Paul Lafrance and Kate Campbell of HGTV’s 'Decked Out' | Home Front

Kate Campbell and Paul Lafrance
Apr 21, 2016

Backyard design experts Paul Lafrance and Kate Campbell of HGTV’s “Decked Out” and “Custom Built” series help contractors and consumers achieve the decks of their dreams.

Lafrance, most commonly known as the “Deck Guy,” is CEO and founder of Paul Lafrance Design. He is the host of HGTV’s “Decked Out,” “Disaster Decks,” “Deck Wars” and “Custom Built.” Designing and building professionally since 1997, he is known for his groundbreaking backyard retreats and infectious energy.

Campbell got into building and renovation in 2005 after taking a “Women in Skilled Trades” course, which introduced her to carpentry, electrical, plumbing and other trades. She now runs her own renovation company, Kate’s Contracting Inc. She has been working in television for more than five years as part of the crew for “Holmes on Homes” and, most recently, alongside Lafrance on “Decked Out,” “Deck Wars” and “Custom Built.”

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than ten years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

What a beautiful week to have backyard design experts Paul Lafrance and Kate Campbell of HGTV’s “Decked Out” and “Custom Built” series on the chat. Lafrance, most commonly known as the “Deck Guy,” is CEO and founder of Paul Lafrance Design and has appeared on a host of other deck and building  shows.
Campbell got into building and renovation in 2005 after taking a “Women in Skilled Trades” course. She  runs Kate’s Contracting Inc. She has been working in TV for more than five years as part of the crew for “Holmes on Homes” and, most recently, alongside Lafrance on “Decked Out,” plus other shows. Great opportunity here to up our deck game so let's chat.

Good morning everyone! Paul here! With the weather warming up it's time to start thinking outdoor living spaces. The backyard revolution is in full swing with more and more people understanding the value of a true oasis right outside their back a time where the world has never moved faster! Kate and I are looking forward to answering any questions you have.

Morning everyone!! I'm sitting here sipping a cup of coffee so I'm super alert and ready to talk shop!  I can't wait to get started answering your backyard questions. Bring it on! :) -- Kate Campbell 


We have four large raised beds and two small ones in a symmetrical pattern in our backyard. Right now, there's just lawn in between the beds, but I'd like to minimize the upkeep and the sometimes muddy nature of the grass paths. I thought of pea gravel but worry about the gravel leaving the paths and getting into the surrounding lawn. Stepping stones? But what about the grass that would grow around the stones?

Ughhhh! Don't you just love a grassy area that has turned into a muddy mess?? The pea gravel is a viable solution, but if you prefer grass, then just install stepping stones FLUSH TO GRADE! That way the lawnmower can just go over it, but the grass doesn't have big human feet destroying it.

I'd like to figure out a way to be able to string party lights across my deck -- there is no upper structure. I'm picturing, say, four poles (one in each corner) that can be moved or put away when not in use. I've seen bloggers make something like his but would prefer to buy -- any ideas? Thanks - LOVE YOUR SHOW!

Hmmmm...well, depending on the size of your deck, there are many options for 10x10 easy to install gazebo's or pergolas out there to purchase. The reason I prefer this is because you won't then have to worry about the wind kicking up and pushing over a temporary structure...unless of course your guests like party lights falling into their drinks. ;)

So far no stain has lasted more than 1 Southern Ontario winter on my back deck. It either just wears off or flakes off. Am I applying it wrong or using the wrong product? Thoughts or suggestions?

Stain is a tricky subject!  Unfortunately we live in a climate that varies drastically from season to season.  With such drastic change comes volatility and extreme wear and tear on any wood outdoor structure.  It's likely you're staining correctly but unfortunately staining becomes something that needs to be done every year or every other year especially on horizontal decking surfaces that are beaten down with sun, rain and snow.

On the show we use a lot of composite decking for this reason.  Unlike wood, composite decking resists fading, scratching and mold - it won't rot, warp, crack or splinter.  In fact, you never need to worry about sanding, staining or painting.

