Spring has sprung and we homeowners turn our sights toward the outdoors. Last year my backyard was a mud pit. Our renovation finished the previous November, and it wasn’t in the budget to go full speed ahead on the backyard.
The other issue? I really didn’t have a solid plan. I definitely wanted a patio, and to have enough room for a seating area and a dining area. But what shape? And how big? That’s where planning can help crystalize what’s needed.
To start, here’s a reminder of what the property looked like BEFORE renovation.
We removed the single story “box”, and in its place built an addition that went the full length of the house, with a second story on top (for the 4th bedroom).
The small wooden deck (pictured above) was never enough space. Plus, I preferred to have a patio since there would only be one step down.
With all of the earth-moving happening, the immediate backyard was pretty much history.
Temporarily, we had seed put down just so it wouldn’t be a total mudpit through the winter. My husband bought several concrete stepping stones to make a temporary walkway from the garage.
Over the next several months, I began plotting. I wanted a patio that could accommodate a seating area as well as a dining area for 6 people, using our existing outdoor furniture. I work on a Mac and on that Mac is the word processing program known as Pages. Pages is like Microsoft Word, but in my opinion offers more options to create visual things…like a patio plan! You can of course do this on paper, but doing it in Pages allowed me to revise, or create different versions without having to re-draw everything.To start, simply create a new document. You’ll see this window open, just click on “blank.”
I scanned in some graph paper, then took my property survey (which is to scale) and layered onto the page. I made 1 box equal to 1 square foot. I also took a cropped image from my house floorplan. If you already have exact dimensions of the width of your house and are just doing the immediate area, you don’t need a survey or floor plan. I did it because I wanted a “big picture” plan for the gardens, which I’ll get to in a sec. For now, let’s focus on the lay out.
I blocked out the main patio area, followed by walkways. I put placeholders on the original floor plan for a patio (just the furniture I wanted to put there). You can pull images online for this, or simply use the “shapes” option in the program to block out your furniture. This is where the graph paper comes in handy, because you can create blocks to size to see how things will fit and how big the space needs to be in order to accommodate it all.
From the drawing, I made the patio big enough to leave a few feet for a walkway, and for space between the areas. Anywhere there is table seating, you always want to leave at least 3′ behind each chair.
Next, I planned out the walkways. We have a long walkway to the area of the driveway where we park. I planned it to be a straight shot from the mud room door on the left side of the house. I also wanted a side walkway leading to the driveway and to what would become our trash/recycling area. This would be on the left side as well (we don’t have an attached garage).
By the way, to get the stone image, I simply found a photo of a bluestone patio, pulled it in and used the image setting in Pages to make it more transparent.
Notice I also began to add in plant shapes? This is important as part of the planning because you want to make sure any garden beds are sized for what you want to put in AND for you to plan the size of what your plants will look like once they reach maturity. You don’t want to buy too many or too few. In my case, I don’t use annuals in the gardens, only perennials and evergreens, so sizing is important from the get go or you end up moving things down the road.
To add plant shapes, simply click on shapes at the top of the menu. When you click, you’ll see options, one of them being “nature”. Just choose a shape that makes sense as a placeholder, then you can size it. So, for a plant that will be 3′ X 3′ at maturity, you want to size it to fit in 3 boxes wide and long (see the pink plant above).
You don’t have to get this fancy, but I find the more I plan things out, looking at the “big picture” the less I’m prone to change my mind or hate it when it’s done
In the big drawing below, you’ll see where I traced the line (in purple) of the driveway. To the right of the walkway leading to the driveway, we decided to put in a retaining wall for two reasons: 1) This area was always tough to maintain since it was very uneven (our driveway slopes), and 2) The retaining wall would protect plants from winter winds. Note in the final plan I also added a rectangle for a storage bin for our patio cushions, and an area for the gas grill. You’ll also notice the patio doesn’t just butt up against the house except in areas where there is a walkway or entry point from the house. I wanted to have some beds there to soften up the look. On the left, the trash/recycling area has a walkway to the driveway as well because I realized we wanted to be able to wheel the trash out easily.
One of the other benefits of laying this out is it helps your contractor understand what’s in your head. Plus with this drawing it’s much easier to budget, since the square footage is right there. For materials, I decided to go with bluestone since there were already bluestone walkways in the front, and it fits well with an older home. We considered brick briefly, however we get a lot of shade in this area along with water and brick becomes a little trickier to maintain.
Concrete pavers would have been cheaper, but in the long run, they can often fade. Plus this 1835 house just felt like it needed real stone.
If you’re planning a patio or deck, here are some things to think about:
Seating – measure out your existing furniture to plan how much space you’ll need. Be sure to allow 3′ of space behind all dining chairs. Do you want two areas? One for dining and one for conversation?
Walkways – If your patio is up against the house, think about where it makes sense to have other walkways and plan to leave that area free of furniture (factor in about 4′ width)
Other Elements – you might like other items like cushion storage, a gas grill or a fire pit. You might even consider having an herb container garden or an outdoor kitchen on your patio. Whatever it is, be sure to factor in space even it you’re not installing everything all at once.
Landscaping – plan for any garden areas around the patio or deck. During any excavation, it’s much easier to lay out beds, even if you don’t plant anything right away.
Shade – If your patio or deck is in full sun during the time you’ll use it most, consider adding elements like a pergola or a large umbrella. Are there shade trees nearby? If so, you may even consider moving the patio to fall more under the tree canopy, with a walkway from the house. You don’t HAVE to put it right up against the house.
In my next post, I’ll show you how it all turned out! And I’d love to hear what you’ve got planned for your outdoor space this summer!