General Info, How-To

5 Steps to Designing YOUR Dream Patio

Follow this simple path to effective patio design

Every vision has a spark. And sometimes, it is difficult to turn that spark into a fire for others to see and enjoy. Just as you can learn to start a fire and manage it, you can learn to design and articulate your personal backyard getaway. I have constructed an easy-to-follow system that anyone can learn. It just takes a few easy steps and grasping simple concepts.

Follow my 5 easy steps to find out how simple it is to design and plan a backyard patio.

While many years can be spent perfecting any art form or craft. There is no need to overthink creating your personal outdoor getaway. This guide will not only give you ideas that are easy to replicate or modify; it will provide you with a basic design language and actionable concepts. These skills will help you identify, design, articulate, and build your outdoor retreat. This will help whether you do everything yourself, hire a designer and construction crew to do everything or the large area in between.

1. Plan Your Patio in Usable Sections

The thought of planning every detail and use of an entire outdoor space can be overwhelming. But it is easy if you take my proposed approach. You read my article How to Plan Your Outdoor Space, right? Great. Now that you know what you want, you can plan for it. The key is to think in "boxes." The boxes are smaller areas with specific functionality. Think of it this way, at large gatherings, does everyone stand in a large circle and sing "Kumbaya?" No. people break up into many fluid groups of 2-6 people and mingle amongst them. So there is no need for one large dancehall sized area. Break your space into little groups. This thinking may help you add to your backyard patio later.

Now think of how you want your patio to function for your needs. Grilling area? Do you want a bar area? Do you have large family dinners, or will a coffee and breakfast nook better serve your daily wants and needs? Some of these "boxes" can overlap. For instance, a patio seating area could be for secluded reading and social gatherings. Make a list of your "boxes." Think of any ways these may overlap. A large area for the kids to play in will quickly transform into an ample entertaining space. A fire pit and seat wall may be used for entertaining, or you could use it to escape and read a book. Some items and areas are naturally multi-functional. Others can be helped by a creative twist or thorough planning and placement. 

2. Embrace the Square

Now that you are thinking in component boxes don't stop there. We are going to translate these three-dimensional spaces into simple square and rectangular shapes. I know, everybody envisions these lovely natural gardens with flowing organic lines and meandering paths. We'll get there. But the truth is, you are designing an outdoor living room. As a room, it is best to design and build with right angles. Furniture is square, outdoor features are rectangular, life happens in square spaces. Embrace the square. You will add organic flowing shapes later.

The simple square is the backbone of many excellent patio designs.

Writing what you want is usually what most people are comfortable with. The design part brings up all kinds of red-herring excuses like, "I can't draw." and "I'm not very creative." Don't worry. Follow my plan. It's straightforward. Start with the patio footprint. This is usually the most natural part. You may already have an existing patio. You will quickly find a natural fit due to yard shape, "boxes" wanted, and budget.

3. Design Your Patio Layout Using Simple Shapes

Now start drawing your simple "boxes" on paper. Make them overlap where they can. The more overlap, the smaller and more efficient the design can be. The more you keep them separate, the more open and spacious the plan. One is not better than the other. Some spaces are cozy, some are expansive, Each choice will have its pros and cons. The trick is to get the most advantages for you- not your neighbor. You can give serious weight to your friends' and neighbors' wishes when they start footing the bill. This doesn't mean encroach on your neighbors' property or be unneighborly in any way. It means designing for your wants and needs- not others.

Have a simple boxy design? Good, Draw another. Then draw three more. Try stretching and pulling your plan. Then, go outside and walk around your space. Envision it built. Look at it from all perspectives. Notice things you haven't noticed before. Which ways should the natural foot traffic flow through your space. Are there views you want o keep private from the neighborhood? Mark those areas down. Take notes. 

Think about using existing grade changes to separate your boxed areas. Not only can a grade change solve drainage issues and ease construction burdens, but it can also create visual appeal while compartmentalizing your "boxes."

Great patios are made by merely combing simple shapes to form areas that fit the property and design "boxes."

If you want circular or semi-circular areas- go for it. Circles count as "boxes" here. They are simple geometric shapes. Usually, areas that need to be circular shaped make themselves apparent. If you don't have an obvious need for a circle area- you should probably stick to rectangles and squares.

4. Add Standard Features fullfill your needs

I am always on a quest to help others achieve amazing outdoor spaces. Many admiral life qualities can be gained from the creative planning, physical building, and soothing gardening of outdoor spaces. I am always happy to help others in their pursuit. **Shameless plug coming.** So obviously, I have made kits out of some of the central players and cornerstone centerpieces used in outdoor living. Plus, I have many free plans available for more that are and aren't used here. Notably, I didn't get into raised planting beds. Add them as you like. But those are more for people who love outdoor working and gardening more than peaceful outdoor living.