Most people are concerned about the cost when the topic of composite is brought up but the cost - and time - required to maintain a traditional wood deck can far exceed the upfront investment in a composite deck that will last 25 years with minimal maintenance.  -- Kate Campbell

Good Morning, I live in a new urban community where there is not much space between my house and my neighbors. We have a patio that our neighbors kitchen window looks out onto. Between my patio and the property line there is approximately 1 to 2 feet. The area gets some morning sun. Aside from a privacy fence, is there anything else i could install to give me and my neighbor more privacy? 

Good morning!! These questions are always a little difficult to answer without actually seeing the space but the first thing that comes to mind is extending posts up from the ground - we usually use 6x6 pressure treated posts that we either inset into the decking surface or right into the ground (which sounds like this would be the case).  Then we clad the posts with composite material.

Then when privacy is concerned, you connect the posts with a connecting beam and/or outdoor curtain rod.  Then we use outdoor fabrics to create privacy when needed!  You can have them pulled shut when you need privacy! 

You need to consider attaching the structure to your house or into some kind of pergola as well because two posts with fabric curtains may look a little odd by itself.  You need to make this structure look like it was always there and belongs in your space! :) -- Kate Campbell

My new home has a beautiful screened porch with a door, but no stairs down to the ground. I want to attach a small landing outside the door (4x4) and then stairs down the side. Can I attach that to the side of the porch deck (which is a double layer of 2x wood) with two posts holding up the outer side? Or do I need 4 posts?

As long as the frame of the porch is in good shape without any rot, you should be able to attach the 4x4 landing to it. You may need to do some additional framing to do this, but at least you only have to install 2 additional posts. 

If you are looking for a low maintenance outdoor space, is it better to go with a patio than a deck, even though there are a lot of newer deck materials like Trex that supposedly minimize maintenance? Thanks.

I always prefer to have a Trex deck, which FEELS like an extension of the house, WITH some stone elements surrounding it. I find there to be a distinctive difference between sitting on a deck over a patio. With a Trex deck, you are not only relaxing without thinking about all the maintenance you have to do, but it also gives you a superb return on your investment.

Jura, I'd love your thoughts on using drop ceiling tiles in my bedroom. I'm longing for a ceiling fan but can't run the wiring through the concrete ceiling so the only way it will work is installing a drop ceiling, which reminds me of 70s basements. What do you think?

Well, I must say that design wise, drop ceilings are not an ideal look for a bedroom. Could you live with a standing fan? The sleek Dyson models come in a tower style.

What is the difference between wood, PVC and composite decking? What materials do you typically use?

In my opinion, wood decking is going the way of the Dodo! Nobody has the time to do back breaking maintenance these days. I will use natural wood on vertical surfaces, but will always go with composite decking like Trex on horizontal surfaces which take all of natures fury! I prefer composite over PVC because of the fact that PVC has a history of fading, and they are made from virgin plastic, whereas Trex is made from 95% recycled materials. I'm big on all things green! 

What do you think about composite decking?

To be honest, I LOVE it.  Composite decking has come a long way over the past several years.  On the show we use Trex composite decking on the majority of our decks.  

Choosing the right decking material is key to helping your deck withstand mother nature as well as wear and tear, such as dropped grill tools, spilled wine and wet planter pots.  Traditional wood decks can be beautiful, but unfortunately they don't stay that way for very long.  A high-performing wood alternative (composite!!) is easy to maintain and defends against severe weather and mishaps.  It's a decking superhero! -- Kate Campbell

Why not just run the wire on the ceiling inside conduit painted to match the ceiling? Lots of condos with concrete ceilings do this.

Thanks for this.

Our deck was built last year of pressure treated wood and has no stain on it. Do you think it is necessary?

Yes!!!! In the very least you should give it a sand and put a water seal on, it if not a stain.  This will keep it from drying out and turning into a "splinter fest"....not fun for the feet!!!  -- Kate Campbell

Good morning: I'm interested in adding a pergola over our rear concrete deck, and have been researching different kits that are available. Any advice in terms of materials or construction? Thanks.

