Advice, General Info, How-To, Plan

9 Small Patio Designs with BIG Impact


Everybody longs for a fantastic yard like you see online and in magazines. But you can't buy a completed backyard. You have to craft your own subject to the particulars of your property. Furthermore, magazines love to do spreads on million-dollar estates that are closer to botanical gardens than your average backyard. Some of us have an amazing home with- Gasp- small backyards. To inspire you to design your outdoor dream space, I have created some DIY friendly layouts you can copy, modify, or use as a springboard for planning your own outdoor getaway. Inspired? Be sure to check out my companion article, 5 Steps to Designing YOUR Dream Patio."

Notes to Consider

To keep things even, I have chosen to keep the house, the paving, and the landscaping the same across the various landscape design ideas. This was deliberate to keep colors, styles, and decorations from distracting from the patio ideas presented in this article. These design concepts can work in many styles and color combinations on many different architectural styles of homes. As you can see by the picture below, you don't need a fancy paver patio to achieve an amazing outdoor space. You can achieve great results on the poured concrete pad you may already have.

Of course I love pavers, but these degins concepts will work great no matter what patio surface or plantings  you choose.

These patio plans can be stretched and pulled. Many designs can be rotated and slightly modified for your personal style and backyard space. Furthermore, the furniture and landscaping need to be tailored to the geographic location, visual style, maintenance demands, and needs of your personalized area. The key is to make your dream outdoor space as you see fit within your time and budget constraints. Use this as a springboard for designing your own outdoor living space. Be creative, get inspired, and create something amazing!

1. K.O. Patio

Feature-packed patio packs a powerful punch

Let us examine how we can use these simple design concepts to create a backyard knockout that your neighbors will fawn over. We took this basic square patio and took it from zero-to-hero by adding simple outdoor kits and some basic patio furniture in a usable layout.

Placing the grill surround by the backdoor ensures that you won't be interrupted (or interrupt guests) when going in and out to grab what you need to grill from your kitchen.  The middle is an ample uninterrupted space that allows for the outdoor furniture you need to entertain in your own style. There is a seat wall opposite the grill to enclose the area without creating a physical barrier. Seat walls are exceptional for not only sitting on but to help define your outdoor living space. Unlike indoor rooms, you don't want to use walls. The seat wall can be a practical yet useful outdoor wall. These also create great backdrops for softscaping.

The far end of this feature-packed patio is anchored by a Fireplace kit with wood boxes and seat wall extensions. This creates a centerpiece backdrop as well as privacy from the neighbors. There is free access to the rest of the lawn from both sides of the patio. Not only will open access keep the small patio from feeling cramped, but it also keeps your patio traffic moving freely.

2. Embrace the Space

Open floorplan and corner seatwalls accomodate any gathering

Continuing with our "square" theme, let's examine a way to maximize the limited space. Once again, the grill island is present. In this patio, the grill is pulled just off the paved area to maximize the available space. I always love including a barbecue as it is excellent for personal family use, and is a necessity when hosting. There is no need for a full kitchen outside. Grill dinner, then visit with your family or guests. 

To maximize space for guests or other family activities, features were kept to a minimum. That doesn't mean this patio plan is without highlights. This one harnesses the versatility of my favorite outdoor feature - the seat wall. Not only does the seat wall define the area, but It also allows for ample seating when guests gather. Seat walls add more accommodation yet take up less floor space than chairs. The piers, or columns, act as tables for guests' food and drinks. They also support a pergola arch that frames an inviting view of the rest of the yard. This design would also be well served to span lights from the roof to the pergola, as featured in design #6.


Add a Party Pad for the ultimate backyard entertainment space

Once walking through the archway, guests are encouraged to mingle and meander through the yard to other places of interest. This could be a badminton court, croquet, or corn-hole boards. For the ultimate in fun meets function, a separate fire pit gathering area is added in the form of my Party Pad. This striking patio addition adds tons of style and functionality for very little cash. Feel free to place it close as shown, or add it to another space in the yard. The place you choose to install features will determine the flow through your yard. Use it to your advantage to highlight the best features and hide the worst.

