Patio Ideas: Building Tips and Design Trends

Get expert tips for building a patio and discover the latest trends in flooring, lighting, furniture and more.
By: Geoff Williams

Planning a Patio: Think Beyond the Concrete Slab

Whether you're dreaming of a modest retreat where you can connect with nature or an elaborate space built for serious outdoor entertaining, there's a patio to fit your home, lifestyle and budget. Patios can be built in nearly any shape, size, color or pattern you can imagine. Plus, new options in outdoor furniture, kitchens and other amenities can make a home's outdoor spaces as inviting as its interior. Before you start pouring concrete or laying pavers, learn the basics of a well-built patio, then discover the latest trends in flooring, lighting, furniture and more. Photo courtesy of Metro GreenScape.

Building a Solid Patio Base

The base is arguably the most important component of a patio. Patios may not be prone to danger the way a deck can be — if a patio falls apart, the process is gradual and injury is unlikely — but if the base isn't installed carefully, a patio may not last a year.

The base may be constructed of sand and gravel or of concrete, which is obviously more durable. (Plan to use half a bag of pre-mixed concrete for every square foot.) Either way, you're going to have to do some digging. Experts generally say that the base should be anywhere from 6 to 8 inches deep.

Even with a relatively easy patio installation, there are many details to consider. For instance, Dave Garcia, owner of San Francisco-based Paver Pro, says the sand in your base should be sharp-angled sand because the grains interlock with each other better than slippery rounded sand.

Patio Flooring: Trends in Concrete Patios

Although choices seem endless, concrete is the most common and surprisingly versatile patio flooring option. Poured concrete can be shaped into just about any pattern and color. It can be swirled and scored, tinted a subtle or bold color like red and blue, shaped into patterns or even formed into stone-like shapes. Even an unassuming cement slab can be dressed up with a stain, Dave says.

Patio Flooring: The Perks of Paver Stones

Interlocking stones have been gaining a fan base in recent years. They are four times stronger than concrete, earthquake resistant, according to proponents like Dave, and easy to remove and replace should something go wrong underneath the patio. "If you have a pipe that bursts underneath, you could pull the stones out, fix the pipe and then place everything back the way it was," he says. "It won't look patched. With regular concrete, you'll never match it."

Dave says many of his customers like permeable pavers, which are made of porous materials. When it rains, water drains through the pavers and is filtered of oil and pollutants before it runs through the soil and reaches groundwater.

Patio Edging Options

All patios should have edging, a barrier that keeps weeds and overgrown grass at bay and protects the edges of the flooring. Edging can be made of bricks, gravel, cement blocks or stones. A patio can also be edged with flower beds, a defining barrier that adds a splash of color.

Concrete edging and color-stamped edging, which is concrete with texture and color, are currently in vogue, according to Jon Brennhofer, owner of Minneapolis-based Outdoor Spaces Design & Build Company. "It's really, really popular here as opposed to your typical old black and rubber edging," says Jon. "It allows you to keep a clean look, and to build up to whatever landscaping you're going to do around the patio, whether it's mulch or rock or grass. Plus, there's the ability to actually keep it clean — and the durability. It adds a lot to the look of a patio." Photo courtesy of Paver Pro

Patio Waterproofing Tips

Think small. That is, think one and a half inches. When your patio meets the back door, Dave recommends you make sure your patio is an inch and a half below the bottom of the door. When it rains or there's water on the patio, you'll be glad that water is not sliding into your house whenever you open the door.

That's another reason surfaces like porous permeable pavers are popular, says Jon. "The water drains right through." But if you opt for concrete flooring, you'll want to use a solvent-based acrylic sealer, which prevents water from gradually penetrating into your patio.

Patio Covers: Create an Outdoor Room

Most people think of a patio as a strictly outdoor space, perhaps with an umbrella table set up for shade. But you can always add extra protection from the elements with a retractable awning or canopy (typical cost range: a couple to several hundred dollars). Go all out by adding a patio sunroom (typical cost range: several thousand dollars to the bounds of your limitless imagination).

"The transitions we've seen over the last several years have been phenomenal," raves Jon. "Everybody's trying to move as much of the indoors as they can outside. We're seeing everything from outdoor kitchens to bars to Beer Meisters and fireplaces. There's nothing that's ended up outside that we don't have inside. Some people spend tens of hundreds to thousands of dollars on furniture for their patio." Photo courtesy of Metro GreenScape

Patio Lights: Provide Security and Atmosphere

The right combination of lights will make your patio safe and inviting. Bright standard-voltage lights can ward off possible intruders at night, while low-voltage lights provide a soft glow for entertaining, plus they're easier on your electric bill. Investing in energy efficient bulbs is another great way to cut down on lighting costs in the long run.

When choosing lights for your patio, think about purpose. Path lights can safely lead the way from a patio to a driveway, uplights can highlight landscape focal points or architectural features and specialty lights, such as rope lights, torches and lanterns, can add ambiance.

According to Jon, your imagination and budget are the only limits on your outdoor lighting options. "You can spend anywhere from $15 to $215 a light fixture. We're finding that a lot of types of light we use indoors, we're using outdoors. It's no longer the black plastic, but the copper lantern with stained glass that's hanging on a shepherd's hook." Photo courtesy of Metro GreenScape

All the Extras: Patio Furniture, Fireplaces and More

Depending on your budget and space, your options are virtually endless when it comes to outfitting your patio. You may consider a patio fireplace, a water fountain or an outdoor kitchen. Seat walls are currently a functional and artistic trend in patios.

Look for furniture with cushions that resist moisture and mildew (they're out there). A lot of chairs, sofas and tables these days have non-rusting aluminum frames that resemble wood and wicker but are much more weather-friendly. Outdoor furniture is also resembling indoor furniture more and more, according to Michael Valles, CEO of Interior Illusions, a Southern California-based retail, interior design and staging company. Lee Industries is one company that specializes in making outdoor furniture as comfortable as its indoor counterparts.

"No hand woven rattan or polypropylene chairs here," says Michael, who sells Lee Industries products in his showrooms. "They feel like chenille, velvet or linen."

While an actual chenille sofa would become moldy and rot if kept outside, this high-end outdoor furniture can withstand the elements. But it also comes with a hefty price tag: Michael says that some of their dining room chairs can cost as much as $1,500 per chair. Photo courtesy of Metro GreenScape

Beyond Concrete: More Patio Ideas

Patios don't have to be constructed of cement or stone. Other building materials include classic wood, natural slate, sandstone, granite, brick, a wood composite and even porcelain. Remember, too, that there's often variety in that variety. For instance, if you tell a contractor you want a brick patio, he or she may ask, "Do you want face brick, thin brick veneer, reclaimed brick or a replica old brick?" The brick pattern is also up for discussion.

Whatever you do, make sure your patio's surface fits your climate. In Minnesota, Jon says, paver and concrete-stamped patios are popular because they can endure the area's temperature changes and humidity. In regions with dry heat, other materials such as slate may hold up better. Be sure to choose your patio surface wisely, or what looks attractive today may not age well tomorrow. Photo courtesy of Paver Pro

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