An outdoor patio is one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors in your own back yard, whether it’s for outdoor dining or just relaxing and enjoying the outdoors. If you’re thinking about an outdoor dining area, just jump right to our guide to for outdoor dining, here. For all other patios, check out our slide show below to see a wide range of designs, then read our guide on patio design:
Designing your outdoor Patio
Always start with a goal!
Here at Garden Design for Living, we always start the design process by defining a specific goal.
Patios can be uses in many different ways, so before going out and shopping for your patio furniture, start by defining your goal.
Sometimes patios are created as a place to immerse yourself in a great garden, other patios are used to host large parties. Ask yourself what you want from your patio. Will it be for large gatherings or just for you and your family? Should it be intimate and private or open and social? Will you use it in the daytime or in the evening? Will you be dining on your patio? Will you be entertaining children, families or all adults?
Once you’ve given these questions some thought, you should define your goal and even write it down. Then you can refer to it anytime during your process to make sure your choices are made in the best interest of completing your goal.
Decide on a mood
The mood you create is very important. Think about how you want your patio to feel. Your design will look very different depending on the mood you want to create. Here are some tips to create the mood you want for different types of gatherings.
An intimate patio for a couple or small groups:
If you’re looking to create an intimate spot in your yard, position your patio away from the house and keep it relatively small. Even if you’ll use your patio for a meal sometimes, don’t include cooking appliances in the same area. Make the cooking and dining two separate experiences. This will enhance the intimacy of the patio. Use generous landscape lighting and keep the lighting close to the ground. Avoid lighting that shines down on your patio from above. Another key to creating intimacy is to position your patio in a garden, surrounded by plantings or stone walls (or both!).
A garden always enhances an intimate spot. Use taller plants if you want to give the area a secluded feeling. Pergolas and outdoor fireplaces also add intimacy, but can get expensive. Don’t confuse fireplaces with fire pits. Fire pits tend to create more open and social moods where fireplaces add intimacy.
For a surface, pea stone or natural stone are best, but stamped concrete or pavers can work if you stick to designs that look more like natural stone.
A patio with a family feel:
If you just want a place for your family to gather, keep it simple. Size the patio to fit your family plus a few extra guests. Fire pits are great if you have kids or if you want to add
some fun to the space. Be sure to put enough room around the fire pit for your family to sit all around it. Make room for a grill, so you can cook and eat on your patio, but don”t go overboard with the outdoor appliances if you’re just accommodating you and your family.
Use enough lighting to light up the area well. For a surface, we suggest pavers or stamped concrete for a durable and level patio.
A patio for relaxing or sunbathing
If you want a place to relax or soak up the sun, then an outdoor patio is the place to do it. Depending on your climate, you may want to maximize sun exposure or limit it. Either way, be sure you understand how the sun effects your spot before installing your patio. If you want to escape from the sun, then choose a shaded spot or, include a pergola as part of
your design. If you want to take in the sun, then make sure you know what time of day you’re most likely to use it and position your patio so it gets sun at the proper time. If you’re sunbathing, you may want some privacy, so keep this in mind when choosing your spot. A privacy hedge may be necessary.
Make sure to include comfortable lounge furniture. If your goal is relaxation, then the furniture will become very important. Don’t skimp on the furniture! Also, have something nice to look at. This is one thing most homeowners forget when designing a patio for relaxing. Unlike a dining area where people’s attention is drawn inward, lounge chairs will focus attention outward. This means that you’ll be staring into the distance if you’re using your patio. This is a great opportunity to great a focal point like a water feature or a flower garden. When your patio is completed, your lounge chairs should be facing a pleasant view.
Just about any surface will do for a relaxing area, but if bare feet are part of the picture, then we suggest pavers or stamped concrete.
