Patio Ideas


©Bomanite Corporation The subdued earth colors and stone tile appearance of the imprinted surface blend smoothly with the brick and wood materials of the traditionally styled house.

Given the right amenities, a good patio can become a travel-free substitute for a weekend getaway -- the swimming pool supplanting a crowded beach, or the built-in barbecue taking over the picnic in the park.

In this article, you'll find several creative ways to transform your back yard into an attractive addition to the home. Using the photos as a guide, you'll be able to design the patio that's perfect for you, no matter what type of home you live in.

Typically, the size and shape of the site will have a greater effect on the patio's end result than anything else. It can provide opportunities for creative solutions to challenging conditions. An outdoor area has to respond to the lay of the land, but it should also balance the amount of sun and shade. Structures such as trees and shrubbery, trellises, or privacy walls can increase outdoor comfort by moderating the sun, shielding the area from prevailing winds, and screening out unwanted sights and sounds.

A successful patio remains in scale with the house and the surrounding landscape. A small outdoor area usually looks better with a simple, uncluttered design. By contrast, a big yard may call for a large outdoor area to keep things in proportion, but the overall space can be divided or sectioned with a change in levels, contrasting materials, or garden accents.

The following article covers a large variety of patio materials and looks at some of the ways they can be used. It also describes some of the amenities and finishing touches that can make patios more functional, enjoyable outdoor spaces. Whether you're planning an all-new addition to the yard or looking to spruce up the space you've got, you're sure to find something to love in the pages ahead.

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Lasting Impressions in Concrete

©Bomanite Corporation For a classic look, this imprinted concrete surface suits the formal tone of the patio and its pavilion.

Imprinted concrete is one of the newer techniques that can transform this versatile material into a stone look-alike. With any number of patterns and seemingly endless color variations, imprinted, or embossed, concrete can be made to fit a variety of patio ideas in resembling materials such as new and used brick, formal slate, random-laid flagstone, terracotta tile, cobblestones, and much more. As a patio paving, imprinted concrete is also an affordable way to give outdoor living areas a more natural look and bypass the time-consuming and sometimes costly process of selecting and laying individual bricks or stones.

Since it is a cast-concrete product -- a concrete slab that's been integrally colored and then scored -- this material can be used in areas that receive heavy traffic, such as driveways. It's also an ideal choice for pool surrounds and walkways since its textured surface is slip-resistant when wet.

©Bomanite Corporation The surface of this concrete patio is made to look like slate, whereas the step between the levels and the curved patio are imprinted to suggest brick.

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Stylish Concrete Pavers

©Portland Cement Association The combination of concrete and wood suits the informal layout of this outdoor area with the light-colored wood benching echoing the shades in the pavers' design.

With a long history of commercial applications, precast concrete pavers have recently made their way into the home landscape as attractive, adaptable alternatives to brick, tile, and natural stone. Although the term "precast concrete" makes the material sound uncomfortably industrial, these pavers are available in colors, shapes, and sizes that can be creatively arranged into any number of designs, complementing virtually any house style and all your patio ideas.

Just a sampling from the selection of precast concrete pavers reveals Spanish-style terracotta tiles, "aged" brick for formal or traditional settings, rustic cobblestones for more casual patios, and flagstonelike pavers in naturalistic colors that can enhance both formal and informal designs.

Aside from their flexibility as paving materials, concrete pavers offer the strength and durability of poured concrete in a much simpler form. They can be laid individually or locked together on a level, stable sand base and -- like brick -- lend themselves to interesting patterns.

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Mix and Match Materials

©Portland Cement Association This patio combines concrete block with standard brick in a lively pattern. Although the colors set up contrasts, the materials have similar surface textures.

While contrasting materials are often employed to solve problems or create dramatic effects, they can also be mixed and matched just to add a little visual interest to an informal outdoor area. The combinations depend on your patio ideas and can be as straightforward as brick and concrete block laid in sand or wood strips neatly edging a gravel walkway.

Materials might contrast in texture but wear colors bearing a close resemblance to each other; or they might differ in color but carry a similar size, shape, and surface. The emphasis might be on blending materials into a pattern. Simple patterns such as a grid or checkerboard lend themselves to casual patio styles and can be easily accomplished with any square or rectangular paving material.

Whether mixing materials for informal looks or to create a more striking patio, it's wise to gather a small assortment of the pavings in advance and lay out a sample section of the area to be certain that they blend together in functional and visually pleasing ways.

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Concrete Takes a Creative Path

For a perfect custom made patio,
For a perfect custom made patio,
©Bomanite Corporation and layout of your landscaping design.

