REAL ESTATE- GIMME SHELTER- Patio perfection: Simply planning is key

Susan Schlenger
Susan Schlenger Landscape Design


Q: We'd like to design an outdoor patio for our home but don't know where to begin. Would you have some simple design guidelines to get us started?

A: First, ask yourself the following questions: Are you using it for family dining? Will you be entertaining quite a bit? Would you like some areas for relaxing in your backyard with some nice lounge chairs? 

Other considerations are seat walls, raised terraces, shapes, and the type of paving material (my favorites are travertine pavers and bluestone). 

Consider having some shade on your patio if the area is hot and sunny. An outdoor pergola or even some large shade trees will provide this and also add creativity and interest to the patio design. Starting out with a few very large trees will be less expensive than structures such as pergolas or trellises.

Patio Shapes

Patio designs can be created to look very naturalistic with beautiful curves, which should be large and sweeping– with a specific radius. This not only creates a nice design, but also helps determine the points of the curve when the patio gets installed. Whether installing a patio yourself or having it done by a landscape contractor, use specific dimensions to get the design right. Patio designs can also be geometric comprised of straight lines. These often meet at 90-degree angles. However, 45-degree angles may be used also.

Other types of patio designs combine both curves and straight lines. The Grecian style comes to mind. This is formal, but the use of various line types creates interest. (The minimum patio depth for a 60-inch round table and chairs should be close to 15 feet, while the minimum depth for chaise lounges should be 10 feet.

Seat Walls 

These are both functional and artistic, adding an architectural element to patio designs, as well as offering additional seating to foster conversation. I often like to place large, beautiful boulders at the seat wall ends. They provide an organic shape and a different texture. Try to design two shorter seat walls at right angles, rather than one long one to make it more comfortable for a few people to sit and chat. I like a height of about 21 inches. 

Raised Terraces

Raised terraces help provide a gradual transition to ground level when there is a significant change in elevation from the house to existing grade. These elevated patios have walls, and steps are often required; but the height can be dangerous.

To eliminate the need for railings, add a planting bed– at least two feet wide– at the edge of the patio to accommodate substantial plantings. The bed serves as both a physical and mental barrier at the edge. Design landscape steps off the patio to be at least 4' wide. The wider they are, the more dramatic.