Maureen and Michael Weiss say the way they've used their roof deck has changed in the 15 years they've lived in their Federal Hill home. "Before kids, we had bigger parties — we'd bring food up. Now that we're older, we're tired of trucking up three floors, so we use the deck more after dinner and after the kids go to bed. We use it with the kids, but not in the same way we did before," says Maureen Weiss.
When the Weisses redecorated their deck earlier this summer, they split it into two "zones" based on how they use the space. "We have a dining table in the back and the lounge area in the front," she says, adding that they use the lounge section more, since it has a better view of the harbor.
The view is the key, agrees Virginia Navid, of architecture and design firm Navid Oster Design. Navid has designed rooftop decks across the city, including a Roland Park rooftop that overlooks an elaborate garden installed by late landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme, and a pair of decks on a Fells Point condo offering dual views — one facing the harbor and the other looking over the city.
For Navid, much of the joy of a rooftop deck comes from orienting yourself in the city and appreciating the landscape from above. "It's like going up the Eiffel Tower," she says. "You can really appreciate where you are, especially in these weird nooks in Baltimore."
Roof decks have been a Baltimore real estate must-have for years. Today, homeowners are making the most of their sky-high spaces by adding accessories and structural changes that make roof access easy. Here are some things to look for in a roof deck, according to experts and homeowners:
Easy access: The best roof deck is the one used frequently — which means that getting to it should be no problem. "The biggest trend right now is making the access to get to the deck as easy as possible," says Matt Knoepfle of construction firm Building Character. "For years, we built decks out the back of the second floor, another deck above it and another to get to the roof. Now the trend is to have that staircase inside the house on the second or third floor, so it's not a chore to get to the deck."
Store it: Federal Hill resident Maureen Weiss's deck has a storage closet where she keeps furniture cushions and plant pots during the winter. "It's on the wall in the back of the deck — and it's a very nice feature to have," she says.
Indoor-outdoor: "There are so many indoor-outdoor fabrics now," says interior designer Liz Dickson. "You can do really great things with custom cushions and area rugs." Dickson loves bright colors for outdoor spaces; brands like Sunbrella now offer outdoor-friendly fabrics in hundreds of colors and patterns.
Feel the burn: Scott Scarfone, a landscape architect and principal and founder of Oasis Design Group, says he's seen a rise in people adding contained gas or propane fireplaces to their rooftop decks. "They're becoming really popular, particularly in the evenings. You can buy a prefab, contained unit that you put on your deck. It's different than a fire pit, where you would build a fire with combustible material. You can turn these off, they're relatively safe and you don't have to worry about sparks shooting out or emptying out the coals."
Watch the weather: When shopping plants or furniture, consider the weather first. Federal Hill urban gardener Greg Bathon warns that not all plants can withstand the tough temperatures on the roof. His neighbor Maureen Weiss shopped around for furniture that wouldn't fade in intense sunlight. "I was worried that fabric wouldn't stand the test of time," says Weiss, who opted for powder-coated furniture that is light and easy to stack.