Distinctive in appearance, innovative in design, and completely functional, imprinted cast-in-place concrete is showing up in more and more patios and walkways. Innovative patio ideas and techniques for integrating color and embossing the surface are resulting in more realistic-looking finishes and an expanded selection of patterns. Familiar flagstone and Belgian block designs, for instance, are being joined by a number of other creative finishes: used brick laid in a variety of patterns, Moorish-look tile, granite in a fish scale design, wood planks, and even fancy borders and upbeat graphics with 3-D effects. With so many options, concrete is no longer regarded as a practical-but-plain paving alternative.

Because of the wealth of decorative finishes to select from, imprinted concrete can be easily tailored to suit virtually any house style. It can be combined with other masonry materials to achieve a particular mood and create visual interest. And, thanks to its molded character, it can be physically shaped to integrate with the existing landscape or complement a new design.

©Bomanite Corporation The versatility of concrete makes it blend in with almost any other building material -- it is simply a question of mixing and matching with care.

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Invigorating Focal Points

©Association of Pool & Spa Professionals Modern forms and materials characterize this in exposed aggregate, while stairways carry Mexican terracotta tiles

Without a doubt, swimming pools are one of the most popular and dominant patio ideas. Their presence adds value to the home, gives focus to the patio and nearby areas, and provides hours of enjoyment for both serious swimmers and casual bathers. The neat, orderly shape of rectangular pools usually lends a formality to patio settings that suits both traditional and contemporary house styles. When contoured into free-form shapes, pools have a more casual look, especially when surrounded by natural landscaping.

Poolside paving materials can be as varied as the patio designs themselves. Brick, flagstone, and textured concrete -- aggregate and imprinted concrete in particular -- are among the favorites. Though highly attractive, ceramic tile is usually too slippery a surface to use around water.

In perfect balance with the size and scale of the house and patio, this lap pool carries a crisp elegance that suits the traditional setting.

Because of their visual dominance, swimming pools and their patio surrounds should be sized to harmonize with the scale and proportions of the house, especially if they lie in close proximity. It's also a good idea to situate the pool where it can get plenty of sun, a little shade, and some protection from the wind.

©Bomanite Corporation A sculptural free-form pool serves as the dramatic focal point of this multi-terraced patio design. The textured concrete floor is colored and imprinted to resemble tile.

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Spa-Soaking on the Patio

Architectural drama sets this pool and patio area apart as a true showpiece. A waterfall flows from the house to the free-form swimming pool featuring a spa.
Architectural drama sets this pool and patio area apart as a true showpiece. A waterfall flows from the house to the free-form swimming pool featuring a spa.

When it comes to ideas for patio amenities, spas rank high in bringing pleasure to outdoor living, whether enjoyed as a private spot for relaxing or a gathering place for social events. Though often included as an integral component of a swimming pool design, a spa can also work well as a stand-alone feature that functions beautifully in a small space. In fact, part of a spa's attraction is its ability to tuck into a little corner off the master bedroom or to fit into a narrow side patio alongside the family room. Regardless of its location, though, any spa should have convenient access to the house with some kind of visual screening from the street and close neighbors.

When integrated into a pool design, the top of the spa might be flush with the pool surround, as is typical in wood decks. Most freestanding spas, however, rest on a stable sand or soil base -- as does the patio itself -- and are elevated, hot-tub style. This prominent position above the floor provides wonderful opportunities to dress up spa walls and the rim with decorative stonework and fancy tiles to create a dramatic focal point.

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Soothing Sights and Sounds

©Association of Pool & Spa Professionals A rock garden lends color and texture to this pool's naturalistic design. The waterfall adds a soothing, refreshing note to the area.

Flowing or still, a water feature such as a pond or pool brings a feeling of serenity to a garden or patio. The idea for your patio may be to have a central focus, positioned so that indoor and outdoor areas can enjoy its sights and sounds, or it might be nestled in a secluded corner that encourages quiet contemplation. Without the agitation of a waterfall or fountain, reflecting pools are still waters of tranquility designed to mirror the natural surroundings -- branching tree limbs, for example, or even clouds sailing across the sky.

Many pools, however, incorporate waterfalls for the simple beauty that moving water can bring to a setting. Most ponds are planned with aquatic plants in mind and should be placed where there is sun for at least some of the day. When fish are to be included, care must be taken to provide a healthy and balanced environment for both plants and animals.

Water features can take on formal or informal looks. A rectangular pool edged with flagstone or brick has a formal appearance, but it can be softened with the colors and textures of items such as water lilies, a border of natural stones, or low plantings. Curving pools seem less formal and are especially attractive when integrated with a rock garden.

