Must-Know Tips for Designing the Perfect Patio and Fire Pit
Cue the birdsong. There is nothing better than enjoying the great outdoors with family and friends from the comfort of your home. Adding a backyard patio and/or fire pit is a great way to bring the fun outside, whether it is you and the family or a larger group of friends. Here are some of the things to be thinking about as you reimagine your yard as another “room” in your home.
Plan the size with your party in mind
Before you start planning in earnest, think about how often you like to entertain and the size of your standard crowd. This will help you determine the size, layout and style of your patio and/or fire pit.
Houzz editor and former garden editor for Sunset Magazine Lauren Dunec Hoang talks about some of the ways patio planning can go awry.
“On the one hand, patios that are too small feel cramped, and chairs pushed back from a table can skid into garden beds. On the other hand, large patios can be pricey, feel less intimate and take up limited garden real estate,” Hoang said. “The key is to find the right balance of patio size for your needs and your space without overshooting too much.”
She offers some different options to get you thinking about specific measurements—from small patios with a bistro set to large backyard gathering places.
In her option for a patio with a fire pit, Hoang notes that most fire pits, besides the small movable models, are three to six feet. You’ll want to make sure to keep two to two and a half feet as the distance between the edge of the fire pit and the surrounding seats so your guests don’t get too toasty — and so the air can circulate properly.
Location, location, location
With regard to a fire pit, you also want to choose a spot that is far enough away from any flammable materials. Also, keep the wind direction in mind. Backyard Toasty gives you a good checklist to consider. For starters, it is important to place the fire pit on a surface that is even and smooth, positioned at a distance of at least 10 feet from any building, and ideally around 20-25 feet away. Select a location free of trees with low-hanging branches, piles of wood, or bushes.
Be sure to check with your local authorities for any regulations related to fire pits, like any bans on open flames, fuel types, and minimum distance from structures or property lines.
While paved surfaces are the best option for the fire pit to sit on, you could also place it on a surface made of wood, composite, or grass, provided you take the necessary precautions and use fireproof barriers.
From durability to comfort, materials matter
Recently, Neighbor asked 100 design professionals for tips on building the perfect patio. The designers had a lot of feedback about available materials.
High-quality materials that are durable, comfortable, and weather-resistant were high on the list, such as concrete, pavers, or natural stone. The advice was that the decking, or flooring choice can “make or break your outdoor space.”
When Neighbor put stone against wood, designers found some plusses for both. Stone, with its natural durability and ability to withstand the elements, makes it a top choice. Different types of stones such as granite, flagstone, and slate can add both sophistication and a sense of permanence to your new patio.
While concrete may not be a natural material, it is a durable one. If installed correctly, concrete pavers can last for 50 years and beyond.
Wood will also provide a modern, natural feel to your outdoor space. Teak wood, ipe wood, and western red cedar are great choices for an outdoor patio because of their resistance to moisture, rot, and insects. One downside of wood is the fact that it requires regular maintenance to stay in good shape.
Real wood materials also vary in price. Teak, ipe, and cedar are pricier, and treated pine and spruce are more affordable. Some are also more appealing to critters. According to research conducted by the USDA AgResearch Magazine, termites love pine and spruce but don’t typically gravitate toward teak. We actually recommend Trex decking, which is a composite decking material made of recycled materials and requires less maintenance than traditional outdoor decking.
Let there be light
Outdoor spaces need plenty of light, both for safety and for ambiance. What you choose depends on your aesthetic but options include string lights, lanterns, in-ground lighting, or even tiki torches. Of course, your fire pit ranks high for light as well.
Homes & Gardens came up with 23 ways to light a patio. Much like the interior of your home, layering different kinds of lighting can really add to the overall look of an outdoor space.
“Lighting is an instant way to make the space feel more custom or higher end,” Kate Anne Gross of Los Angeles landscaping firm Kate Anne Designs told the publication. “For example, when you go to resorts or high-end restaurants with outdoor seating, their lighting game is always on point.”
There is practical lighting — think stair lights for safety — and more fanciful options like the illumination of trees for architectural appeal. Both function and style have their place. For parties, outdoor string lights can create a mood (bonus if they are cordless). However, for everyday living, fitted lighting like wall lights as well as floor and table lamps are the way to go.
Finish it off with furniture
Outdoor furniture that is both durable and comfortable is just as essential as selecting the right materials for your flooring and decking. Just as the patio should fit the scale of the yard, the furniture should fit the scale of the patio.
Neighbor gives the nod to teak with a look at its Haven Dining Table (starting at $3,000) and the companion Haven Sectional Sofa.
House Beautiful also has a rundown of patio furniture and accessories for 2023. The Wyatt Stone Accent Stool from Frontgate has a lot of architectural interest while the Capistrano Daybed from Serena & Lily is something Cleopatra might have appreciated. Tupelo Goods can even personalize a Cornhole set for your backyard. If you’re still on the fence about a fire pit, check out the Fire Pit Table with Ceramic Balls from Outer (shown below and starting at $3,900).
Don’t forget to prioritize the durability of your outdoor cushions too. Popular Mechanics has singled out some of the best outdoor cushions in polyester, olefin, or Sunbrella fabric (one of Pamela Hope Designs’ favorites). Opt for materials that are both water and fade-resistant.
Details such as boxed corners and piping on cushions can add an extra touch of elegance. You may want to consider cushions with ties or elastic to keep them secured to the furniture. Pamela has a back cushion that fits snuggly into one of her outdoor chairs but tends to flip over in the wind. A strap or tie would remedy this problem. Cushion covers can be removable and/or reversible for even greater versatility.
You may have seen from recent social media posts, Pamela Hope Designs loves faux bois. Pamela recently scored a little planter in a neighborhood garage sale. In case you are not familiar, faux bois means false wood in French. It’s actually reinforced concrete that is sculpted into pieces that look like they are made out of logs and branches. Currey and Co. has a beautiful selection of faux bois suitable for all sorts of décor, inside and out. Pamela has the following Arbor Bench in her front yard.
The design of your backyard patio and fire pit is an opportunity to be creative and showcase your individual style. By taking into account the factors mentioned above, you can ensure that your outdoor space will be enjoyable, safe, and functional. Backyard oasis, here you come. If you’d like help creating your dream backyard, contact Pamela Hope Designs.
Great blog post – thanks for the info, Pamela and team! -Chris Manske