Creating Privacy and Enclosure with Your Patio
Consider privacy throughout the planning stage of your patio. Will neighbors have a clear view of the site? Will your patio (and people on it) be visible from a public street or sidewalk? If so, you need to create privacy.
The solution may be as simple as building your patio on a less-exposed side of the house or tucking it into a corner. Stand in different places on your patio site several proposed times during the day and evening.
If you don't feel a sense of security and privacy, look for places where you could add a privacy fence, wall, or trees and shrubs. Consider alternate locations for the patio if necessary. While you're checking the site, make a list of unsightly views you want to hide.Screening
The screening used to enhance privacy or block out unwanted views can take many forms. Which one you use depends on how you plan to use each area of your patio.
Cozy spots for reading, conversation, sunbathing, or meditation call for plenty of shelter. Pools and spas need privacy and a windbreak. Walls, high fences, or dense evergreen plantings are good choices for screening these places.
Areas for parties, large family gatherings, or children's play by nature are more open. Partial screens of latticework, low fence panels with open infill, airy trees, or seat walls are adequate for these places. They can also hide unsightly views, such as garbage cans, air-conditioning equipment, utility hookups, or the back of a neighbor's shed or garage. Train a vine to grow into the screen; the foliage ultimately will hide the screen, drawing it into the landscape.
No matter what kind of screening you pick, make sure you locate it strategically. Study the location and the angle from which you see an unattractive object, then place screens between it and your vantage spot. The closer you can put the screen to the object, the better you will hide it. The same goes for a privacy screen -- the closer it is to the patio, the more privacy it offers. Before you encircle your patio with a privacy hedge or fence, find the places where outsiders can see in. Few patios need complete coverage. Block the most open views. More open, friendly screening, such as lattice, picket fencing, or ornamental iron fencing, is often all you need.Defining space
The acknowledgment of space usually doesn't occur until something encloses or defines it. Defining space -- visually separating one area from another -- is an important aspect of patio planning. For example, you'll need some physical structure to separate an intimate dining area from larger entertainment areas. Otherwise you might feel like you're in a public place, even if you are screened from public view. Inside the yard or on the patio, a brick or stone wall or fence 18 to 30 inches tall is adequate to separate spaces. A wall that defines the lot line should be 3 to 6 feet tall.Implied definitions
The need to separate one space from another doesn't mean you have to build actual walls. Perceived walls often do a better job of defining space than solid walls, and they don't seem quite as intrusive.
Perceived walls -- ankle-high plantings, built-in seating, even shrubs and trees -- imply separation without actually isolating areas from one another. They interrupt both visual and physical movement but don't block views. In this way, they direct traffic and define space without making you feel isolated or claustrophobic.
Plants and flower beds can suggest walls or borders. They're especially useful in helping establish outdoor room spaces. Low hedges and small trees serve the same purpose in the larger landscape, to visually separate the patio from the yard for instance. Shrubbery effectively blocks physical movement but not the view.
Built-in or freestanding benches, raised planters, or even a change in the paving pattern adequately distinguish one space from another. Freestanding furniture also differentiates areas without completely enclosing spaces, and you can rearrange the division of space to meet different needs. This can be especially useful when you need to separate two spaces that have closely related purposes, such as a family dining area from a party space.Overheads
Overhead space, or the lack of it, has a great impact on comfort -- both indoors and out. Think of a high, vaulted ceiling. It's awe-inspiring but leaves you feeling a bit overwhelmed. Low ceilings, on the other hand, create an oppressive atmosphere.
The same holds true outdoors. Many outdoor areas need some kind of physical limit overhead -- but just in the right amount -- in order to be comfortable. How much of an overhead ceiling you'll need in your outdoor room depends on how you plan to use the space.
An area designated for entertaining large groups will feel more comfortable left open to the sky or provided with a high overhead structure. Private spaces, such as those you'll use for dining, talking, or relaxing, will feel more cozy with less height overhead. Just as you can imply the presence of a wall with plants and low structures, you can suggest a ceiling too. Train a vine across the back of the house about 8 feet above the patio for a simple way to bring a sense of security to the corner where you will sit to read your Sunday newspaper, for instance. You can, of course, come up with more elaborate solutions. You can build an overhead structure -- a two- or four-post arbor, a pergola, or a canopy. You can even install a fixed or retractable awning.
Such additions increase your sense of enclosure, provide protection from the weather, and turn an average-looking patio into a unique part of your backyard. Overheads with slatted roofs make mottled shade. With some careful planning and a thorough site analysis, you can control the amount of shade provided throughout the day. A solid roof makes shade all the time and offers some protection from showers. The roof over an attached patio usually looks best if it matches the style and color of the house roof. When possible, extend the line of the house roof into the patio cover. A solid roof over a freestanding patio can be design feature -- a cupola roof or a pyramidal shape, for example. A patio is a great place for a gazebo. No matter what kind of overhead you build, make it look like an integral part of the design, not an afterthought. Repeat a detail of your house -- a molding or post style, a color, or a material -- so the structure looks like it belongs with your house and yard.Pro Tip
The right height
Put your outdoor ceiling at a comfortable height by following these design tips.
- Tree branches 15 to 20 feet off the ground may not seem high, but they could be high enough to make people at a dining table feel uncomfortable. Fix the problem by setting up a table with an umbrella.
- Patio space that's intended for intimate activities such as family dining, reflection, or solitary reading benefit from cover that's 10 to 12 feet above the patio surface. Party space feels comfortable with ceilings up to 20 feet high.
- How much of the patio should you cover? It's usually best to shelter at least one-third of the patio's surface area.
Limit heavy screening
Without forethought, screening can quickly turn into stockade. Build walls, high fences, and dense hedges only where you need maximum screening.
Don't wall yourself in
Avoid turning your yard into a fortress. Place barrier-style screens, such as solid walls, high fences, and dense, straight hedges, only in areas that require maximum screening. Everywhere else, use the least amount of screening possible.