Officially, there’s still a month of winter left — and depending on where you live, there might unofficially be even more (sorry!). But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start planning projects to make the most of your outdoor space once the weather starts to warm. To get your creative juices flowing, look no further than this colorful transformation of a once-bland roof deck.

Homeowner Sara Shuman says that when she first moved to her Philadelphia condo, she was especially excited about the rooftop space. “I bought a big outdoor sectional sofa and a grill, thinking I would spend every sunny day lounging on the roof,” Sara says. “But I quickly learned that the severe sun and wind conditions at the roof level makes it a harsh environment with no shade in the summer.”

She tried putting up an umbrella, but forceful winds nearly blew it away multiple times. Unpleasant conditions aside, the roof was just plain boring. “I struggled to give the space personality,” Sara says. “The tan stucco and gray floor made everything look drab. Consequently, I rarely went up there!”

Sara wanted to make sure she took full advantage of her outdoor space. “With limited square footage in my two bedroom condo, it felt wasteful not to use the rooftop to its full advantage,” she says. But to do that, she knew it would need a refresh.

That refresh started with Sara’s friend Jamie Sebzda, a graphic artist, who Sara commissioned to design a colorful and playful mural for the large empty wall surrounding her roof’s entrance. Her brother-in-law, Thomas Jahner, helped with the painting, which helped this piece of the project move quickly — just a day from start to finish, with $100 in materials (Sara paid $350 for the design).

Once the mural was painted (and the walls around the deck got a coat of pink, too), Sara turned her attention to creating a functional hangout spot. Her dad, a retired engineer, found pergola plans online that he was able to modify to fit the dimensions of the roof; then, with his help plus the assistance of her uncle, friend, and fiancé, Sara was able to bring those plans to fruition to create a sturdy, shady pergola that wasn’t in any danger of blowing away. The project cost $600 to DIY, plus a little extra to cover the architectural approval and permit.

Next, Sara turned her attention to gardening so she could bring some life to her deck space. “I was worried about how my plants would survive on the roof, so I spend a lot of time researching and planning this,” she says. “A big problem is moisture evaporates more quickly, so I ended up getting a few large self-watering planters that will retain the moisture.”

The roof deck now is a complete reversal of the colorless, empty space that it was before. “The atmosphere is completely joyful,” Sara says. “Now I love spending time up there all year round. The pergola shade helps keep it cooler in the summer, and the fire pit makes it cozy in fall and winter.”

Even better, she adds: “It is a completely unique space that is like a cheerful oasis in my urban neighborhood.”

Inspired? Submit your own project here.

Megan Baker

Home Projects Editor

Megan is a writer and editor who specializes in home upgrades, DIY projects, hacks, and design. Before Apartment Therapy, she was an editor at HGTV Magazine and This Old House Magazine. Megan has a degree in Magazine Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She is a self-taught weighted blanket connoisseur.

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