.
  • A whirlpool: the most sophisticated way of using water is in your own whirlpool. Watch the sunset from the roof deck while leaning back in lovely warm water enjoying a relaxing massage – wonderful.

Conclusion: roof decks – gardens for city dwellers

A suitably furnished roof deck gives city dwellers the opportunity to experience a little bit of nature directly above their own home. There are many different possibilities open to you, from installing a fountain to laying a lawn or planting small trees.

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