Maybe you dream of baking wood-fired pizzas in a Mediterranean-style backyard. Perhaps you want to lounge by a sleek modern pool or sip wine under an old-world-style pergola covered in roses. Whatever your outdoor ideal, you can ensure that your patio fits your style and needs with thoughtful planning. Read on for tips from landscape designers Greg Koehler and Tony Zambito.
1. Select a Theme
Nail down your style and color palette before you start to end up with a cohesive design. Try a fresh modern look with a pattern of smooth diamond-shape pavers and warm beiges and grays, as seen here. Embrace a rustic aesthetic with wood-effect slabs and warm brown cobblestones. Opt for veined sandy-hued pavers, box hedges and white hydrangeas for a Hamptons-inspired space. “The more you personalize your patio, the more you’re going to use it,” says Koehler, the owner of Outdoor Dreams in Richmond, Virginia. There’s a world of options from which to choose.
2. Create Outdoor Rooms
Incorporate outdoor spaces that have specific uses, such as dining, entertaining, relaxing or cooking. “Your yard is where you live, and it should reflect what you like to do,” says Zambito, who owns Groupe Zamco in Laval, Quebec, Canada. “Think through the furniture too,” Koehler says. “There’s nothing sadder than seeing a patio with furniture that doesn’t fit.” If you like to host, for instance, make sure you have room for a large table and a long, cushy sectional.
3. Opt for Integrated Features
“Built-in kitchens are the best way to go,” Koehler says. “They hold up well, and there are so many amenities to include.” Pop in a pizza oven, add an inviting fireplace and include permanent storage within walls for cushions and tools. Built-in benches, planters and water features will increase cohesiveness, and extending stones and pavers onto vertical surfaces will help tie together your overall design.
4. Install a Shade Structure
Incorporate a pergola, sail shade or covered porch for added comfort. “Think about where the sun’s going to be,” Koehler says. Retractable options are nice, as you might need shade at lunchtime but prefer to see the stars at night. Consider rain protection too. “Cooking areas should be covered, since there are ways of cooking year-round that you can’t do inside, like with smokers and grills,” Zambito says.
5. Add Fire and Water Features
Warm up your patio with fire features to extend your time outdoors. Build a fireplace near seating for cozy gatherings, or place a gas fire pit along a wall within an outdoor media room. Also, use water features as calming focal points. “You can work them into hardscape and pavers in numerous ways,” Koehler says. Consider pondless waterfalls that spill into a gravel-covered well, so there’s no standing water to keep clean.
6. Combine Hardscape Options
Play with hardscape sizes, colors, textures and placement for an eye-catching look underfoot and on vertical features. Add a 3D effect, like the one seen here, to walls, benches and fire pits for texture, depth and tactility. Create a pattern of large and small pavers rimmed by charcoal pebbles, or turn tumbled-stone pavers sideways for a backsplash effect. “The possibilities are endless,” Zambito says. He suggests reflecting details from your home’s finishes in the hardscape. For example, “if your brick is gray and the trim is black, add some black blocks to a retaining wall,” he says.
7. Shine a Light
“Lighting is the best way to add value to a space,” Koehler says. “You can’t enjoy the space after hours if you can’t see what’s in front of you.” On the patio seen here, lighting along the stairs, walls and fire pit makes the travertine-look pavers glow, creating a welcoming ambiance. Koehler recommends installing path lights at the ends and every 6 to 8 feet along walkways for safety. “No more, or it looks like a runway,” he says.
8. Build for Privacy
Whether with trellises, tall hedges or high walls, hide your patio from onlookers. Regarding outdoor elevation, “the lower you go, the more privacy you usually get,” especially if you place your patio below a deck, Koehler says. “Multiple layers also create a nice effect” and provide additional opportunities for adding color and texture with pavers and stones, he adds.
9. Choose Durable Materials
Select materials that both look beautiful and are built to last. “It comes down to using quality products,” Zambito says. “Make sure they’re guaranteed for life.” Quality materials will let your patio shine through harsh winters and hot summers. Look for products made with iron oxide pigments that help resist heat, UV rays and harmful chemicals. New technology has created ultrasmooth concrete pavers, as seen here, that are even stronger and less absorbent than standard pavers or stamped concrete, which show wear over time.
10. Keep Maintenance in Mind
Go with easy-care materials so you can spend more time enjoying yourself. Hardscape choices such as wood-look concrete pavers and stone need less maintenance and generally last longer than wood or composite materials. “If you follow proper building practices, a hardscape should last forever,” Koehler says. “There’s no maintenance other than spot cleaning and replacing some sand between pavers every now and then.”