Irish Association Of Self Builders The Representative Body for Self Builders of Ireland
PLEASING PERFECT PATIOS
As perhaps the most used and certainly one of the most important elements of the garden, the perfect patio requires careful but creative planning and must be well constructed if it is to become a beautiful but integrated space within the garden. For many people the patio area provides valuable space for a wide range of social and outdoor activities including relaxing and entertaining with family and friends. Oversized layouts and poorly executed construction not only represent an inefficient use of space and unnecessarily expensive but also surprisingly commonplace. Sprawling patio layouts have more common characteristics with the shopping mall car park and lack any sense of being an integral aspect of the garden space. But with some consideration of user requirements, site characteristics and careful execution will result in a pleasing perfect patio which is appealing, integrated and practical.
A good starting point will be to undertake a site assessment and analysis of the client needs and user requirements. The adage ‘don’t fire a canon to kill a fly’, comes to mind, therefore from the outset it is important to determine the scope, i.e., how will the area(s) be used, by whom, how many users and when do these needs arise. Scope can also influence patio layout/profile and indeed levels, and these aspects are important factors to be considered in developing a creative but distinctive patio layout.
Some of the previous questions might be obvious, but how many times have we seen patios which are too small or worse are poorly positioned for the event? Too sunny or more likely too shaded and cold when being used? Put simply if the main activity and time of day is around ‘lunch events’ then it would be obvious that the patio position should reflect this need. It is important to note site characteristics, all level might be fine for many people but some might be challenged by variable levels. The latter can also be exploited in the design and layout. Site orientation including the direction of sun travel should be noted as well as the positions of the sunny but also the shaded areas and the relevant times. Again this will be important for planning the various patio areas for breakfast, lunch and evening/dinner activities. Frequently space availability (or lack of) and site orientation do frequently impinge on patio positioning options. Typically patios are used more in evenings and are therefore positioned away from the house so as to catch the evening sun. In order cases, some very fortunate users may have separate patios and thus optimum positioning options for sun and/or shade.
An area to sit, read and eat will have different space needs. Small sites do limit options, access routes can also influence size. Too small and the area will appear cramp, unappealing and probably unusable. Too large and perhaps ‘car park look’ comes to mind. Getting the balance right will be influenced by a number of factors scope, space availability etc. As a general guide, we would recommend that the minimum airspace/footprint should be 3.0 metre/10 feet, but with space availability permitting a better layout would be in the range 4.5m-5.0m/15-16 feet. This area allows for adults to sit comfortably at tables or later stretch the legs without fear of running out of space. In smaller sites, which may necessitate the use of compact but round tables, typically minimum diameters would be 3.0m/10 feet, but these are small spaces for 4-6 adults.
Therefore for groups comprising 4-6 adults, the practical size requirements for the main patio area would be approx 4.5m x 5.0m or 15ft x 16ft. Clearly reading areas or informal /alfresco areas will require much less space. Access routes should be a minimum of 1.2m-1.5m /4-5 feet wide. There is little point building pedestrian routes/pathways 3.0m/10 feet wide? Better to reduce the paved space and space gained utilise for additional planting/lawn/features?
One frequently (very popular with designers/architects) comes across the expression ‘seamless transition’. What does this expression mean? Essentially this refers to the physical extension of the interior area to the exterior space, in which one leads from the former to the latter. In other words the garden or ‘outdoor room’ appears as an integral part of the house. To exit the interior and enter the exterior space ideally on same level, continuity of colour and textures, no steps and an open aspect or view to the garden area. The traditional French style patio doors opening out to a patio area with panoramic garden views comes to mind! Incorporating planted beds within the patio areas and also against the house walls not only contributes to achieving a seamless transition but also a much more attractive patio area that is more integrated within garden but probably a more cost effective utilisation of available space. What should be avoided at all costs, is where the patio area is simply a buffer zone stretching the width of the site and a simple division between house and garden.
There is an increasing but vast range of patio materials from which to choose. The unique characteristics and appeal of natural paving stone is very popular, with sandstone, granite, and limestone being the most popular. Colour, size and orientation should also be carefully considered within the overall preferred garden style. For example, warm earthy sandstone tones might appeal or be more compatible with traditional Victorian/Mixed Border style Herbaceous gardens, but the light or neutral tones of granite paving might be stunning in more contemporary or minimalist gardens. The paving patterns can also influence the overall look, small complex patterns might be ideal for ‘townhouse gardens’ but appear fussy in larger sites. Large rectangular slabs can be laid to emphasise the width or turned around to stretch the length. The slab size must also conform to design style, a traditional layout for a larger area might involve a random joint incorporating 4 or more sizes of paving slab. A contemporary layout might be one size laid in a staggered or ‘soldier course’.
Where possible try and introduce texture, ideally in various forms of the primary material. For example, if you are planning on constructing a patio with sandstone, do consider using sandstone risers for steps but also sandstone sets for lawn edging and sandstone chipping’s for borders and trims. Not only will this provide interesting textural contrasts but a more co-ordinated effect. Whereas some might prefer the visual contrast of mixing apples with oranges, I would much prefer a more coherent appearance of one material and use layout to reflect functionality but also visual contrast.
In many cases there is no scope to reposition/remove unsightly utilities such as rainwater down pipes, gulley’s, manholes, inspection chambers etc. But the presence of many of these unsightly necessities can be disguised or concealed by design. Recess frames are excellent to conceal covers but provide easy access to waste water, and integrated planted beds can be positioned to conceal pipe work etc.
Finally the perfect patio is an integrated space that requires careful and creative planning but must also be well constructed if maximum enjoyment is to be realised.
Owen Chubb is a leading Garden Designer and Landscaper based in Dublin, Ireland. Many of his ideas and advice have been tried and tested through many years of professional experience as owner manager of a well established and award winning garden design and landscaping company which provides Private and Commercial clients a complete landscaping service including Garden Design, Construction & Planting.
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