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The Ultimate Guide to Planning & Styling a Patio

Planning a patio will enhance your ability to enjoy the outdoors and your home value simultaneously.  By adding an "outdoor room" to your home, you can take advantage of nature and enjoy time outside with family and friends. But before you get started, it's important to do your due diligence. Finding suitable material that will hold up over time and creating a design that can fully live up to your expectations requires some planning and a in-depth design the ultimate guide(1).pngprocess.

In this blog, we've outlined some of the key aspects you should consider along with some design tips and suggestions from our experienced Landscape Designers. Let's get started.

1. Space - What size should your patio be? This depends on how much space you have available and how you plan to use it. For example, you need 90-150 square feet to comfortably fit 6 foot table plus chairs. If you need room for additional furuniture or simply space to move, you'll need to go up from there.

  • Size - A good rule of thumb for your patio is such: Plan on 25 square feet of space for each person you want to have on the patio. If you plan to host 50 people, that would mean you should plan for about 1250 square feet. 15 people would be 375 square feet.
    • For comfortable entertaining, shoot for a minimum of 550 sq. ft.
  • The patio below includes a circular "nook", surrounded by plantings that make an ideal morning coffee spot or simply a great place to relax in the sun. These "extra rooms" can be enhanced through plantings that add privacy or shade.beaubienpool.jpg
  • Access - Customers that come to us because they are unhappy with an existing patio often have the same complaint: the size is right but the planned access points require all the foot traffic to cut right through the "entertaining space".  This leads to awkward spacing, squeezing around chairs, and people being forced to "walk all the way around" to get to the entrance to the home, driveway, or exit of the patio. Poorly planned traffic flow is one of the biggest mistakes in patio design.
    • Tip from the Pros:  A 500 square foot patio that runs directly along the foundation of a house is a waste of space. Place the patio away from the home to maximize the square footage. No one can comfortably stand or sit along the wall of your home.
  • Shade - Does the space chosen for the patio have shade? Do you need shade? (Yes, you do.) Shade and protection will be a bigger topic down below but think about the location right at the beginning. Work around a mature, existing shade tree to make the most of what you already have in place.
  • Drainage - Ever had water problems? Then you already know a poorly planned patio can lead to standing water. Consider the lay of the land and grade before you build. Plan for containers, planting beds, irrigation and drainage before you start. Moisture is the root of many hardscape failures.
  • Seasonal Exposure - Does your patio face North, East, West or South? Know the exposure and prevailing wind so your final product is as comfortable as possible. Design your patio to maximize sunlight for the cool months but always make sure you have a shade element for the hot summer months, such as a pergola or shade tree.
  • One last tip: Lay it all out. This includes roadway noise, neighbors (privacy) and everything we mentioned above.

2. Mood - What are you planning to use the patio for? How do you entertain? The shape and design of the patio will set the scene for the mood of the home and outdoor living space. The surrounding perimeter landscaping creates the style (natural, classic, prairie) and the plants themselves often help create the "rooms" of your patio. Don't forget the plants!

  • Formal - Homeowners that enjoy formal, seated dinners should include an additional formal seating area in their plan. Plunking down a 6 foot table and chairs in the middle of your patio may cause those access issues we mentioned earlier. 
  • Fun - Are you planning a pool? Is access to playset important? Families that have children running around and lots of action need a patio design with multiple access points and play space.078.jpg
  • Casual - Want to just hang out around the fire pit? People can mingle here and there and a great bar is the selling point. Casual entertainers will enjoy a patio that allows some flexibility in seating.Water Feature 5.jpg
  • Serene - Often our customers mention "oasis" in discussions. Patios aren't all about entertaining. They can be serene and private area of reflection and peace for your family. Consider adding a water feature or fountain for ambiance.

3. Color & Materials - Typically customers choose a color that matches the style of their home and color of stone or siding. At The Barn, we have a huge selection of pavers and natural stone to choose from, so our customers can design a custom look that exemplifies their personal style. Advances in paver technology, such as face mix pavers, have improved the durability of this material choice.

  • Tip from the Pros: Pavers are great and have a lot of benefits. However, for long-term maintenance, natural stone is the way to go. Natural stone also never fades!
  • One more tip! Personal style is important, but we recommend choosing a timeless and low maintenance material. You never know when you might have to move and something trendy today will look outdated in 5 years. Bluestone is timeless, never fades and lasts forever, making it our favorite choice for patios.

4. Light - You can't always count on moonlight so adding some light will extend your time outside. Here are some options.

  • String Lights - String lights are hotter than ever. They have the perfect amount of light, add ambiance and help create a hip, natural look. Here's some great advice on how to string lights across your patio.
  • Uplighting & Landscape Lighting - A beautiful way to add light to your patio through the addition of landscape lighting and uplighting. Choosing a specimen tree to accent the patio is beautiful by day but enhanced at night with some gentle lighting.
  • Torches - Torch lighting can be installed along with your patio as more long-term solution over "Stick in the ground" oil torches. These are a fun addition to any party atmosphere, particularly for outdoor bars and pool areas.