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Water in Motion

©Bomanite Corporation This swimming pool features a triple fountain enclosed by a glass block wall. The sculptural surround ringing the area is paved in embossed, colored concrete.

As decorative accents, fountains and waterfalls can make any water feature more vibrant and alive, and when they are lit by night, they can bring spectacular looks to a patio or garden. Whether they arc out, spray up, or spill over, fountains are nearly always a great idea for your patio focal point. Their splashing sounds attract attention, too, and serve to muffle unwanted noises.

Fountains and waterfalls tend to bring a bit of formality to an outdoor area since they are so distinct from the natural landscape. A pool with a fountain is an especially pleasant addition to an entry patio or courtyard, giving visitors an elegant greeting. Even a tiny patio, too small for a pool of any size, can enjoy water in motion with a low-profile fountain mounted on the wall. Waterfalls in a patio setting typically have a gentler presence than fountains, flowing over rocks or masonry in a meandering, informal path.

Incorporating a water feature into a patio requires thoughtful planning. Fountains and waterfalls, for instance, require pumps and controls, which may be one reason they are often integrated with swimming pool systems.

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Stairs Rise to the Occasion

©Portland Cement Association The rough-cut concrete blocks edging these patio steps provide a texturally interesting contrast to the uniform, bricklike shape of the pavers on the floor.

Stairs are essential ingredients in many patio ideas, but they can also rise to the occasion as decorative features that tie various elements together. Stairs can be fashioned out of the same paving material as the patio floor but take on added interest with a different texture or pattern, such as a poured concrete surface changing to rougher concrete block or brick laid in a herringbone pattern changing to a straight run. Stairs often look their best when their design combines the primary patio material with a contrasting one, such as exposed aggregate teamed with wood or brick accents or large formal flagstones softened with a random arrangement of small smooth-surface rocks.

Changing the width and depth of stairs can create interesting effects, too. Vertical risers should remain a uniform height for safety when climbing or descending, but the proportions of horizontal treads -- the walking surface -- can be varied with great flexibility. Stairs might broaden as they lead from the patio adjoining the house down to another area of the yard. Or a short flight of standard-depth stairs might open to a series of platformlike levels for a terraced appearance.

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Living Outdoors With Brick

This brick walkway has sturdy mortared joints to offset the informally laid walk.
This brick walkway has sturdy mortared joints to offset the informally laid walk.

Of the many choices available in the world of brick, the two types recommended for patio construction are common, or building, brick and paving brick. Common brick can be used for basically any outdoor project, and the slight variations in color and texture from one brick to another can give a patio or walkway character and add to its appeal. Common brick may be new, used, or newly made and treated to look old or used. Paving brick, formed from a special clay and fired for a long period, is very hard and makes a good selection for patios or driveways that will endure heavy traffic.

Brick's design flexibility and lasting good looks as a paving material are joined by another positive feature: ease of installation. Most brick patios can be laid on a bed of sand as long as the soil base is stable, the bricks are butted tightly together, and some kind of solid edging is employed to keep the bricks from creeping or spreading apart. Of course, some site conditions require a stronger base for safety and stability. In these situations, the brick is usually laid on a concrete slab with mortared joints.

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Great Possibilities With Pavers

The synthetic rock edging the area is more economical to buy and install than natural stone.
The synthetic rock edging the area is more economical to buy and install than natural stone.

There was a time when the only concrete pavers available were rectangular blocks, which are sturdy but often uninteresting solutions for walkways and patios. Today, precast concrete pavers can be found in dozens of shapes, sizes, and colors and serve as surprisingly realistic substitutes for brick, cobblestone, tile, and even granite. In addition to the familiar squares and circles, pavers come in a variety of more interesting shapes such as hexagons, diamonds, and free-form designs that can be creatively arranged to bring a patio to life.

Interlocking pavers -- units that fit together like pieces of a puzzle -- are manufactured from a dense form of concrete, and most products are exceptionally strong. When joined together, interlocking pavers create a rigid, fairly smooth surface that stays in alignment even when laid in sand, making it ideal for areas that sustain a lot of foot traffic. Interlocking pavers can also be used in places that bear heavier loads than most materials can handle, including driveways.

These bricklike pavers provide a stable surface that supports all kinds of outdoor activities.

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Informal Terra Cotta Tile

Brick-look quarry tiles laid in a herringbone pattern add dimension and visual interest to terrace edging.
Brick-look quarry tiles laid in a herringbone pattern add dimension and visual interest to terrace edging.

