February 1, 2023

How To Design A Patio

A few areas of a home have the magical ability to create and conjure captivating memories quite like a patio. A well-designed patio serves as an artful extension and a purpose-built space. However, designing a patio can be daunting, so follow these steps to get the patio of your dreams. 

Before You Start Designing Your Patio

There isn't a whole lot you will need in terms of hardware to design your patio. Not for the first few steps, at least. To start, a pencil, ruler, and a piece of paper are all you need to start dreaming up your plan.  

However, at the risk of wading into some philosophical waters, the most important tool you will need is an eraser. And I don't just mean a physical one.  

Designing and planning a new patio should be fun and exciting. And it's completely understandable that you likely already have some idea of what your dream patio looks like. However, you may need to erase some of those ideas to make your dream a reality. 

In other words, the ideal patio design will require a fair bit of flexibility. You may, in fact, get pretty far in the design process, only to hit a snag that can be mitigated, forcing you to change. And that's ok.  

So, with your mind now aimed squarely on that poolside champers or that perfect back garden BBQ, let's get into it. 

Step 1:  Decide What You Want To Use Your Patio For


Without a doubt, the most critical question you need to ask yourself is, "what do I want to use my patio for?" The answer to this question will influence every other design aspect that follows, from the location to the materials.  

For example, if you want a patio that directly extends your house. In that case, you will likely design its layout to match or complement your home's design. The same applies to the materials that you use.  

If you want your patio to have a fireplace, or if you want it to be a BBQ area, then you are entering the arena of fire and smoke. In this case, you will need to think carefully about your building materials.  

Also, for the sake of wind and smoke, it is unlikely that you want a completely open patio if you are going to use a BBQ. Instead, you should consider where the dominant wind comes from and ensure that you add a wall or barrier on that side of the patio unless you're planning on smoking yourself instead of your meal. 

Likewise, if you plan your patio to be used as a poolside area, you are automatically limited to flooring that doesn't become slippery when wet.  

A poolside patio may be physically removed from your main house.  So you will also need to decide beforehand if you want a minibar and lights, etc. because you will likely need to run power from your home or your pool's pump circuit. 

In other words, start by listing everything you want to use the patio for. Then you can begin working toward practically accommodating your dream. 

Step 2:  Decide Where You Want Your Patio


The second most crucial step is figuring out exactly where you want your patio. Now, before you tell me that a poolside patio obviously goes next to the pool, have you thought about exactly which side of the pool?  

The first thing you want to do is consider the use. For example, a BBQ and minibar space should ideally be located as close to the kitchen as possible. On the other hand, a garden patio may be detached from the main building and nestled into your favorite part of the garden. 

After use, you want to prioritize privacy. Ideally, you want your patio to be on a more secluded part of your property or, at the very least, add to a secluded private area. You may want to use your poolside patio as a changing area. Or you may want your BBQ patio to be a safe space free of neighborly noses. 

If there aren't any properly private areas, it simply means that you will need to design your patio in a way that adds privacy. So, in other words, you will likely need to add a wall to your patio on at least one side.  

Once you have established the general area, you should look at the natural factors such as the terrain, the wind directly, sunshine, etc. If the site is on a steep slope, your cost may increase quite a bit if you don't want a hardwood floor. You may need machinery to level out the ground.  

Because a patio is an outside space, you don't want it in a dark area with limited sunshine; otherwise, you may not like using it. So, you may need to remove a tree or two or move it to a brighter area.  

Step 3:  Draw Up A Budget For Your Patio


If you're thinking, "shouldn't we start with the budget first?" you're probably not alone. A typical home improvement rule is that you should decide how much you can or want to spend before starting the whole process.  

But a patio isn't your typical home improvement project, is it? No, it's really a feature. So, I argue that you should first decide what you want a patio for and where you want to put it and then see if you can afford it.  If you can't, you have a goal to save up toward. 

Starting with the budget may give you a wholly unrealistic figure causing you to spend too much or not have enough money to complete your project. On the other hand, knowing where you want to put your patio and what you want to do with it will help you narrow down a figure a little better.  

Sure, you're going to win some here and lose some with labor and material costs, but it's good to establish what you can afford at this point. From here, you can, for example, sacrifice pricier furniture in exchange for better materials. 

It's difficult to give an example amount to budget here because it all depends on your local costs. Still, the average cost of a patio in the USA ranges from $3'000 to $8'000. However, there are high-end patios that can cost an eye-watering $26'000. 