3. Slice of Paradise

Small patio functions from morning to noon and into night

Originally I designed this with retired couples in mind. But it can be used by anyone with a narrow lot. Condos and narrow urban lots can make owners feel as if there is little they can do to create a backyard paradise. Nothing is further from the truth. The confined quarters allow for an instant cozy feeling that can capitalize on the small footprint with high-end finishes and details.  Here the patio is designed to add a functional room to the house. This highly personal space is tailor-made for serving as a breakfast or coffee nook. The Pergola, at the far end, embraces the small area to envelope you in your own personal space. It is a great place to chat with friends or read the morning news. As a general rule, I like to place pergolas away from a house and let them stand on there own. There is a lot of compromise, restrictions, and expense when connecting them to your home. The grill and seating areas will also work great for intimate dinners among family and friends.

Easily expand now or later for added function

For morning and daytime interest, add a simple birdbath in the yard. An upscale firepit such as my Latessa (made for small urban settings) can be placed just off the patio to add more functions during chilly evenings. Small lots can gain the illusion of a larger space by making separate spaces of interest and having visitors meander throughout them.

Of course, such a small space can easily be expanded. Many times, you can plan for future expansion if your budget doesn't allow for the entire space to be built at once. As you notice with both versions of this design, there are ample accessible areas to show off your green thumb if you desire. I can imagine baskets hanging from the pergola, or vines growing up and throughout it for a truly serene space.

4. Upscale Upgrade

Upgrade your boring rectangular patio into an enviable retreat

In my experience, most American homes from the past 60 years always have a decent size rectangular concrete pad poured as the standard patio accessible from the back door. Too often, these are neglected and left wide open with almost no thought to improving the space except for a rusty charcoal grill and sun-baked lawn furniture. The reality is that these pads are begging to be upgraded. You just have to show it a little love to show its true greatness.

First, I would definitely add some small fruit trees for shade and privacy (not shown). Shade alone will make your patio much more pleasant. Also, don't be afraid to remove any overgrown or unwanted plants and shrubs that were planted in 1964. Don't be afraid to cut some areas away, or build some raised beds on or around the patio. Clean, stain, or cover the slab. New flooring will do it wonders. Now that the hard part is done (it isn't that hard), you can start adding all the great features that will make your patio the best in the neighborhood. Find the side that the sun won't get in your eyes when the sun sets - put your fireplace kit there. Add some patio furniture to create an outdoor living room setting. Behind your living room, add the open concept dining room and a grill station for the kitchen. So your new patio isn't wide open to the world, add the super functional seat wall to one side. Don't be afraid to jazz it up. These seat wall and pergola stands are excellent for stringing lights on - as seen in Design #6. Viola- the most upscale patio on the block!

5. Think the Outside Box

Add a small patio "box" for huge impact

Many yards properly slope away from your house to keep water away. This handy design uses this elevation change to add a separate functional space that adds a bit of privacy and architectural interest. Another take on the classic rectangle, this plan can be stretched and pulled to comfortably fit almost any house and yard. The fire pit area is separated and recessed in an "Outside Box." By using a seat wall in the corner, you can plan and build a smaller paved area.  Seatwalls take up less space than chairs, and they steal no paving space as they sit off the edge of the patio. By following the two-foot-rule, you maximize the usability and space-saving benefits of a seat wall. When designing these "Outside Boxes," remember to NEVER put a column in the corner! It's the best seat in the house.  Don't make a costly rookie mistake. Leave seat wall corners open and add the piers along the lengths as needed.

This asymmetrical design is easy to customize with the features and patio furniture you need to fit your mission statement. The large central area has a step that runs the length of the patio for easy access to an open yard. The "Outside Box" concept works equally effectively with or without a grade change.  

6. Family Fun-Pack

Add a small patio "box" for huge impact

The Outside Box" concept grows up and has a family. That is what is happening in this easy to use family patio design. The design has been stretched enough to need a new seat wall to keep the patio from being too open. By allowing a too long of an open side, you feel like you are ON a patio, instead of IN an outdoor space.  This is one reason people don't think they have a great patio, or can't figure out how to place furniture in it. There is no wall to anchor and define the space. It is open to the world. This makes utilizing and decorating the space too daunting and never quite comfortable enough.