Of the vast numbers of ceramic tile available for house and garden, terra cotta tiles are perhaps the most widely selected for outdoor use. The term terra cotta, meaning baked earth in Italian, typically refers to rather rustic-looking tiles that are colored in warm, earthy, and natural tones. Within the terra cotta family, however, there are several types of tile -- some glazed, some unglazed, and all with slightly different characteristics.

Hand-molded, unglazed tiles, sometimes called Mexican pavers, usually have an uneven surface and a handcrafted look. And while their informal, rustic appearance rates high, they are soft and porous and should be sealed to reduce water absorption. Unglazed pavers are also apt to deteriorate in cold climates. Machine-made terra cotta tiles, commonly called quarry tiles, tend to be harder and more durable and may be found in glazed and unglazed forms in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most glazed tiles have a smooth finish and resist stains beautifully, but a too-smooth glazed surface can be slippery when wet.

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Unique Character of Flagstone

The simple teak furnishings suit the patio's small scale and harmonize with the soft gray shades.
The simple teak furnishings suit the patio's small scale and harmonize with the soft gray shades.

With its understated palette of browns and grays and an exceptional ability to blend comfortably into so many settings, flagstone remains one of the most desirable patio pavings. It seems especially suited to traditional homes and gardens -- perhaps because of its natural rather than man-made origins -- but it can also help soften the appearance of more contemporary houses and newly installed landscaping. Flagstone's slightly irregular surface displays a texture and warmth that complements virtually all plants, from mossy coverings between pavers to potted flowers to large-scale shrubs. For that reason, flagstone adapts easily to both formal and informal patios and walkways.

One feature that sets flagstone apart from some other materials is that every stone has an interesting face or an individual character. Even when cut into similar shapes or laid in a close pattern, each stone retains a unique quality that contributes to the overall patio's beauty.

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Brick of a Different Color

Laid in a neat herringbone pattern, this patio floor carries the orange color of new bricks.
Laid in a neat herringbone pattern, this patio floor carries the orange color of new bricks.

Suited to a host of house styles and patio configurations, brick has long been high on the list of favorite patio materials. And though the familiar image of this versatile paver brings to mind the color family of reds and yellows, brick is available in a wide range of dark, earthy tones, including black. These darker shades are usually formed during the firing process; the finished color is influenced by the type of clay and the amount of iron within the clay. Brick that's been streaked, or flashed, with dark lines also makes for an interesting patio surface.

A dark brick floor can give a patio an older, more traditional appearance and set up dramatic contrasts with lighter-colored elements such as furnishings and garden accents. It can also recede into the background, allowing foliage and flowers to take center stage.

The dressy effect of white on black brings formality outdoors to this enclosed patio.

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Elegant Tile, Italian Style

The delicate pattern of the Italian-made tile floor belies a hard-working surface that's durable and stain-resistant.
The delicate pattern of the Italian-made tile floor belies a hard-working surface that's durable and stain-resistant.

Among the choices for a patio surfacing, there's nothing more elegant than dressy Italian ceramic tile. The polished, high-style appearance of so many Italian imports is a perfect complement to formal indoor-outdoor settings. And although these tiles can integrate smoothly with a number of house styles in a variety of locations, they seem especially suited to homes and patios found in warmer regions or those designed around a Mediterranean theme.

Their light, bright finishes and decorative motifs make an attractive backdrop for garden accents with a southern European flair: wrought iron furnishings, hand-painted clay pots, and stone fountains and benches. And they are one of the few pavings that can travel seamlessly from indoor spaces to outside living areas without visual interruption.

Ceramic tile today benefits from sophisticated glazing and finishing techniques that make them extremely durable and easy to maintain. Like several other paving materials, however, tile can be slippery when wet. A number of tiles are available with textured and matte surfaces that provide better traction yet still offer sophisticated looks.

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Tile With Substance and Style

A new surface of terra cotta tile transformed this once concrete patio into an inviting poolside surround.
A new surface of terra cotta tile transformed this once concrete patio into an inviting poolside surround.

Fashioned by hand or shaped by machine, informal terra cotta tiles bring warm, earthy colors and textures to outdoor rooms. Perhaps because of their natural tones, these fired clay tiles seem at home with a wide range of house styles. Hand-made terra cotta tiles have a rustic beauty that suits traditional patios and courtyards, but their rather soft, porous composition makes them unsuitable for cold- or wet-weather applications.

By contrast, most manufactured tiles are impervious to water and have a strength and durability that tolerate a variety of outdoor conditions, including frost. Unglazed versions with matte or gritty surfaces aren't as slippery when the surface is damp or wet. Machine-formed terra cotta tiles, both domestic and imported, are available in an impressive array of patterns, colors, and textures that can evoke images of ancient Rome or complement even the most contemporary architectural design.