Step 4:  Decide How Big You Want Your Patio


Once you have established what you can afford based on your needs and location, you're good to go. The next exciting step in nurturing the dream that is your patio is deciding how big you want it.  

In many cases, the size of your patio may be predetermined by your chosen location. For example, there may be a distinctly designated space between your swimming pool and garden.  

If you aren't as limited by the terrain and your garden, the size of your patio will fall back to your use case. For example, you will likely want to add seating for a BBQ patio. You may even want to add a minibar. Or, if it's just a relaxation area, you may want to add couches with a fireplace.  

Basically, you need to design your patio big enough to accommodate your needs. If it feels too cramped, you likely won't enjoy it as much and not use it as often. Contrary, if you make it too big, it may feel cold and empty.

Also, it may seem obvious, but the size of your patio determines the cost of building it. If you haven't renovated or built a house before, you may be shocked at the enormous financial difference a slight change in size can make.  

Step 5:  Draw The Shape And Floor Plan


Fortunately, if you are still unsure if your patio is the right size, don't stress. You should ideally do steps four and five together, hopping back and forth between them until you get it right.  

Step five is where you physically start drawing out your floor plan. There's no need to overcomplicate it, but it does need to be reasonably accurate to scale if you want to avoid making a big mistake.  

Start with scaling down the shape. It may be a round garden patio, a rectangular poolside patio, or perhaps a patio that extends around the corner of your house. Whatever the case, it's important that you scale it and draw that shape as accurately as possible.  

Once you have that, you should have a list of everything you want to put inside your patio, such as seating, etc. I suggest finding average dimensions for each item, scaling it down, and making cut-outs.  

At this point, it should feel like playing an exhilarating, albeit a two-dimensional version of "dollhouse."

Try to plan out the space in zones. In other words, you could have a BBQ zone, a seating zone or a dining area, and a minibar zone. Make sure there is enough space for traffic to flow freely between these zones.  

Whatever your use case is, break it down into these zones. It really does work well, and you will quickly see if your patio is too big or too small.  

Once you have these zones down, I suggest either gluing your cut-out furniture to the floor plan or redrawing the whole thing with the furniture on. 

You can use some of the tools listed on https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/online-landscape-and-garden-design-tools/ to do a basic patio design ideation.

Step 6:  Plan The Landscaping


With your patio's size, shape, and location firmly in hand, you are ready to start planning the landscaping.  

It would be helpful to physically mark out the patio on the location where you will be building it. You can do this by using chalk paint, for example, on a lawn. Doing this will allow you to achieve two things. 

Firstly, having the floor plan marked out will point out slopes and undulations that need to be flattened, raised, or lowered to build your patio. It's doubtful that the area will be flat enough to build on as is, and earth moving can be pretty expensive, especially if you require machinery to assist.  

If you see that the gradient is quite extreme, you may then opt for a raised hardwood floor built on beams instead of a poured concrete or stone floor.  

The second thing a marked floor plan helps with is your creative visualization. For example, you may want to incorporate a feature into your patio, like a fountain that runs into the pool. Or maybe you want to build the entire patio around an old oak tree.  

Having the area marked out will quickly tell you if it's a good idea or if your dreams of having your own backyard Lothlorien are a bit far-fetched.   

Step 7:  Decide If You Want Walls And A Roof


Suppose you are looking for a simple garden patio where you can relax, sip on a glass of wine, and get whisked away by your favorite author.  In that case, you may not even want a roof, pergola, or walls. A simple umbrella on a hot day could be all you need, and that's perfectly fine. 

If you live in an area with incessant rain, like the UK, you may want to use your patio all year round. You should consider adding a wall or two and a roof in these cases.  

In fact, your hand may already be forced to add a wall for the sake of privacy or to act as shelter from the prevailing wind. But if that's not the case, you really should think carefully about it.  

Adding a roof provides shelter from the sun and rain but also blocks off natural sunlight. But you can also counter this by adding a skylight, although it may increase the costs.  

Similarly, walls and barriers will give you shelter. Still, they could completely negate the whole point of having a patio, which is to be outside. Here you counteract this by adding stack-away glass panels on one or more sides, which you can completely open up on fair weather days. However, these options can be costly.  

