Patios are more of a feeling than anything else. Wherever you like to spend time in your yard takes on the role of a patio—for some people, it’s a group of lawn chairs on the grass, and for others, it’s a formal outdoor kitchen. However you build your patio, it should be an extension of your indoor living space, and a reason to spend time outside. Here are a few ideas for being more intentional with your patio design.
Sizing: Plan for Your Life!
If you visit the average home in Guelph, Cambridge, or Kitchener-Waterloo, you’ll notice a lot of patios that consist of a 8’x10’ wooden pad you stumble onto from the back door. If it works, it works—but from a design perspective, I propose a few alternatives.
First of all, the patio looks and feels best when it’s not crammed up against the house. It’s nicer to have a landing to step out onto, with some breathing room on either side and a step down that transitions to the main patio area. The landing naturally puts some distance between the patio and the house, and you can use that space to place your barbeque along with a bistro table to set down your beer as you flip burgers.
Furthermore, too many of the patios out there are just too small. If you’re measuring patio size based on the dimensions of your patio furniture, you might be overlooking the space you’ll need to actually use it. People often eat with their chairs pulled out a foot and a half away from the table. By the time dessert comes out and you’re pouring a third glass of wine, you’re closer to 3 feet away. On top of that, there’s bound to be movement around the table—do you want to be carrying a tray of steaks and hip-shimmying past a hand-talker?
Creating “Rooms” in Your Outdoor Living Space
When we furnish our indoor spaces, we use visual cues to establish different living areas—and most commonly, those cues are on the floor. Area rugs define the sitting area, and the transition from kitchen to dining area is normally indicated with tile flooring. I like to apply the same ideas to outdoor spaces.
Outdoor area rugs are great for establishing and decorating outdoor dining or seating areas. You can also create permanent spaces with wood, interlocking pavers, and natural stone to establish separate, inviting living areas.
If you have a fair amount of space in your yard, don’t feel like there’s a limit on the number of living spaces you should have. Why should you only have one patio for everything, when you could have three? Why not have a dining area, a cozy fire pit area, and a smaller, private garden patio around the side for relaxing solo? The more spaces you create in your landscape, the more reasons you’ll have to spend time in it.
Get Creative with Seating
When Dave and I bought our first house, the backyard was a postage stamp. We love to entertain, so we had to get creative. We ended up learning that railings, small walls, and large rocks can all make perfectly functional seating. Our deck didn’t really need a railing, but we chose to install an 18” to 22” high railing anyway to function as an informal seat and place to set down plates and drinks.
Some people find retaining walls a little formal, though if they’re your style, they’re a great height for cramming a few extra bums into a lively gathering. If retaining walls are too traditional for your taste, consider a cluster of natural stone boulders near the patio area. People expect to sit wherever they can at parties, so these clever stone solutions can do double-duty as yard ornaments and extra seating.
Don’t Be a Square!
When most people think of patio dimensions, they usually think in terms of squares, rectangles, and L-shapes. Why is that? My theory is we build square patios because it’s what everyone does, but when you think about it, these are hardly the most practical shapes—nor the most beautiful!
I challenge you to think outside the box, literally, when planning your patio shape. Squares are a little boring to the eye, and they usually leave us with empty, awkward corners. Instead, how about a 12-foot circle? Or a peanut-shaped patio? Or, perhaps the patio is boxy on one side, but has a nice curve on the other?
The reason I love curvier patios and pool deck is that they naturally guide the seating pattern. Think of a fire pit; everyone loves to crowd around in a circle. That natural curve creates a sense of intimacy that people love.
Create the Views You Want
A beautiful garden and landscape can make or break a patio area. Dave and I like to be very deliberate when we look at a landscape from a design point of view. We look at what we can see beyond the fence—is there a great view we want to draw attention to? An ugly building we want to hide? Can the neighbours see us? These factors impact how we might use trees and hedges to screen the area.
The Materials Make It
Your choice of material heavily influences your patio aesthetic. Wood is rustic and inviting, interlocking pavers are pretty and polished, and natural stone—our favourite!—adds a ton of charm.
A lot of people expect to use plenty of wood and pavers in their landscape, but natural stone tends to get overlooked. I can’t stress it enough—consider adding more natural stone to your landscape design! Stone features help blend man-made hardscapes into natural softscapes, add spectacular colour and texture, and make for great low-maintenance features like rock gardens. You can encourage some moss or creeping thyme to grow between the joints for an even more lush, natural look. Plus, you can’t beat the charm of a natural stone wall!
When we think of the living space in our properties, most people only actually use about 30% of it. We spend up to 80% of our time at home in a big box! When you think about your outdoor areas in terms of creating livable spaces to enjoy, you can open yourself up to so many more possibilities. If you’ve got the space, use it!