I absolutely LOVE the Trex pergolas. I have build thousands of pergolas from scratch, but these kits are fabulous for both contractors and DIYer's. They come in many different sizes and even have rolling canvas shade awnings and lighting options built-in.

Hi there. My husband and I would like to DIY a firepit in our backyard. Any tips on doing this? Such as, what type of stones to use (or not use)? Do we need any kind of liners? Anything else? Thanks!

First and foremost, you need to check with your local by-laws to find out whether open fires are even allowed. I find that most areas will only allow for gas fire features. If open fires are allowed, then you just need to make sure that the surrounding area around the firepit is a non-combustable material like stone or tile. 

I'd like to enjoy my yard in the summer without being eaten alive by bugs! I don't want to spray--is there another solution?

If you look around online, there are machines that you can buy (in the two to three hundred dollar range) that plug in that prevent mosquitos and eliminate their eggs.  I don't know much about the technology but I know its out there! :) -- Kate Campbell

Typically, do the homeowners whose projects are featured on your shows pay for materials but the design you provide and the labor are free (or at cost?)? Thanks

On Decked Out, I choose the projects I want on the show from clients who have already gone through my design firm ( They would have had their deck built regardless of being on the show or not. The received some nice furniture and landscaping bonuses. On Disaster Decks, the homeowners are casted by the network and definitely got one whale of a deal on their deck. ;)))

I have a Trex Deck that is exposed to full sun from about noon to sunset. It develops mildew during the winter. What is your advice on when and how to remove the mold?

The difference between mildew and mold is like the difference between Mercury and Pluto! Mold comes up from WITHIN the deck board and surfaces like a face full of acne! Yuck! Mildew, on the other hand is going to occur on ANYTHING that is outdoors where there is moisture and extended periods of time out of direct sunlight. A stainless steel toaster can get mildew on it if left outside. Mildew just washes off. Mold does not. The reason I use Trex Transcend decking is because they SOLVED the mold issue that plagued all composite decking for a time. The 3 sided shell on the deck boards does not allow for those unsightly spots to come through and ruin the look of your deck surface.

I don't want to build the typical brown or tan deck. What colors options are out there that still look natural? Thanks!

There are so many amazing options out there!  Composites are created with high-definition wood grain patterns and rich saturated colours inspired by the outdoors.  Colour options range from deep earth tones to warm umbers, spicy reds and pristine greys - while some boards offer the distinct streaked look of tropical hardwoods and others provide an appearance with less colour variation.  When thinking about colour I turn into an excited kid in a candy store! 

When considering materials and colours, you can experiment by ordering sample composite deck boards on to see first hand how different colours and textures work with your homes architecture and style! :) -- Kate Campbell


Why do we hear so many scary stories about decks falling off the side of houses? Does it only happen when lots of people crowd onto a side deck?

Yikes! The number one reason for this terrifying problem is that so many people still think that the brick veneer on a house is STRUCTURAL!!! It is not! The brick has a 1" airspace in behind it that can easily pull away from the house as soon as you have any significant weight on the deck. The ledger board of the deck MUST be fastened either into the RIM JOIST of the house, or into the solid concrete foundation. There is no need for a party to end with the sound of ambulance sirens.

You guys do such great work on TV. Where do you get your ideas for yards and decks?

It's pretty simple actually. We do our very best to not think like adults!

Built a beautiful Cedar Deck, and in less than a year the dogs have destroyed it. Had I known, I would not have used Cedar! Used a Toner and Stained it, but took no time for the scratches to start showing. Sanded it down last year and was going to re-stain or paint, but before doing so, anything you can suggest to use to Keep the beautiful Cedar look that the dogs can't destroy, or is my only option to paint with something like Deck Over? Would have preferred to use an oil based stain, but from my reading, it's no longer readily available in Canada? If it were, would that have been a better option, and would it have helped?

