Cedar Deck for Cedar Hill, Built by Women!

“Measure twice, cut once.
Use the right tool for the right job.
Keep the work site tidy to prevent accidents.
Enjoy the process–admire each step of the work.”

These “rules” I learned in 1987-88 as Jeanne and I worked under the instruction of a woman carpenter, Nancy V., to build the small house we designed by reading library books about “owner-built” houses. My dream when we moved to our forty acres of hardwood forest was to be able to garden all summer and quilt all winter. But we needed shelter first! We planned our solar-powered, non-toxic house to be our permanent dwelling. Wood, glass, stone and metal combined with our own “sweat equity” created our 800 square foot home. We called our homestead Cedar Hill in honor of the magnificent cedar tree located beyond the 1880 house foundation behind our house.

It was 1994 before I had the time to pursue my dream of quilting. To my surprise all the carpentry lessons that our mentor, Nancy, had given us directly applied to constructing my first quilt which had lots of diagonal cuts! This year, 2019, marks my 25th year as a quilter and quilt educator, and I am still occasionally involved in a building project involving lumber.

Because I was having difficulty holding open the heavy storm door while on our front steps, Jeanne and I decided to replace the steps with a small deck. That way we would be on a level surface when operating the awkward door. After considering the options, we decided on a deck 10 feet long and 8 feet extending into the yard. Again we called on our carpenter friend, Nancy, who turned our vision into a reality. Nancy took our overall plan and made it a reality with her decades of experience, her tools and her enthusiasm! She became our “crew chief”.

With the high cost of milled and kiln-dried lumber, Nancy suggested using local red cedar (really a juniper). She knew of a local saw mill in our county (Madison) that could provide us with all we need in a matter of days. We liked the idea of locally sourced wood. Both of us enjoy the beautiful rich color of the wood and the strong aroma when it is freshly cut.

Days 1 & 2: Nancy, Jeanne and another strong, younger woman removed the stairs and the wood box from the wall (far left in the photo), placed the posts, and framed the deck.

Day 3: Nancy cuts the boards to length. Jeanne begins screwing down the cedar decking. On the right is the compartment housing all our solar components.

Moving between the deck joists as Jeanne adds boards is tricky business.

Our talented carpenter friend, Nancy, brought her powerful portable saws–each ran off our solar electrical system. Here you can see some of the beautiful colors of the cedar boards.

Day #4 Paula did the boards on the outer edge.

Day: 4 After finishing the decking and railing, we started on installing the stairs which Nancy had put together in her shop.

End of Day #4: The basic bones of the deck are complete here. We installed a temporary ramp for the dogs to use. Chase, our 16 year old rat terrier, adapted readily to this option. The lumber pile to the left holds the remaining cedar boards for the ramp. (see photo below) Due to Nancy’s schedule we would wait a week to build the four feet wide ramp.

This delay allowed me to focus on my current quilt project “Mix It Up: Daffodils and Ginkgo Leaves”. I fell in love with this pattern and the theme fabrics after finding the book Circle Play: Simple Designs for Fabulous Fabrics in the guild store at our April quilt show. I’ll do another blog focused on that quilt (and it’s sisters). Here is the quilt top before I basted it in preparation for quilting it this week.

Finishing the ramp one week later

Jeanne and I find we are choosing to use the wide ramp most often–it is user friendly in a way stairs will never be. Note the dog & cat ramp to their private entrance. We are now wondering why we had not built this deck years ago! We’ve just added 80 square feet of living space to our 800 square foot house! Jeanne takes her yoga mat out most evenings at dusk in this luxurious space.

Here is Zora, our 13 year old rat terrier, standing in front of their tiny private ramp into the house. Each of the animal companions have taken to lounging on the deck as you will see in the photos below.


Catfish, our only youngster, lounges in the sunshine.


Scout, who is also 16, has become a “talker” in his old age. It was not difficult to photograph him as he called for attention.


Shyla, our rescue dog, is quite mellow and likes the other critters. All of us are pleased with our efforts to enjoy our stay here at Cedar Hill.

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve hung an antique leaded glass window above the electronic/solar box adjacent to the deck. Finally I’ve found the perfect spot for this beautiful window I found years ago while living in Kansas City.


We found this highway sign at a flea market decades ago–a reminder of our six months of living on the Kansas side of the Missouri/Kansas border in a tiny owner built house to get a feel for country living.

Located behind the deck chairs, this planter, at the base of the 4’x 9’recycled windows, survived all the rigors of building the deck! I planted dusty miller plants here years ago and they survive the winters because of the heat from the southern sun and the heat escaping through the windows. At the top of the photo is a foxglove plant that surprised me by sprouting here. The large leafed plant is another volunteer–mullein that can grow to be 9 feet tall. None are natives.

This new sign temporarily covers the electrical outlet while we are searching for a new light fixture with a pull cord–not easy to find. We enjoy sitting in the shade, yet find it a luxury, but easier now with this expansive deck and two comfortable chairs.

*Note about Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) This cedar/juniper is a very common native plant in Eastern North America. Note the Latin name–it is not a true cedar but a juniper. These trees have an aromatic wood with red coloring similar to cedars. The non-toxic aromatic berries of Eastern Red Cedar are an important food for a variety of wildlife including wild turkeys who often nest in their branches.

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4 Responses to Cedar Deck for Cedar Hill, Built by Women!

  1. Lila says:

    This is SO exciting, Paula! A wonderful addition to your home! Being on a deck is truly a retreat!
    I can see your four legged family members approve!

    • Paula says:

      “Wonderful addition” is not overstating our experience of having this new outdoor space to enjoy. We’ve been watching the full moon rise this week from our deck chairs with out being concerned about the possibility of encountering the copperhead snakes out searching for food. With the deck, our “footprint” has expanded slightly giving us more access to being outside at dawn and dusk.

  2. Therese Ramsey says:

    Your leaded glass window is a beautiful and unique design and I’m glad it has found the perfect home! Love your cedar deck! Outdoor space to enjoy in so many wonderful ways.

    • Paula says:

      Therese, since you are a woman who has worked with leaded glass and stained glass projects yourself, I thought you would appreciate the unique simplicity of this window. I believe the four foot wide roof overhang will help protect it from the elements–as you said to me, it’s better to enjoy it now that to keep it stored any longer. I see this window as another elegant contrast in our rustic space.

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