Creating a Style for Your Patio

Style is a matter of details. Every part of your patio, from the type of paving you use to the patio's size and shape, contributes to its style.

Style affects more than how a patio looks; it can affect your long-term satisfaction with the patio as well. You're more likely to use the patio often if the style appeals to you and reflects the way you live.

Style by theme

A good way to approach style is to organize your landscape plan around a theme. Then make the patio an integral part of that plan.

If you decide on a classic, symmetrical look that features straight lines and right angles, a patio with rectangular planting beds on each side is perfect. Augment the effect with a border of sheared shrubbery.

For an informal style, incorporate curves into the design. A path of small stones or wood chips leading from the yard to the patio adds an informal touch. You could also curve the edges of planting beds to enhance the casual effect.

You can develop a style based on the region where you live. Use the colors and textures of nature, and take the climate and culture into account. Native plants and materials look right at home in their surroundings. Regional designs also make good budget sense -- local plants and materials are less expensive and generally require less care and maintenance.

Elements from different regions often mix well with one another. A single bonsai tree won't transform your patio into a Japanese garden but could provide a harmonious Oriental contrast to a Southwestern theme.

Architectural style

You can build a style around architecture. A contemporary style, for instance, is cool, serene, and comfortable with bold shapes and colors and sleek lines. Build the patio in sections, paving each section in a different orientation. Repeat one of the patterns on the sides of your outdoor kitchen. Zigzag your patio over a series of gentle slopes, and make the pattern even more dramatic with perimeter seating that matches the contours or angles.

Create harmony

No matter what style you choose for your landscape -- even the most eclectic -- it's important that its elements combine into a unified whole.

Create a sense of continuity with your house by using similar materials, colors, shapes, and patterns in your patio design.

A patio that runs parallel to a one-story ranch home creates a harmony of horizontal lines. But if you place the length of the patio perpendicular to the house, the harmony begins to be discordant.

A patio with sharp angles fits right in with a West Coast modular home and might work with an American foursquare, whose style is more neutral, but would probably look jarring on the back of a three-story Victorian, ornate with filigree and bric-a-brac.

The lines of the house aren't the only determinants. Look for design cues in the curves, angles, and free-form shapes of property lines, swimming pools, garden beds, or slopes.

Extend your sense of harmony to accents and furnishings. Use small, carefully placed elements to provide contrast of color, shape, and texture. Gardens, edgings, walls, colored concrete, stone, tiles, bricks, logs, gates, furnishings, lights, and decorative pieces all contribute pleasing and lively accents.

Select furnishings that support the dominant design. You can find a style of patio furniture to fit almost every taste and budget, from sleek, contemporary pieces to classic Adirondack furniture, or charming, old-fashioned wicker.

If your patio is large or encompasses several smaller sections, position small groups of furnishings and decorative elements so they won't clutter the central area. Place your main patio furniture around focal points to give them greater definition.

How will you know when your design is harmonious? It will be welcoming, not jarring. It will appear to be a cohesive blend instead of a clutter of parts, and its general impression will be inviting and comfortable.

Pro Tip

Finding your style
Look around your neighborhood and note things you like about the houses and yards. You may find more design continuity than you noticed before. Make notes and sketches of things you like and file them in a manila folder. Clip photos from magazines for further inspiration.

When you're working on your final design, spread your notes and clippings on a table so you can see everything at once. Discard what doesn't appeal to you and keep the rest. You should notice a general theme in the images left on the table. Use the elements of that style in your patio design.


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