5. Heat - One crucial element, particularly here in Illinois, is heat. Most of these heat options also increase evening viability but deserve their own category due to their added functionality.  Remember, most of these solutions can be powered by gas, electric or wood, depending on personal preference.custom_firepit.jpg

  • Fire pit - A fire pit is a great addition to any patio. Often, these areas are designed as a 2nd room or adjoining room off the main entertaining area. In wooded areas customers prefer their fire pit close to the woods to enhance the feeling of the "great outdoors". Plus, due to zoning and common sense safety, open fires need to be safely positioned away from the home.
    • Tip from the Pros: A built in fire pit takes a lot of space. Plan on 5'x5' for the fire pit with 6 feet of clearance on all sides. if you don't have the space, consider a portable unit or fire table.
    • One More tip! Keep your fire pit low to the ground. Heat reflects up but most fire pit seating is low so keeping them as close to level as possible maximizes the heat source and comfort level.
  • Fireplace - A fireplace can act as a focal point of your patio and add height to the area. These are a more formal alternative to a custom fire pit.
  • Fire Table - Another idea is to build the fire into your outdoor furniture plan. There have been incredible advances in design, color and functionality in fire tables. Simply put the top on, and your fire is another serving table. This is a good option for homeowners with tight spaces or zoning restrictions.
  • Heated Patio - Want to experience real luxury? Heating your patio may not make you warmer but it increases the comfort level. Consider heating pathways you use year-round, such as the path to your grill or hot tub!

6. Purpose - Think about how you will really use the patio. Consider the following:

  • Entertaining - What does it mean to entertain to you? A bunch of people gathered around the bar? Or the fire pit? How many people do you typically entertain? These are all questions our landscape designers will discuss to make sure the design truly meets your needs.
  • Cooking - So you want to cook outside. What does that really mean? Do you need a prep area? A sink? A built-in fridge? Discuss what you have in mind when you think about how you will really use an outdoor kitchen.built-in-grill-outdoor-kitchen.jpg
  • Dining - If you plan to serve and dine outside, this is an opportunity to fashion a "room within a room" on your patio. Consider the formality and where and how you will serve the food. Family style will work on a long table but if you prefer buffet, you will require counter space.
  • Bar Area - Some of our friends host get togethers frequently, and all the action is centered around the bar. If that's true of you, the same will occur outside. Plan for an all season bar-cart, built-in fridge and bar level seating to make the most of your patio. custom-patio-builton-bar.jpg
  • Pool Deck - There's nothing worse than a hot or crumbling pool patio. When it comes to landscaping around your pool it is incredibly important to choose material that will hold up over time and provide comfort to your barefoot guests. 

7. Furniture - One of the benefits of living near Chicago is our proximity to the Merchandise Mart, which houses many outdoor furniture companies, along with a plentiful amount of outdoor living stores. In our landscape design, we will include the basic ideas for furniture and can help choose specific items that match the style of your home and patio. Remember, patios are built to last! Don't choose a trendy furniture pattern that will look dated in a matter of years.

  • Tip from the Pros: Rectilinear patios fit traditional furniture much better than rounded patios, as well as the stone layouts of modern paver patterns. There is a reason you don't see many round rooms in homes!

8. Accessories - Oftentimes it's the accessories that really make the patio feel like home and make th2014-10-07_14.56.43.jpge patio a personal, custom addition to your home. Here's how to achieve that.

  • Planters & Pots - When you want a big burst of color, there is no better choice than annuals. Adding containers to your patio will add color and seasonality. Plant them for spring, summer and fall - and if you're a die hard and use your patio year-round, you can even add a winterscape! Containers also add a lot of personality and style to your home and the best way to style your patio.
  • Add a Personal Touch - Right off their patio, one of our clients added something really unusual. A giant granite tortoise! This statue adds personality and is a lot of fun for her young grandchildren. A Japanese lantern, fountain or unusual keepsake collected abroad will make the perfect addition to your patio.
  • Wall Decor - Wall decor may sound cheesy but think outside the box. One of the hottest home design trends on Instagram and Houzz is espalier trees and climbing vines. Wall based art and planter boxes will add an extra dimension to the patio. Or choose a wall mounted rain-gauge or weather instrument for practical purposes.
  • Plants - Many landscape designers consider the patio the palette for the plantings. Don't forget to plan for foundation plantings, specimen trees for shade and interest and long blooming perennials for summer color!annualplanting.jpg
  • One Last Tip from the Pros: Choose a professional that will stand by their work. Redoing a poorly designed patio installation can be more expensive than the original work. 

At The Barn Nursery, our Landscape Designers have over 50 years of experience in designing and installing custom patios, including outdoor kitchens, bars fire pits and other elements that make your patio feel like home.

To see our work in practice, read this article on one of our most recent landscape projects, that includes almost every aspect of landscape design we discussed above.


A finished basement is great for playrooms and Superbowl Parties, but most families will use an open air outdoor room twice as much as a basement. We'd love to discuss ideas with you. Contact us by filling out the form below or give us a call at 847-658-3883 ext 23. Want to see more of our work? Check out our award winning landscape design portfolio.

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