Dog-gonnit! (sorry I had to)

Cedar is a beautiful natural material and most people (myself included) LOVE the smell of it as they enjoy their morning coffee or a dinner with friends and family.  Unfortunately looks are deceiving when it comes to using cedar on deck surfaces - as you're finding out.  It LOOKS beautiful but it can turn into a nightmare, especially with dogs running around doing their doggy things on the deck!  That's why we usually save cedar for vertical surfaces such as cladding posts for pergolas or accent pieces. Staining and maintaining a natural wood deck is something that comes along with the territory and I unfortunately don't have any life saving advice to give!  Maybe a nice outdoor area rug in the main areas where your dogs tread? :p -- Kate Campbell

I think I have the decking under control, but I'm not sure what to do with the railing. I've looked at tons of options online, but I'm not sure of the material I should use and the style is even harder to figure out. Any suggestions? Thanks for your help!!

Yeah...the railing is a HIGHLY visible element of the deck and can make or break the look. I suggest tying the look of the railing into the design elements of your home. Whether you have a modern looking home, or a classic traditional look, you can now find a railing to compliment and still have LOW MAINTENANCE!! Whether you go with composite or Aluminum (which I prefer), you then can look at the options of pickets or my personal fav....GLASS!! I like it when the railing opens up the view, rather than block it! Trex has all the options you could ask for.


I refuse to buy any outdoor furniture because I haven't found anything that can withstand the humidity! Is there anything that can do it?

Composite decking has been a revolutionary product for the decking industry and now (luckily) Trex offers a line of outdoor furniture made from the same material!  Won't warp, crack, fade and will resist anything mother nature can throw at it!  Another added bonus is the weight of the furniture, the wind (unless gail forced winds are comin' atcha) can't pick it up and throw it around your backyard! And on top of that?  It's really beautiful stuff! I personally love their rocking chair and sit on it daily on my front porch :) -- Kate Campbell

Hi. What is one inexpensive idea you have to brighten up an otherwise drab deck or patio?

The most common thing to do is resurfacing your deck to give it new life.  If you don't want to go that far, adding a new railing system can add some zip and appeal to an otherwise drab deck.  An often forgotten element is lighting.  Adding tread lighting, accent lights or railing lights always creates a wow factor at night.  Top that off with an outdoor rug or outdoor throw pillows and cushions with some bright colours and you may be feelin' the love again for your ol' deck :) -- Kate Campbell

We are hosting a large pre-wedding party at our summer house in June. The party will be outside, but some guest might use the deck. The deck is pretty high off the ground, and I want to be sure that it is safe for more than 8-10 adults, which is the most we have had on the deck at any given time. The previous owners added the deck some time ago, and there is a permit on file with the town. What should I be looking for in determining whether or the not the deck needs to be reinforced.

The fact that there is a PERMIT on record for the deck is your first good indictor that it was built properly because that means it was INSPECTED!! Just double check to see how the ledger was anchored to the house to ensure that it is fastened to the FRAMING of the home...NOT to a brick veneer. 

the side of my yard slopes down (about two feet below grade). We are considering running a simple (concrete block or wood) retaining wall along the side of the yard (~25 feet long). Would you recommend calling a fencing company, a general contractor, or a landscaper to discuss option and about how much do you think this project may cost.

I would contact a landscaper!  Landscapers specialize in creating retaining walls on properties.  Its hard to give a general idea of cost but a landscaper should be able to come over and give a general quote within a couple of days! Good luck :) -- Kate Campbell

Thank you Paul and Kate for being on the chat today. It was terrific. Next week: John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin of Tiny House Nation.

Thank you so much for all of the amazing questions!!! It's always great to start your day connecting with people and hopefully solving some problems and discovering new ideas and products! So much fun - happy decking to you all! :) -- Kate Campbell

Thank you everyone for your questions! I hope Kate and I were helpful. We have been sitting beside each other typing furiously and not ONCE did she elbow me in the ribs! What a great morning!! ;)))

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Paul Lafrance
Backyard design expert Paul Lafrance, most commonly known as the “Deck Guy,” is CEO and founder of Paul Lafrance Design. He is the host of HGTV’s “Decked Out,” “Disaster Decks,” “Deck Wars” and “Custom Built.”
Kate Campbell
Backyard design expert Kate Campbell runs her own renovation company, Kate’s Contracting Inc. She has been working in television for more than five years and is currently working on “Decked Out.”
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