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How to Get Started on Designing the Patio Space of Your Dreams

So, you’ve decided that this is the year you’re finally going to build and design the outdoor patio of your dreams. Now, you may be asking yourself, ‘where do I even start?’

A lot goes into designing and building the perfect outdoor patio space. Designing an outdoor space is a little different than undertaking an indoor reno, so there may be more room for error. It’s essential to include quality patio furniture and décor that matches your lifestyle and preferred design aesthetic. Luckily, we’ve come through with the best tips and advice for planning and designing the perfect patio you’ve always envisioned.

Things to Consider Before Adding an Outdoor Patio to Your Yard:

Your Patio’s Intended Purpose

As you begin laying out your patio plans, this should be the first question you ask yourself. Your patio’s intended purpose will inform every decision you make from here on out. Do you plan on throwing large, lavish parties, or are you more of a “small, intimate gatherings” kind of host? Will you require an outdoor cooking space? What about a fire pit? Do you want your patio to be separated into several smaller spaces, or would you prefer one large, open area?

At this point, you need to think of traffic flow, seating arrangements, activities and square footage. Once you’ve made these basic decisions, the fun can really begin.


There is one more critical logistical decision you need to make before you hit the gas and start adding things to your shopping cart. First, you need to decide on a budget. This should be clarified during the very first meeting with your contractor.

Some materials and fixtures are more expensive than others, and you want to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. For example, some pavers can cost up to $5-6 per square foot, which can mean for a 700 square foot patio, there could be a price difference of as much as $3 to $4 thousand.

Often, your contractor will be able to provide a ballpark estimate of how much your reno will cost. You should also discuss how flexible you are willing to be with your budget – are you willing to bend on price if you’re presented with a better and more functional idea than what you were originally thinking? If so, by how much?

Distance from House

A well-designed patio does not necessarily have to be attached or directly adjacent to the main house. In fact, sometimes your patio space will work better if it is placed further away from the house! Ultimately, this depends on the intended function of the space.

If you anticipate that you’ll need to do a lot of walking back and forth from the house, the closer, the better. There are also other elements that may come into play, such as light and elevation. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to make sure your patio’s location is cohesive with the rest of your yard.

Bylaws and Permits

Before you proceed with your build, it’s important to make sure your plans don’t violate any local bylaws. There is nothing more frustrating than completing your design, falling in love and then realizing you need to start back at square one because your design has violated one or more bylaws.

This information can be found in your Plot Plan, which would have been included in your closing documents from when you bought the house. During your first meeting with your contractor, give them a copy of your plot plan so you can be confident that you’re both on the same page when it comes to following local bylaws and easements.

Then, there are permits to consider. Because paver patios aren’t considered “permanent” structures, the patio itself will likely not require a permit. However, many municipalities do require permits for built-in elements like fire pits and ponds, which should be sorted out before you begin designing and building. You may also require permits for things like outdoor electricity, plumbing and certain structures.

Sun Exposure

Depending on the placement of your patio, you may want to think about sun exposure and shading. West-facing patios are more susceptible to glaring rays that can leave you and your guests feeling uncomfortable, at the very least. This problem can often be solved by installing some kind of built-in roof, pergola, a retractable awning or even a simple tabletop umbrella.

Elevation Changes

If you’ve never done a patio reno, elevation changes are one of the little-known details that are most likely to slip through the cracks. A yard is rarely perfectly flat – which can cause complications considering the fact that a patio surface must be built flat. Because of this, your patio might need to be recessed or elevated.

But, there’s no need to worry! Elevation changes can bring a truly unique sense of character to your space, while still being functional. If there are elevation changes on your property, you can use a retaining wall to build up part of the patio or hold back the surrounding ground to keep it from collapsing or washing out onto your patio. If this sounds a little too expensive for your taste, you could always look for alternative areas of your property that are flatter to build your patio. If you’re on a tight budget, a flat patio is the least expensive option.

Tips for Designing Your Dream Patio:

Research Designs You Like

Before you decide on any design elements, it’s important to do your research. Take to Pinterest, look at a magazine or talk to friends and family who have patio spaces you enjoy. Look for designs in spaces that are similar to your own, so you’ll know before you get there whether your original vision will really work in your space. Perhaps you’ll make some adjustments, or even find some fresh new ideas that you would never have imagined otherwise!

Account for Drainage and Access

Another little-known patio problem that can cause grief for first-time designers is drainage and access. Nothing ruins an outdoor party like water buildup, which can easily be avoided with a little pre-planning. Poor drainage can lead to washed out patio bases, as well as cracking and sinking. Poor drainage also poses risks for nearby flowerbeds and even the foundation of your home.

These can be costly problems, but by hiring a professional with a good eye to install your patio and solve any drainage issues posed by your landscape. For existing patios, you can create a sloping channel in the paver filled with decorative stone or gravel to direct water away from your home.

Plan for Additional Landscaping

Many experts say that the area surrounding your patio is what really makes the space. We recommend planning your hardscape first, and then going back in to add plant material later on. That way, it will be easier to truly visualize the space and decide what types of greenery will work best.

Often, you’ll find that once the pavers, fixtures and furniture have been installed, there will be empty areas you didn’t account for. You may also decide to break up the patio with additional plants and greenery, or perhaps even add some hanging plant baskets. Greenery also makes a great natural enclosure for your outdoor space.

A pro tip – tall planters and hanging baskets can do wonders for a small space! They draw the eye upward, making your patio appear larger than it really is. Just be sure to avoid placing hanging baskets directly above the seating areas – it’s difficult for your guests to relax when they’re worried about something falling in their hair, after all.

Don’t Forget About Lighting

Ambiance is one of the most important elements to consider when designing your outdoor patio, and lighting is a key factor in giving your space the vibes you’re looking for. Are you looking for a calm, relaxing atmosphere? Try using soft, warm lighting. Or perhaps you’re more of a ‘party animal?’ You may consider going for bright, colourful lights – some can even be hooked up to an outdoor sound system and programmed to change colours to the beat of your music.

The type of fixture you choose is also important. You may opt for overhead lighting or a wall-mounted fixture. If you’re working with a smaller space, you could consider a small light built into the floor. Some water features also come with built-in lighting to give your space that extra kick. Finally, you’ll have to think about whether you’d rather go with electric lighting or energy-saving alternatives such as solar.

Bring in Storage

There are many ways to incorporate storage into your patio without compromising its functionality, traffic flow or visual appeal. Believe it or not, a large, clunky bin isn’t the be-all, end-all of outdoor storage. Often, furniture pieces like benches and tables will come with built-in storage compartments to help you optimize your space. There are also wall-mounted storage options for gardening or cooking tools, or you could get creative with your storage – like using a modified planter box to store your garden hose, which can be both an eyesore and a trip hazard.

Complementary Patio Furniture & Perfect Placement

You’ve probably heard of Feng Shui, but these handy design principles are not only useful for indoor spaces. For example, your outdoor patio space should have unobstructed, easily-accessible paths throughout in order to optimize traffic flow that is not blocked by furniture. Your furniture, from the chairs to the tabletops to the lighting fixtures, should all follow a similar colour scheme and design to harmonize the space.

Placement is also important for making your space appear larger and brighter – especially if you’re working with a smaller space. If your space is smaller, try opting for sleek, compact furniture that will not obstruct the space.

The Takeaway

Just like with any home renovation project, during the beginning stages, it may feel like there are mountains standing between you and your goal. But with a little creative thinking, patience and strategy, your new outdoor patio will soon be the go-to space for summer gatherings among your friends and family!