Wide grout lines that mask uneven edges and mottled colors give the tiles a hand-crafted look.

One of the oldest building and paving materials known to man, ceramic tile proves to be a substantial, practical, and beautiful choice by today's standards as well.

The ceramic tile floor carries warm colors that blend with the cool blues of the wicker furnishings.

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Contrasts for Special Effects

This enclosed patio pairs flagstone with contrasting colored glass, specially coated to reflect light.
This enclosed patio pairs flagstone with contrasting colored glass, specially coated to reflect light.

Sometimes the most visually satisfying patios result from the juxtaposition of contrasting materials or from unexpected combinations of similar ones. The effects can be subtle or stimulating, depending on the mixture and the medium. A patio laid primarily in rectangular-cut flagstones can seem a little less formal with smaller pieces of contrasting stone placed here and there or grouped in a border. A dark brick patio edged with white crushed stone appears crisp and tailored. A light concrete surface accented with bright tile stripes takes on visual punch. Contrasting colors and textures are especially effective in bringing plain masonry to life and drawing the eye away from potentially monotonous surfaces.

Special effects can be achieved through pattern, too. And although brick is the material most often associated with pattern, concrete pavers, cut stone, tile, and small smooth rocks all lend themselves to unusual -- even elaborate -- designs.

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Versatile Poured Concrete

This basic concrete floor serves as a cool, understated backdrop for the warm-climate mood.
This basic concrete floor serves as a cool, understated backdrop for the warm-climate mood.

Strong, serviceable poured concrete is a surprisingly versatile paving material. One of its most respected qualities is the ability to take to nearly any shape or style -- large or small, formal or casual. And because it is a molded material -- placed into a prepared form of some type and allowed to harden -- concrete can conform to a wide spectrum of landscape and patio designs and suit a number of architectural styles.

Concrete can be made to flow freely around the perimeter of a house, following its contours closely and serving as a continuous surface that might incorporate steps, planters, and walls into the patio plan. Or it can be molded into a series of separate but related patio elements, each cast in individual forms that can be different in size and shape or all the same.

One advantage of working with smaller sections of concrete is that other materials can be integrated rather easily to introduce variety. Poured concrete can also function successfully as an accent, perhaps as stepping stones linking the house to the garden or low benches surrounding a small pond.

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Disguising Basic Concrete

This rear patio carries a stamped concrete finish with a rustic appearance suggesting traditional pavers.
This rear patio carries a stamped concrete finish with a rustic appearance suggesting traditional pavers.

As a reliable, practical, and economical paving for patios and walkways, concrete performs admirably on its own. But it can gain dramatically in its overall appeal when given a decorative finish that banishes any visual sensation of cold, drab, or bland.

Color, for instance, can do wonders to cheer up basic concrete. The pigment can be mixed into the material before it's poured for a lasting, color-through finish, or it can be dusted onto a leveled, wet surface and smoothed in with a trowel. Sometimes concrete gets its color after it has hardened from an application of paint or a penetrating stain.

Bordered by a band of white concrete, the imprinted areas of the walkway and terrace resemble cut flagstone.

Basic concrete can also benefit from a variety of textured effects, from simple broomed and salt-pocked finishes to imprinted surfaces that disguise a slab as brick, tile, or natural stone. Although small areas of concrete take to imprinting, or stamping, with tools that can be rented from a home improvement center, large expanses usually require the skills and equipment of a professional contractor to ensure realistic-looking results.

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Seating as a Garden Accent

This weathered wood bench rests atop a permanent masonry base nestled into a corner of the patio.
This weathered wood bench rests atop a permanent masonry base nestled into a corner of the patio.

Few patios can function well or host outdoor activities without some kind of seating. Sometimes seating serves as a dominant feature or even the focal point, as might a large grouping of furnishings. It often acts as an accent to draw attention to a particular area such as a fragrant flower garden or a lovely view. Freestanding or built-in, accent seating can offer a place to rest after a brisk walk, take a break from yard work, or settle down with a good book.

Seating for the patio comes in many styles and materials that can suit a variety of settings. Benches, wood or stone, seem particularly at home both on the patio and in the garden. English-style teakwood benches can be pleasing additions to traditional designs, especially when the wood has acquired a silvery patina with time and weather. Stone and cast concrete benches have rustic appeal, but they can be uncomfortable for long-term sitting unless cushioned or outfitted with a wood surface. Park benches, with their slatted wood seats and backrests and metal arms and legs, can adapt to many outdoor areas and look especially festive when brightly painted.

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