A patio for large social gatherings:
If you want your back yard to be party central, then be sure to create a large space that abuts lots of open lawn (or even better…a pool!). Patios usually work better than decks for creating fun social spaces. If you’re hosting large gatherings, then food will have to be part of the plan. Include lots of cooking appliances in your design. You want the cooking to take place in the same space as dining. If you can afford it, go with a complete outdoor kitchen with a bar. To create a social mood, you want to avoid going into the house as much as
possible. The more you can do outside, the better. If you don’t include an outdoor kitchen, include at least a dining area and position it as close as possible to the indoor kitchen to make delivering food easier. If you include plantings, stick with low, sturdy shrubs and avoid delicate perennials. Be sure to keep the space open. Don’t close it in with too many plants. Fire pits are also great for creating a social atmosphere. Make sure to leave plenty of room for seating around your fire pit. Use lots of light, flexible furniture. In large gatherings, your guests will move furniture around to suit their needs. There’s no need to get extravagant furniture if you’re going for a social mood.
Use practical lighting that can really light up the space at night. Pavers or stamped concrete work well for patios designed for large gatherings.
Choosing the right surface for your patio:
The surface for your patio can also make a big difference in how it feels and works to suit your needs. Budget is also a big concern. Landscaping surfaces have a very wide range when it comes to pricing. Let’s look at some options for your patio’s landscape surface.
Pea stone and other aggregate stone materials
Crushed stone, pea stone or similar aggregate stone materials are probably the cheapest way to get a landscaping surface into your yard. The installation is easy, even for an inexperienced homeowner and the materials are inexpensive (with the exception of some exotic stone materials). It gives a very rustic look that fits well into casual designs. To install it, you just need to remove 5 or more inches of dirt from the area , lay down landscape fabric and then back fill it with the stone. You can create a patio in one day. If your patio area abuts a lawn, you may want to use some sort of edging between the stone area and the lawn.
The benefits of this material are in the rustic feel of the stone, the ease of installation and the low cost of the materials. However, there are several drawbacks to using pea stone. The stone tends to find its way into homes and can cause damage to interior floors. It is also prone to weeds that can grow through the stone (landscape fabric underneath will help, but not completely eliminate this problem). It’s also a little difficult to shovel snow or rake leaves off of this type of surface. Pea stone can be a great low cost surface for a rustic patio, but make sure you’re willing to pull a few weeds if you want to use this material.
Pavers are a great all around patio surface for patios. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Pavers are more expensive than pea stone and most decking surfaces, but they last longer and give a more formal appearance. Pavers are difficult to install if you are inexperienced, but with some training it’s possible for a homeowner to install pavers successfully.
The major benefit of pavers is the fine, smooth, finished look they give. The major drawbacks are the high cost and the possibility of weeds growing in gaps. Some homeowners also feel that pavers give an artificial look to outdoor surfaces. This really depends on the design and mood you are trying to create. Each year, better and more natural looking pavers are being created, so make sure you take a good look around before you make a decision. If you are installing pavers, we suggest using polymeric sand to fill in the spaces between pavers. Polymeric sand forms a tight bond when water is added that helps block weed growth.
Stamped concrete can give the look (almost) of natural stone, but is much faster to install and does not leave room for weeds to grow between stones. It’s about the same price per square foot as pavers (depending on the paver you choose), but it’s much more flexible. You can create very natural looking or more formal looking designs by simply using different patterns.
Installation can only be done by professionals with the proper equipment. The major benefits are the flexibility of the style, the speed of install and the cost compared to natural stone. The only real drawbacks are the cost when compared to decks or pea stone and the possibility of cracking over time.
Natural stone is usually considered the most desirable of all patio surfaces. It’s hard to beat the beauty of natural stone. You can find stone to match almost any mood you’re trying to create. If you want your patio to feel like it’s part of the landscape, then natural stone is your best choice. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most expensive surfaces to install. The major benefits of natural stone are it’s beauty and natural look. The drawbacks are primarily the high cost, weeds that may grow between stones and the shifting of stones that can happen over time creating uneven surfaces.
Like pavers, natural stone is not easy to install if you have no experience, but with a little training (and a lot of sweat), it can be done by homeowners willing to put in the effort.
If you are installing a natural stone patio, we suggest using polymeric sand to fill in the spaces between stones. As with pavers, this will help keep down weeds.
Once you’ve installed your patio surface, you’ll be ready to add furniture and entertain! Just remember to stay true to your goal and the mood you’re trying to set when choosing furniture.
Good luck with your design and remember to enjoy it!
Also, check out our page on outdoor dining areas.