For ease of designing and ultimately building your designs, I am using my DIY outdoor kits in these designs. Obviously, you have choices as a consumer/designer/builder. These hardscape staples can be interchanged based on budget, taste, and availability. That said, let's meet our line-up of critical outdoor living features:

This is an example of some heavyweights in outdoor living features.

Most prominent on the list is a fire feature. Fire evokes primitive emotions. It provides us light in the darkness and brings us warmth when we're cold. And fire is used for cooking the food that nourishes us. With all these powerful benefits of fire. It is no surprise that is is featured in most items on this list. I don't want to play down water features. We are mostly water creatures, so we crave the fire. I recommend using water features for noisier settings where running or splashing water helps drown unwanted ambient sounds.

Evident on the list are fire pitsfireplaces, and grill stations. What may be less obvious is my favorite landscape powerhouse: the SEAT WALL. (Or is it seatwall?) This literal "lowly" feature is one of the most essential, most used, and most overlooked elements in a hardscape. Let me explain to the doubters.

If an outdoor living space is a room, then the seat wall is its- well- wall. You wouldn't build a traditional tall view-blocking wall. Yet, a patio feels too open and exposed, with all sides open to the expanding landscape. This is where seatwalls come in. They make an effective physical and emotional safety wall without really blocking anything. With a well-placed seat wall or two, you will feel like you are actually IN an outdoor space, not ON a patio. It's hard to articulate, but the sense of it is undeniable when you are in such an area. You feel protected in the defined space, but not confined.

Seat walls can become as fancy a seat and wall as needed to convey your style.

Moreover, a seat wall  is heavily used. First, people sit on it. They lean on the pillars. They lay across a seat wall. You can sit on the patio and lean against in. The piers at each end act as pillars for displaying lights, or planting. Better yet, the piers act as small personal tables for your guests as they mingle. They can be incorporated in designs in a myriad of ways, Dress them up, play them down, section off areas, or incorporate them into other features such as pergolas or fireplaces. The possibilities are endless. 

Perhaps the fanciest and useful seatwall is my Party Pad kit 

When creating circles, remember that it is often easiest to connect half circles to straight sides. You can join three-quarters of a circle at a corner for added visual appeal. Know that this may also complicate construction, though. Full circles stand on there own as a separate space of there own. Often a small stepping stone path is all that is needed to connect them. Might I add that my Party Pad kit is a great way to add this space to your landscape design? It hits on many of the core features of an excellent outdoor patio design: It has paving, a fire feature, a seat wall, and piers. The Party Pad wraps all these into a visually attractive package. There are even enough pavers to make a small stepping stone walk to it, It is the easiest way to add a circular feature to your outdoor design.

5. Create Organic Shapes with Planting Beds

You have figured out the uses for your patio. You compartmentalized and grouped areas and sized them accordingly. You picked your features. You have fully embraced the square. Now, let's add some flowing organic goodness to our landscape design. Nature is the best at this- organics shapes are natural by definition. So harness the power of nature to create these organic formes. Plan your garden and landscaped areas in flowing natural curves. Use meandering stepping-stone paths to connect different regions of your landscape. The most effective way to add a natural feeling to your landscape is to plant organic flower beds abutting your hardscapes. This works wonders to bring in the calming effect of nature and to soften the hard edges. Be creative and literally get your creative juices "flowing."
As far as what to put in those beds - that's a whole new set of posts. But if you are not sure, look at what is available in your area. Visit local greenhouses and ask questions. Note the directions your planting areas face and the sunlight they receive. People in this profession are always happy to help.

Like rooms, hardscapes perform better in geometric shapes. Use planting beds to create organic flowing shapes around your hardscapes.

A few things to keep in mind. (It all doesn't have to be done at once.) Start with the trees. Planting trees is a great act, but it is also a great responsibility. Don't plant a tree that will mature too big for the space it occupies. Don't plant too close to your house, either. I recommend native fruit trees or understory trees for landscapes. They usually have lovely spring blooms, and stay a manageable size. Next is shrubs. They are the backbone of your softscapes. Use evergreens if you need year-round privacy. Otherwise, deciduous shrubs are great choices. Once again, consider the mature size. Then, you get to fill in all the other spaces, and in front of your shrubs with annual and perennial plants and flowers! Something will thrive, others won't. Half the fun is picking new plants, transplanting old ones, and trying new things.

Get Inspired

Now that you read this article and are inspired, Great! To start things off, I have assembled an article featuring a dozen great patio ideas using this same design process. You can look at these to get some great patio design ideas and strengthen your understanding of the theories this article introduced. A picture is worth a thousand words! Try to see if you can notice how the concepts were put together and why. Also, know what you don't like and what you would change. Knowing what you don't like or want is just as important as knowing what you do. Check it out here.

Roman Stone

Roman Stone is an average Joe that's a bit more than your average Joe. Running on coffee and goodwill, he has a penchant for design and smart labor. Roman isn't afraid to get his hands dirty to create something that lasts. Working with hardscapes for over a decade, Roman shares his unique techniques with fellow landscapers.

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