The keys to a successful patio are simple: the right place and the right style. Here's how to plan for both.
Patios, along with decks, are the workhorses of outdoor entertaining. Although many factors affect the success of a patio, the most important consideration is its location. A patio's site affects how much it is used and influences how well it serves the intended purpose.
If the patio is for outdoor dining, having it close to the house -- and kitchen -- increases the likelihood of its being used. A remotely located patio makes a great area for outdoor dining, but be realistic about how you respond to "out of sight, out of mind" situations. You may end up not using a remote patio as often as you had planned.
Another factor to consider when siting the patio is microclimate. A spot that is convenient to the kitchen may have too much or too little sun or an unpleasant view. Wind, sound, and privacy should also be considered. You may be able to screen the unattractive views, add shade, or remove limbs to bring sunlight into the area. Or you may need to find another location for the patio. A master plan will help in dealing with these situations.
Consider the view from where you will be sitting. If the view is a problem, an attractive fence or trellis can be a quick solution. If a portion of the view is attractive, you can frame it with carefully positioned gaps in the screen.
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When building the patio, consider the proximity of large trees that may suffer root damage or damage the patios themselves. Even shallow roots can damage a patio in time. Also consider accessibility to utilities such as electricity for lighting or water for a fountain.
The design of a patio should take into account the style of the house and the surrounding garden, and the purpose the patio is to serve. One of the first considerations is the size of the patio.
A large patio is expensive and may not be necessary if you plan only intimate gatherings with family or a few friends. However, if you like large parties, or live in a neighborhood where most homes have substantial outdoor entertaining areas, a bigger patio may be a worthwhile investment.
Another consideration is levelness. A patio should provide a firm, level surface for seating and entertaining. That's one of the big advantages of a patio over a lawn, which can be a difficult base for setting up tables and chairs -- especially after a rain when it may be spongy or uneven.
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Open and airy. As a general rule, a patio is open and exposed; it visually spills into the surrounding areas. To avoid feeling exposed, consider adding a pergola or other overhead structure to give the patio a sense of containment.
Private and secluded. A patio is a private outdoor room. You can create a sense of privacy by using the existing walls of the house or garage. You need not completely enclose the area as you would a courtyard. Instead, consider building a screen or fence to enclose part of the patio, leaving the other sides open. Partial enclosure creates a sense of intimacy, making the patio especially suited to outdoor dining.
Close to home. Having a patio close to the house has many advantages. If it's visible from inside the house, it has a tendency to be used more because you are constantly aware of it. A patio can also serve as a transitional area between the house and the garden.
Change of grade. Add interest to a patio by having it slightly elevated or sunken. This is especially appropriate if your garden is relatively level. If you plan on setting the patio below the surrounding grade, you will need to install some type of drainage system. A raised patio will drain easily if you build the surface with a slight slope.
Underutilized area. Sometimes paving a narrow side yard or other small area can turn an otherwise unused spot into a functional patio. This is especially true of areas that receive little sunlight and might otherwise be difficult spots in which to maintain a lawn or other planting.