How To Design a Stunning, Practical Patio Part 2: Patio Design in 5 Steps
Part 2 of our Patio Design Guide guides you through the process of planning your patio. What are you waiting for?!
Part 1 covered the main materials and construction methods for stylish modern patios- read it here.
Since patios are hard-wearing garden areas designed for seats and dining furniture, they are likely to be one of the most heavily used areas. As such they deserve some thought as to how they fit in with your home style (and your lifestyle). Patios can be so much more than the back of the envelope square of poor quality slabs that some unscrupulous would-be landscapers will happily “design” for you. A good patio is a major investment in your home, adding resell value as well as the value to your own outdoor living. Why not have a go at following our step-by-step patio design guide and surprise yourself with coming up with something that you love? If you don’t want to design it yourself, this blog will help focus your chat with a designer.
The order of the steps below are a guide, but many factors are interdependent so do bear this in mind during the process. Just don’t choose your furniture and cushions before you plan the floor area properly- we have seen it happen too many times before!
Step 1: Decide on Situation
The first step in designing your patio is to decide where to put it.
Ease of Access
For most people, this will be next to the house. Leading from the back door or patio doors, this situation creates a useful transition between the interior and the garden.
Ease of access is a major factor in using garden areas. If food and drinks can be brought straight from the kitchen to the outdoor living area that is ideal. It is also more convenient for guests to be able to pop inside easily when they need to. However, if there is a good path between the house and the patio (so that you don’t need to cross a muddy lawn to get to it) then really the patio can be anywhere.
Patios don’t need to be next to the house
Patios can also be situated away from the house anywhere that a seat is desired. They can support a bench within a flower bed, some loungers to catch the sunniest part of the day, or a table to eat breakfast/dinner in the morning/evening sun. You may also prefer a patio in a shadier part of the garden for the hottest days. If you have enough space, another option is to position your patio in part-sun, part-shade for maximum flexibility. Awnings, sail shades and parasols can be added for useful part-time shade.
The most important decision is where you will enjoy using the patio most. That might be somewhere a little more private from the neighbours. Our previous posts have suggested some ways of introducing privacy if you don’t have it-see ”How To Make Your Garden Feel More Intimate With a Pergola” and “Raised Beds: Why Every Modern Garden Should Have Them”. Patios are also most used when they look out onto a nice view, a pretty flower bed, a pond or a bird table. Take care though - dark paving stones and bird feeders are not always a great mix! Falling leaves or fruit can cause a nuisance too.
If you are lucky enough to have the space (and the budget), consider more than one patio area. It is a fabulous asset for families where different groups might like their own micro-space when outside together. Not to mention really useful for parties if you love to be sociable. The key thing when designing multiple patio areas is to pay careful attention to designing the paths that connect them (that is a post for another time!).
Other practical considerations for where to locate your patio include siting near services such as water for irrigation or power for lighting. Even if you don’t have the budget for these right now, lay the pipes and cabling under the patio at this stage so you always have the option in the future.
You might want to avoid poorly-drained areas or those where underground access might be needed in the future. A raised patio such as the one in the main image at the top of this post could not be positioned on top of a manhole, for example. If your patio will be next to the house, then make sure you have enough space to open any doors without moving the furniture constantly.
Patios must be installed (usually 150mm) below the damp proof course in your house walls to prevent rising damp- check your local building regulations for exact details.
To prevent flooding you may not build your patio at the same level as bi-fold doors unless they have been pre-fitted with a drip drain that releases rainwater into an external slot drain fitted immediately outside the property. The requirements to meet these regulations may mean that your patio might have to be constructed away from your preferred location., Don’t set yourself up for future problems-seek proper advice specific for your location if you are at all unsure.
Step 2. Decide on Your Patio Size
Now you have to decide how large to make your patio. The main factors you need to take into account are available space, use and furniture. Since construction costs will be typically in proportion to patio size, of course, budget is also a key consideration on finalising your patio size.
It’s time to do some measuring! You need a basic scale drawing of your house and plot to make sure that your patio lines up properly with the house and is in proportion with it.
