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How to Design a Patio

Lay out an outdoor space in real dimensions before beginning your outdoor project. Make sure you are allowing for enough room for the proper use of your outdoor spaces.


Including special areas in your design, like this relaxing sitting area, will require enough space for comfortable use.

If you have created a master plan for your yard, you probably have a good feeling as to whether all the separate areas and their specific uses will work together as a whole. Now what?

Now you want to give those areas actual sizes to carry out their intended purpose. To do this, you will need to know what elements, such as outdoor furniture, will be placed, and used, in each of the separate areas. In sizing up the area, you’ll need to determine not only how much space is required for the placement of the items, but also the space that is needed to actually use the items in the area.

Gathering all this information will be necessary for a couple of reasons. First, it is important to see how the actual size of the area will affect the adjacent areas on your master plan; it may require a little give and take. If you have designated a future area on your plan for a larger element, such as a climber/play structure for the kids, you’ll have to think ahead to make sure you leave enough space for its proper and safe use. Some elements such as this require a specific amount of space that cannot be compromised.

Second, when estimating costs (for your budget) or when ordering construction materials, such as gravel, pavers, etc., you’ll need to know the square footage of the project.

As an example, since most people seem to enjoy having a casual outdoor dining or patio area, let us select that area as the one having the greatest priority and perhaps first on your list (you can begin with whatever area you feel has the greatest priority for you). The main elements typically placed in a simple outdoor patio area are a table with chairs and an outdoor grill. There is also an intangible element that is equally as important: comfort.

Say that the perfect outdoor dining table that you’ve had your eye on is rectangular, and measures 3 feet by 5 feet. You will need more than 15 square feet (3ft. x 5 ft. = 15 sq. ft.) for the actual use of the table. You have to consider the chairs being pulled out from the table and sat upon; then you’ll need more space to be able to comfortably walk (passage) around the table while people are sitting at the table without disturbing their comfort. You don’t want anyone to have to step off the patio into the plant bed to get around the back of a chair!

To accommodate all of this activity (sitting and passage), you’ll need a minimum of 3 feet (3’-8” optimally) from each edge of the tabletop (whether your table is square, rectangular, or round) to the edge of the patio, deck railing, or a wall. Therefore, in this example, using a 3 feet by 5 feet table, you would need a minimum of 99 square feet to use the table and chairs (see illustration):

Simple Calculations

• 3 ft. (sitting/passage) + 3 ft. (width of table) + 3 ft. (sitting/passage) = 9 ft. (overall width)

• 3 ft. (sitting/passage) + 5 ft. (length of table) + 3 ft. (sitting/passage) = 11 ft. (overall length)

• The formula for square feet (area) is: Area = length x width. Therefore: 11 ft. x 9 ft. = 99 sq. ft.

This is not necessarily the total square footage of your entire patio project. It is only the minimum square footage required to accommodate the table and chairs and their usage. If you want to include a separate area for sitting and chatting with guests or for reading, your patio will need to be larger. It helps to do a scaled drawing of the space on 1/4″ grid paper (see sketch below).


• For more generous maneuvering near a doorway, increase the sitting/passage space from the minimum of 3 feet to 5 feet for that side of the table.

• For safety reasons, it is good to increase the sitting/passage space near steps from the minimum of 3 feet to 5 feet.

• For wheelchair accessibility, the sitting/passage space will need to be a minimum of 5 feet.

If you need additional space for a portable or built-in outdoor grill, naturally, that square footage will also need to be included in the total square footage of the project. It’s a good idea to leave enough space to place the grill a safe distance from people sitting nearby. You may need to create its own space off to the side to avoid contact from any hot spatters, spills, or smoke produced by the food on the grill or the grill itself.

Do a Mock Up

After doing your calculations, you still may not have a sense of what the outdoor dining area (or whatever area you are working on) may look or feel like as you move through it. To help you visualize it, it is sometimes helpful to create a full-scale mock up of it. This can be done by laying out the space on the ground using whatever your actual dimensions are, with a rope or yard hose, to make outlines of the area and the items you’ll have in this area. You can even use cartons for the items, for a more 3-D effect. By using this technique, it may help assure you that your completed project will meet your expectations.




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