Wood tiles help dress up outdoor spaces

October 14, 2006|by CHRISTINE BRUN/Copley News Service

Regardless of the size of your home, if it has a patio, deck or balcony, it seems larger. Even if it's only large enough for two chairs and a small footstool, this sort of small expansion outside adds immense dimension to any interior living space.

Landlords and real-estate agents know that such a space also increases the value of a property if you can walk out and feel the weather, take in the view or cook at the barbeque. The panorama might be of a pool area below or thousands of night lights in the city. The space might be big enough only for planted pots; nonetheless, it expands cramped interior rooms.

Even some larger homes perched on desirable, pricey hillsides must rely on decks as the only backyard or entertainment area. In any home, some kind of outdoor extension yields visual and aesthetic benefits on which you can't place a price.


But just having the space isn't enough. It needs to be as warm and inviting as the rest of your home, and this is where some interesting new decking materials come in. Natural stone and terra-cotta or ceramic tiles are excellent choices, but you need to be on the ground floor or make sure you verify that the structure can take the substantial additional weight. Indoor/outdoor carpeting, natural mats made of sisal and area rugs are also popular since they are lightweight and can withstand abuse from the elements.

The warmth of natural wood is one of the more finished looks you can elect to use, but the worry about mildew and decay keeps a lot of people from making this selection. Now, however, there is an appealing new concept in modular decking: removable hardwood tiles that snap together like a grown-up's toy.

Made of Ipe wood from a large tropical hardwood tree, these tiles use a high-quality poly backing system that allows free drainage and evaporation through the hardwood surface. And even though they're called decking tiles, they can be used anywhere drainage is important and traditional flooring is not an option.

The interlocking wood tiles have tabs built into all sides so that they lock securely into adjacent tiles. Once installed, they won't shift or chatter when walked on or create any movement underfoot. They are easy to install, but you will need a jigsaw, handsaw or doorknob drill to tile around pipes and other odd-shaped areas.

Ipe hardwood timber is highly resistant to decay and insect attack and will never rot, split or crack, which means your flooring will last and makes your investment more worthwhile. The famous Atlantic City, N.J., boardwalk was built from this same wood and still stands today after more than 100 years of use.

The polypropylene backing on these tiles is stronger than conventional plastics and will not crack or degrade. An ultraviolet-resistant compound that prevents fading and brittleness is injected into the plastic backing so that you won't have to worry about the disappointment of cracking plastic parts that often occurs as outdoor furniture and landscape lights age.

Because the wood tiles are not glued or fixed to the surface beneath them, they can also be used in showers, bathrooms, kitchens and porches. This is a good solution for little rooftop decks, boat decks, garages and basements.

Ipe wood decking even works in extremely hot and cold areas, where other hardwoods splinter and crack in such harsh exposures. It is also a perfect solution for older homes where a walkway or porch might show cracked cement. You can even install this type of interlocking tile system over crushed gravel.

Maintenance of Ipe wood tiles is minimal. Just wash it with a hose or brush it with a stiff broom. Using a good-quality preservative, such as teak oil, every year or so (depending upon the exposure to harsh UV rays) will help maintain the gorgeous intense brown color of the hardwood.

Best of all, Ipe products are made from sustainable harvested wood, which means that improving the look of your outdoor space won't involve harming the environment. Several manufacturers now produce the interlocking tiles. For more information, check with your local flooring or home-improvement store or Google "Ipe."

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Big Ideas for Small Spaces." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at or to Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112.

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