You need to measure the length of your house walls in the area you would like your patio. Include the distances between doors and windows. Now you need to draw these to scale on paper- we recommend using A3 size. For a 40 m long garden a scale of 1:100 is good- 1 cm on paper will be equivalent to 1 metre in the garden. For smaller gardens, you can use a 1:50 scale (2 cm on paper = 1 m outside) or try 1:200 for larger properties. Draw on the boundaries of your plot and any features that are relevant to your patio design. Now you can use sheets of A3 tracing paper on top of your plot plan to check that your intended patio size works with your furniture and other needs.
In courtyards and very small gardens, electing to make the patio fill most of the space is a useful design tool for making it feel larger. If the property has little or no side return we suggest making the patio the full width of the property to make the area feel wider.
In larger gardens, you will be less constrained by size. However, more care needs to be taken to make sure that the patio is in proportion to other features of the property and garden. A tiny patio will look mean, while one too large will seem empty. Both can seem unwelcoming.
If your patio will be next to the house, then make sure you have enough space to open any doors without moving the furniture constantly. Realistically you want enough free space to carry in a bag of shopping in each hand or a basket of washing, so think about your daily routines.
If you are designing your patio area for specific furniture, make sure you check the measurements before you plan the patio. A patio used for a small bench needs to be only a little larger than the seat. However, do allow a minimum of 10 cm or so to move legs for cleaning and 30 cm in front of the bench to allow comfortable space for feet. The same applies to seats such as corner sofas which are not normally moved by users. However, any seats that are moved in and out to access a table, no matter how small, need to have a patio large enough to stop you ending up on the lawn or in the flowers. Be extra generous near water or steps. A swing seat will also need a larger area.
Patios used for a small bistro set of 1-2 chairs and a small table need a clearance of at least 0.8 metres from the edge of the table to be comfortable. The minimum practical size for a table and four chairs is around 2.5 x 2.5 metres, but you will need around 3.75 metres if the patio doubles up as a space to move around the area. Larger dining tables, areas with outdoor kitchens or where generous, comfortable sofas will be used all really need extra patio area to make the space feel generous and welcoming. Where space is limited built-in seats are good options and these can be made with storage in the base for extra flexibility. Take a look at our Pinterest Board “Built In Garden Seating” for our favourite ideas.
Think about what else you would like your patio to accommodate. Do you need extra space for a fire pit, barbecue freestanding parasol? Will your patio often be used to entertain several people? If so, think about the largest number of people you will typically host and size accordingly. If you will use your patio as a walkway to other areas of the garden, make sure that you think of the circulation routes you will use and ensure that there is enough space to walk freely around them.
Don’t Forget the edging
Finally, consider the size of your patio edging when planning to available space. Most patios will be kept in place by some sort of edging and this is usually held in place by an area of sloped underground concrete (known as haunching) on the outside perimeter. While the haunching will be hidden by soil, gravel or lawn, it does take up space so make sure you allow for this when calculating the full area you need for the patio surface area that you choose.
Step 3. Decide on Shape.
Squares and rectangles
Where space is limited, rectangular or square patios (used for furniture with a footprint of the same shape) are the best choice. They also work well against smaller, modern houses where the architecture is often made up of entirely straight lines. There are many ways to use rectangles and squares in interesting ways- try orienting your patio on the diagonal to make a small space feel larger. Also, try intersecting two or more squares to give interconnecting, but separate patios. One could be used for a dining table or loungers and the other for seating, for example.
Circles, ELLipses and curves
It is natural to think that if you have a square or rectangular garden that you need to have a patio of the same shape. However, a central circle surrounded by planting looks fabulous in a smaller space. Circles make fantastic features. The strong round shape helps keep the eye in this space when the surrounding area is less attractive. Intersect circles with squares to create interesting shapes. We also like joining semi-circles to squares to create arch shapes- this can work well in properties with bay windows, for example.
Another shape that we love to use, especially on the diagonal- is the ellipse. An ellipse is symmetrical in both it’s length and width, unlike an oval.
If you prefer something less geometric, you can design your patio with more free-form curves, but it can be harder to place furniture and make the spaces work so do play around until you are satisfied.
