Making Patio Access Easy
When you can see the patio from inside your home it has visual access. Seeing it is an invitation to use the patio.
To create effective visual access, locate the patio where you can easily see it through windows or doors. If existing windows or doors don't provide an inviting view, consider installing new ones. Ideally at least some of the patio should be visible from more than one room, but the best view of the patio should be from the room that adjoins it.
You don't need to see the entire patio to want to get out and enjoy it. Often a limited view is better, especially if you want a more private patio.
Landscaping your patio and its surroundings to make them more attractive entices guests outdoors. Incorporating accents that you can see from the inside, such as carefully placed container gardens, variations in the paving pattern, or a decorative insert in a wall section visible through a window, also makes your patio more attractive.
When you're considering visual access to your patio, remember to look down. Using similar (or the same) flooring materials or similar colors or textures on both the interior floor and patio surface visually links the two spaces and makes a smooth transition.Physical access
Physical access refers to the ability to move from inside the house to the patio. The path to the patio should be obvious and easy. Doors should lead from rooms that adjoin the patio and paths should be clear.
Make a sketch of the traffic patterns in your home, then visualize how a patio will affect them. You may need to make changes to accommodate movement to the patio. For example, adding the patio on the side of your kitchen may turn the cooking area into a busy throughway. Moving or adding a door or rearranging interior furnishings can solve such problems.
Plan the entry so you can step easily from the room onto the patio. Make the patio surface as close as possible to the level of the interior floor.
If the patio surface must be significantly lower than the doorway, add a landing or an entry platform so you won't have to step down as soon as you pass through the door. A landing can prevent stumbling as you go from the house onto the patio.
If a landing is not possible, build steps. Make the steps wider than the doorway to create the illusion of spaciousness. Make each tread (the part you step on) at least 12 inches deep and keep the rise (the distance you step up) low so the stairs are easier to go up and down.Compatibility
When the general purposes of the indoor room and the patio are similar, the patio becomes a natural extension of the room. For this reason, the success of your patio may depend on its nearest indoor room.
A small patio where you can enjoy coffee and the morning paper is just right outside a bedroom, for example, but a large patio for parties and entertaining is not appropriate there.
For outdoor dining put the patio close to the kitchen, even if you will have a self-contained outdoor cooking space. Build-in a receptacle for trash so you don't have to carry it back into the house. Establish entertainment areas close to the living room, family room, or dining room, and maximize access with doorways from other rooms where you would entertain. Add exterior paths and walkways so guests can get to the patio without going through the house.
For a more private area, limit access. A patio that you can reach through only one room makes a private retreat. Shield your patio behind hedges or fencing.Improving access
Improving access is often all it takes to turn an underused patio into a favorite family place. If you don't use your patio as much as you thought you would, visual or physical access may be the problem.
If you feel you're on display while meditating on the patio, for instance, the site probably allows too much visual access. Add a fence, shrubs, or an overhead structure to screen the patio and enhance privacy. While areas for private use should have limited visual access, areas for public use can afford to be more open to outside views.
Inconvenient physical access from interior rooms can also reduce the use of your patio. If getting to your patio from inside is a circuitous journey with many obstacles, try rearranging the interior furniture. If the patio furnishings obstruct a natural pathway, rearrange them too. If rearrangement doesn't improve traffic flow, consider enlarging a door or adding a new one. Expanding the patio might be a solution too.Pro Tip
Make the right connections
To avoid traffic jams, make sure the main door to the patio is wide enough to allow easy passage and to offer an inviting view from inside the house. French doors, atrium doors, and sliding doors are especially suitable for connecting the inside and outside.
Take a compatibility inventory of your home. Sketch a floor plan and label the use of each room as active (entertaining, for example) or passive (reading). You may have rooms that warrant both labels, but one type of activity usually predominates. Match up active patio areas with active interior rooms, and passive patio spaces with passive rooms. Patio space for kids' play is better outside a family room, playroom, or den. Patio space for reading feels more comfortable adjacent to a bedroom or living room.
While you're at it, analyze the way family members and guests move through your home. Sketch in the windows and doors of the rooms and draw arrows that show the usual traffic routes. If there's furniture in the way, rearrange it to open up the view and physical paths to the outdoors.