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Patios are growing in popularity thanks to their long-term value and a trend toward outdoor living. This slide show illustrates the basic steps in planning a patio that will be both beautiful and practical. Use the links at the bottom of each slide for detailed information on that topic.
Most patios are adjacent to the house, but they need not be. A patio placed well away from the house can provide dry footing for a private retreat. On the other hand, if you plan to use your patio for dining, keep it as close to the kitchen as possible.
A patio meant for the family can be small and intimate. But if large gatherings are in your future, you'll want to make sure your patio can handle a crowd. One way to figure the size is to set up tables and chairs on your lawn and see how much room you might need.
Brick, concrete, slate, and flagstone are among the most popular patio surfaces, either alone or in combination. When selecting a material, consider factors beyond just cost. It's always a good idea to match the style of your home, if possible. And if you'll be dining regularly, select a surface that is smooth enough to keep tables and chairs from wobbling.
A patio can be a simple slab of concrete or slate. But to make the most of your outdoor living space, you'll want to add amenities like low-voltage lighting, planters, fountains, or fireplaces. Let your lifestyle and needs dictate the details you choose to add.
The weight and hardness of patio materials can make building one a challenge for the novice. Still, if you want to try a small, forgiving project, consider building a sand-based patio yourself. More complex projects, especially those involving large concrete pours, should involve at least some experienced help.
Trees, flowers, and shrubs help a patio blend into the rest of the garden, and should not be an afterthought. Whether complex or simple, patio plantings enhance your enjoyment of the time you spend outdoors.
Give your patio a unique dimension by incorporating pockets of colorful, easy-care plants such as succulents and groundcovers that can handle heavy traffic while still maintaining their structure. Creeping thyme, in particular, is a great choice for sunny patios because it releases its lovely fragrance when stepped on.
Get creative with an outdoor space by finding ways to make your lawn part of the design. Here, the circular patch of grass adds to the flow of the landscape and softens the transition between hardscapes. It also acts as a design element, playing off the round heads of flowering hydrangeas, circular container gardens, and stepping-stones off the back door.
Make your patio as versatile as possible by offering different seating areas. Casual gatherings (or personal away-time!) call for relaxing in Adirondack chairs; more formal get-togethers are better suited with traditional lawn furniture or benches. If you have the space, create separate seating areas to accommodate any situation.
You won't spend much time on your patio if it's not enjoyable, so offer a shield from hot summer sun with a pergola, a trellis, or shade trees. With careful planning, you can create shade while putting on a show with a stunning pergola or bold, beautiful specimen trees.
Again, you'll spend more time enjoying your space if it's comfortable and handy. Keep seating areas near the grill or outdoor kitchen so you don't have to trek across the yard with platters of food. Plus, you can let elements of an outdoor kitchen do double duty -- the screen shown here also helps block late afternoon sun.