Planning a Backyard Patio

October 27, 2005

Did you move into a house with an empty back yard? What you need is a nice deck or patio to enjoy the out-of-doors. Of the many choices is a wooden deck, a concrete slab, a fieldstone floor with planters or a multi-level redwood deck with benches. Let's take them one by one. The common-place wooden deck is fairly inexpensive unless built with redwood, and has an average life of ten years.


The concrete slab is inexpensive, but very plain and prone to cracking. It must be properly drained and can be difficult to keep painted. A multi-level deck is beautiful but expensive and needs a space under the deck for ventilation.

The patio design I designed incorporated a free-form kidney-shaped pattern with three in-set oval steps. Around the edge, spaced Italian columns supported a seat-high balustrade railing fourteen inches wide and sixty-six feet in circumference. At one end a straight line formed the back of a fourteen foot built-in barbecue and counter surfaces with storage behind redwood doors.

Colored slate set in concrete decorated the floor and a five percent grade provided the proper drainage. One winter this slight grade which was covered with an inch of glare ice sent my cat flying across the patio and right over the edge!

The balustrade columns, set in concrete formed the base for the railing. After the columns were in place, I set sheets of plywood on top and cut a square hole slightly smaller than the top of each column. I then formed the fourteen inch wide railing on top from stiffly mixed beige colored concrete. When the concrete set, I removed the plywood and the balustrade was completed. Since the patio was two to five feet higher than the surrounding land, I built a yellow brick wall, following the kidney shaped patio floor.

White decorative concrete pots filled with flowers place evenly along the top of the balustrade added color and at one end a wrought iron lamp gave the whole area a nice glow. This patio gave our family many years of pleasurable outdoor living and the satisfaction of giving our creative juices free rein.

By Kenneth Hoffman from Morristown, NJ

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July 9, 2012

Patios are becoming essential elements for todays backyards. Here are some design tips for creating the perfect outdoor space to use for summer dining and entertaining.

New Patio in Backyard

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3 Questions

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September 18, 2008


I am starting to get my back yard cleared out. About 15 trees will be removed, grass seed will be planted and I would like a small patio area to be exposed from the French Doors I hope to have installed.

Are there any websites or ideas you can think of? I am thinking of just an area big enough for a grill, table and chairs, to enjoy watching my child play in the yard. I so appreciate your input.

Amy from NJ


Amy, There are LOT of great web sites to assist you in designing your new outdoor living space. A great way to start the planning process is to sit down with pen, paper, and list the following:
  1. Who is going to build it? Are you going to do the work yourself, or are you planning to hire a professional?

  2. What types of materials do you want to use (brick, stone, tile, etc.)?

  3. Do you want to relax in the shade? (e.g. pergola, gazebo, table with umbrella, awning, trees, etc.)?

  4. What type of furniture do you want in the design?

  5. What types of features do you want to include in the area (e.g. grilling, hot tub, fountain, etc.)?

  6. What is your budget?
To get started with your patio design you need some inspiration. Start a folder on your computer labeled "patio ideas". Google "pictures of great patios" and see what you find. Jot down ideas that appeal to you and print off pictures you can take with you when shopping.

I also like this link from Sunset Home. It contains many pictures for and ideas suitable for a variety of backyard spaces.

You'll find more great ideas on Home and Garden Television site here: Here is a link to some free downloadable do-it-yourself software for designing landscape patios. Good luck!

Ellen Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at


July 3, 20080 found this helpful

Hi, Amy!
This is going to be a project that will give you pleasure for many years, so draw yourself some plans and give yourself time to decide where you want things to go. Do you really have to remove so many trees? You might wish you had them during the hot weather, and birds will be more plentiful if you have trees for them to nest in and fly to. Your child might have some creative ideas for playing among the trees, also. And the shade they create is perfect for many kinds of shade-loving plants (which are easier to work on in the shade!) What will you use for the surface of your patio? There are lots of materials; be sure it is an easily-cleanable area that water (and snow) will drain off, large enough to move your furniture and grill around for a little change, and maybe even expandable, in case you want a bigger area. There is a lot of how-to information on the internet and in the library; your local home-projects store might even have some classes on how to do it yourself. Good luck, and please let us know how your project progresses -- take pictures as you go along.

Nancy in NC

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By Megan (Guest Post)
August 3, 20080 found this helpful

We just did exactly that! We spent about 400 dollars on some natural flagging and made a rock patio. We put some Irish moss in between the rocks to keep down weeds and prevent erosion.Home depots website actually had a lot of DIY ideas for features. A simple pergola and some nice vines are good ways to make the area seem more like an outdoor "room". Have fun!

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September 19, 20080 found this helpful

I agree with Nancy, please reconsider taking down all those trees! you can build decks around them, hostas are wonderful plants for shaded areas and there are a million varieties. also the shade will help cool your home and provide wonderful habitat for wildlife. try to go green with your decking material there are a lot of choices out there. have fun!

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September 19, 20080 found this helpful

In view of recent events, one thing I would definitely go overboard on is edibles. Dwarf fruit trees every 5 feet, berry canes, cooking herbs, medicinal herbs, room for a nice deep raised bed vegetable garden. Possibly room for a small chicken coop. I am not kidding. All of these things are lovely and charming. An outdoor baking oven, cooking area would be wise as well. Be the first in your neighborhood to show common sense.

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September 22, 20080 found this helpful

We planned our patio around an old linden tree and it is the centerpiece of the yard with a nice shade garden around it, so do look for ways to plan around the trees. I'd look for a landscaper who will draw a plan -- you need a plan so you can work it on paper first. Here's a good link I found for patios:

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