It's not really a good idea to completely enclose your patio. Otherwise, what's the point? Instead, if you must, place a wall or barrier on one or two sides just to give you some shelter and privacy.  

Step 8:  Decide What Materials You Want To Use


Now we start getting to the part where we are moving between practicality and aesthetics. The material is the first choice, which has a stake in both fields. There are many options to choose from, but it will boil down to what works with your particular use and what looks best to you. 

Wood Is Warm And Natural

Hardwoods, especially on the floor, are almost always a safe choice regarding aesthetics. Hardwood will give the area a warm, natural, and homely feel. It also allows you to match your patio to the floors in your home if you have hardwood floors.  

However, they do have some downsides. Natural hardwood will decay a lot quicker than most other options. Even posts should be treated regularly. Some hardwood species can be pretty pricy, and they may even be slippery when they are wet. 

Synthetic wood is a great alternative option here. There are several composite options that have recently come to market, most of which come with 25-year guarantees. Just make sure you do some real research and get a product that will work best for you.  

Products like Deckorators' Mineral Based Composite decking are really making waves in this area. 

Stone Is Elegant And Hard Wearing 

Another option is a natural stone floor, which you can probably source locally. The big thing stone has going for it is that it looks timeless and elegant, and, in a battle against rain and snow, it very nearly is timeless, meaning that it should last you many years. 

However, here again, you have some drawbacks. Firstly, stones can be extremely slippery, so they may not be the best poolside option. Secondly, stones aren't square and flat, so laying them could take more time, increasing labor costs.  

As an alternative to stone, you could consider paving or brick-laid floors, which, while not as elegant, will likely be cheaper and offer better grip when wet.  

You could also consider tiles, but remember that tiles are generally quite cold, and there is the risk of breaking them with heavy use. On the plus side, you basically have an endless array of design options with tiles.

Step 9:  Call In The Professionals To Finish The Design

Now that you have all but broken ground with your shovel, I would highly advise you to hire a professional to capture all of your hopes and dreams in a proper plan. In fact, it may actually be required by regulation for you to get an architectural plan drawn up, depending on where you live and what type of patio you have settled on. 

Even if it isn't required, I would still strongly advise you to get one. It is extremely probable that in your planning, you have overlooked something your eye isn't trained to see. Perhaps a waterline in the way or a natural drainage area in your garden right where you want that patio.  

You really don't want to commit your funds to breaking ground on a project destined to fail. But you also don't want to spend a wheelbarrow full of money on an architect.  

That's why you must get your own plan as accurate as possible and give them as much detail as possible. That way, they can get their job done quicker, saving you a penny. 

It could even be that they don't spot a big snag, but they could spot a change or two that you can make that massively increases the awesome factor of your patio. Or perhaps they spot nothing and just draw the plan, then at least you go into the building phase with peace of mind. 

Step 10:  Pick What Furniture You Want 

With your patio built and ready to be inhabited, it's finally time for you to pick the furniture you want inside. I will not be presumptuous in advising you which colors to match and avoid. Instead, I will point out two legitimate considerations you should keep in mind.  

The Size Of The Furniture Matters

Remember that the design of your patio has been a balancing act between many different aspects. One of those aspects is the size of your patio, which, you will recall, was influenced by the size of the furniture. 

This means that if you buy furniture bigger than the allotted space in the plan, you will end up with a cramped area. So instead, it is safer to buy smaller pieces of furniture.  

The Type Of Furniture Matters

The second consideration is the type of furniture. This boils down to how much hassle you want your patio to be.  

If you add couches to your patio, you will either need to cover them or bring them inside whenever it rains. The same goes for all those throw pillows you've set your eye on. Sure, it will look stunning, but you may kick yourself if you forget them outside, and they end up moldy. If you'd like to consider vintage furniture, you should see this.

Fortunately, there is an entire outdoor furniture market where everything from the fabric to the sponge inside is specially designed to drain water. The wood is specially treated to deal with harsh conditions. Obviously, you should steer a course directly for this type of furniture.  

However, even in this case, keep in mind that your cushions will eventually pale from exposure, so it may still be a good idea to bring them inside.  


The most important part of designing a patio is deciding what you will use it for, deciding where you want it on your property, and, thirdly, deciding how much you want to spend. The rest of the considerations, such as how big it is, what materials you will use, etc., all flow from these three crucial considerations. 

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An interior design professional with a Master's degree in Architecture and 14 years of practical experience.
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