Step 4. Decide on Materials and Details
Once you have your location, shape and size requirements decided, it is time to consider the best materials for your project. Last week’s blog post reviewed the main material types so check it out if you haven’t seen it already.-”How To Design a Stunning, Practical Patio Part 1: Materials and Styles”.
Once you have decided what general type of material is within your budget, you can firm up the details.
In terms of colour, look in brochures or online to see what you fancy. However, before you buy, get some samples and check that they match your home exterior. Supplies of some Indian sandstone are easy to come by but do the mustard yellows of some types really suit your red brick house?
Looking closely at your house brick or stone can be useful since there is often a mix of colours in the material and you could pick one of these out for your patio pavers. Sandstones which have pinkish tones can work better with red brick or go for blue stone or greys. Buff is the term used to describe beige-coloured stone. This can work beautifully against rural stone properties or when a warmer neutral finish is desired in suburban areas. Look at the stone wet as well as dry since that is when colour variations are much more obvious. Very dark greys or black are amazing in modern designs but beware how easily they show up bird poop and muddy foot-marks. The same goes for very pale limestone.
You need to consider how you will lay your paving. Laying paving or decking perpendicular to the house can help make the garden feel longer and so is good for shallow gardens. Laying parallel to the house helps gardens feel wider. Laying at a 45 degree angle diagonally is also a popular design trick to make gardens feel larger and to create extra interest.
The patio can be made from patio slabs of identical sizes for a modern feel. Alternatively, use one of the many traditional laying patterns for a more timeless finish. Stone suppliers often recommend laying patterns appropriate for their products but we also have compiled a Pinterest Board “Paving Patterns” to help you decide. Complex laying patterns will obviously be more time-consuming and costly to lay (and there may be more wastage), so discuss with your contractor. A word of caution- just because your builder made you a fabulous extension does not mean that they are skilled in laying paving patterns- so choose the best person for the job.
If you have seen our post “What Exactly in Garden Design?” you will have seen that simplicity is the key to a pleasing design. Thus often it is best to limit your garden design to a small number of materials. However, sometimes contrast works well in patios and two complimentary materials can work together effectively. Use of contrasting materials is also a useful trick to delineate different zones in a patio for different uses without separating them with hedges or other boundaries. This is especially useful in small gardens. In larger areas, another trick is to use the same material in two different laying patterns. Or the same stone with areas of smooth and more textured finishes. We know that the endless possibilities can be overwhelming, but perhaps you might find an idea for your own patio on our Pinterest Board “The Garden Floor: Paving and Decking”.
Patio drainage is a site-specific issue that is beyond the scope of this blog post, but most patios will require at least to be laid on a slight gradient in two directions to allow rainfall to rain to a lawn or flowerbed. If these are not available to soak up excess water, specific drainage solutions will be required. Don’t risk damage to your property by ignoring this- it only takes one heavy storm to cause real problems. Inadequate drainage is also likely to be picked up by a surveyor when you come to sell the property and may cost you money in the long run.
Step 5. Decide on Finishing Touches
This article has focused specifically on designing the patio rather than the whole garden (or else it would be like War and Peace). However, it is important to link the patio to other areas using plants, raised beds or areas of water. Avoid your garden being completely flat.- it rarely looks good.
Do you want your patio to be raised or sunken? Changing levels can make flat gardens much more interesting. You will need steps of course- we have a future post on designing those on our to-do list!
Just like decorating rooms indoors, garden rooms need more than just a lovely patio floor to make them something special. Hopefully, you will have chosen some furniture earlier in the design phase so that your patio is the right size for it. However, now think about how to make the area more comfortable. Consider some lighting, a fire pit for warmth and some cushions to add a pop of colour. Enhance the space with a water feature or an outdoor fireplace. Think about adding some flowers or greenery. Carefully chosen plant pots can really enhance a patio and create either a modern or a more relaxed ambience. Our “Outdoor Living” Pinterest Board has hundreds of ways that you can turn a piece of nice flooring into a fabulous and welcoming outdoor room with real atmosphere- have a look and then get designing!
Are you ready to design your patio now?
Have we missed something that you would like to know?
Let Us Know in the Comments Below!