Make your seat wall feature the star of the show. Hang outdoor patio lights from the ends of your pergola archway to your soffit to create a magical outdoor experience at night. 

The width of the patio allows for a kid-friendly picnic table that is great for lunches or craft projects. It is sturdy enough to hang on, lay on, and climb on, too. This makes room for an adult table under the lights and near the grill. The large central area is great for kids to play on, and leaves a straight shot to the open lawn beyond. This is another good upgrade idea for the classic American patio slab. You can cut away a corner of the concrete, and add the paved area instead of building from scratch.

7. Split Personality

This patio has something for all outdoor types

You will love this patio design. It is elegant and straightforward enough, but it holds areas for all different types of personalities that share a home. It hints at its versatility through the interplay of a simple rectangle, an invasive circle, and a corner cut away for a serene space. Let's explore how these work together. In the morning, the early riser can use the area as a coffee nook while others awake. Later, someone needing a bit of peace and tranquility can sit under the shaded garden spot and read a book or text a friend. As the day progresses, active types can utilize the open space for playing or doing projects.

Later, when everyone is hungry, the griller can cook everyone a nice meal. After the evening winds down, the social butterflies can gather in the corner and catch-up around a cozy fire. And if there is a considerable get-together, you know it has that covered in spades. The drama and architectural presence of the Party Pad makes a standout centerpiece that fits perfectly in its surroundings.  All the separate personalities and specialties are brought together in harmony in a simple yet deceptively functional design. 

8. All Day Holiday

This patio design features comfortable get-aways for all parts of your day

This was another patio I designed with an older couple in mind. Yet this will also work well for anyone that doesn't have children. It is also great for noisier properties. The feeling of this patio retreat is more upscale and laid back in its function. Whether you use a large dining table or a small bistro set, the dining space has an immediate, intimate feel. This is achieved by using a half-circle to "hug" you in your space instead of an expansive rectangle in the middle of a large area. 

The dining area is exceptional as a breakfast nook or waking up with the birds before the bustle of the day. Opposite the dining area is a comfy living area that faces an elegant water feature. Sit here and enjoy your personal time, or chat with a friend. The waterfall won't be too loud to talk over, but it will drown out the outside noise of neighbors and traffic.

After dinner, when the temperature drops with the sun, retreat to the small firepit area. No "box" or usage area is overly sizeable, but there is a place to enjoy every part of your day on this patio. The repetitive circular design adds an upscale touch of class. It also lends to being able to seclude yourself by the choices you make when planting greenery in the beds that surround this high-end patio. The small trees just off the modified Party Pad not only add privacy, but they block noise.

9. The Night Spot

Entertain with style at your backyard bar and grill 

If you are the type that has smaller, more upscale gatherings or dinner parties and not massive, sprawling house parties- this patio plan is for you. This small patio layout is designed for being a capable and gracious host. Central is the living room area for a comfortable gathering of friends. The seating area opens up to share the fire pit with the large curved seat wall that anchors this space. There is ample plantable areas for privacy and creating the sense of being in a space, and not on a patio.

To the side of the central seating is perhaps the real centerpiece: the grill-surround and service-bar combo. This set-up allows you to be (or hire) the perfect host. You can chat with your guests while grilling dinner and fixing drinks. There is plenty of countertop for the host and the guests. The layout is designed to keep guests more confined, without the feeling of being trapped. Of course, a planting bed can be removed for an open feel.

Interestingly, this design is made to be easily modified. You can effectively spin the patio 90 degrees and have the exit directly out from the house.  Also, another "box" or area of interest could be added beyond the segmented walkway. Any or both legs can easily be widened. You can quickly rework the layout using cues from previous designs.

Grace Ekanem

related posts:

Measurement for putting a fireplace and wood boxes kit into a corner

How to Build a Fireplace in a Corner

How to raise your Fireplace Kit

5 Steps to Designing YOUR Dream Patio

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