Choosing materials for patio surfaces

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
Country Garden, Chew Manga Katherine Roper Landscape & Garden Design Country style garden
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Styling up your outdoor space involves significantly more than deciding on garden benches. When it comes to patios the materials are vital, and not just for appearance’s sake. Obviously your patio surfaces need to be practical in addition to aesthetically pleasing. And those surfaces’ material options

Narrowing material options down, we are presented with six basic options. However, it’s what you do with these materials that can give your outdoor space some presence and visual style. But what determines which materials are chosen above others? Usually it’s based on: 

• personal preference 

• patio location 

• budget 

• size of outdoor space 

• available options. 

So, before you start dreaming about patio furniture and where you’ll be placing those potted plants, let’s first zoom in on your choice of patio surfaces.

1. Patio surfaces: Concrete

Finding a patio surface material more versatile and adaptable than concrete would be rather difficult. A timeless choice, this material is a mixture of sand, water, cement, and gravel and offers even more options than brick.

By using well-constructed forms, concrete can mould and conform to nearly any surface shape. It's durable and easy-to-maintain finish can be: 

• Smooth 

• Stamped 

• Brushed 

• Scored 

• Coloured or tinted 

• Decorated with inlays 

• Painted 

• Surfaced with other materials, such as pebbles (aggregate) 

• Patterned.

2. Patio surfaces: Brick

Log Cabin homify Modern Garden Wood Wood effect
homify

Log Cabin

homify

Thanks to out-of-the-box thinking thousands of years ago, it was discovered that brick was the result of mixing clay and other materials in a kiln. Known as one of the sturdiest materials available, brick also lasts quite a long time, plus presents a neat and classic look that complements various landscape and architectural styles. 

And of course it is one of the most popular options for patio surfaces, including pathways and edging.

3. Patio surfaces: Flagstone

Rear garden patio with climbers Barnes Walker Ltd Rustic style garden
Barnes Walker Ltd

Rear garden patio with climbers

Barnes Walker Ltd

These large, flat slabs of stone are generally between 25 – 75mm thick, identifiable by their irregular shapes. With a roughened and beautifully textured surface, flagstone provides excellent traction when wet. 

When it comes to using flagstone for patio surfaces, the flooring needs to be at least 38mm thick and should be laid directly on soil or a bed of sand. Thinner slabs can also be used if laid in concrete or wet mortar to prevent cracking.

4. Patio surfaces: Pavers

A long time ago, concrete pavers were only available in off-grey and bleak pink squares, which resulted in a somewhat clinical look. Fortunately, times have changed. Today, pavers are presented in a range of more natural-looking tints and textures, meaning they can be used to resemble anything from brick and cobblestones to cut stone.

5. Patio surfaces: Tile

Reflected Glory - Holland Park Renovation Tyler Mandic Ltd Modern Garden
Tyler Mandic Ltd

Reflected Glory—Holland Park Renovation

Tyler Mandic Ltd

When it comes to outdoor patio flooring, it’s advisable to use unglazed ceramic tile. Rather leave the glazed decorative tile for edges and accents. Glazed tile has a smooth finish, and when it gets wet, can create a slippery, unsafe environment.

Generally, there are three kinds of unglazed tile for patio surfaces: 

• Porcelain: Fired at a high temperature, these tiles are stain resistant and tough. 

• Terracotta: These are rustic looking, but porous and best for mild climates. 

• Quarry: Textured tiles that offer traction without too much roughness.

To protect outdoor tiles from stains, wear and moisture, sealers and coatings or enhancers are recommended. These will also help in retaining or enhancing their natural colour.

6. Patio surfaces: Cut stone

Narbonne Avenue Clapham Bolans Architects Minimalist style garden
Bolans Architects

Narbonne Avenue Clapham

Bolans Architects

Similar to flagstone (although it is normally cut into square or rectangular shapes), cut stone is also called ‘stone tile’. Thanks to its geometric form and layout, cut stone is used for more formal applications than uneven flagstone. It presents smooth faces and square edges, and can be laid in even rows or spaced apart, with a ground cover or loose material filling the gaps.

Cobblestones, or stone blocks, are also known as Belgian blocks. Cobbles are usually used in small areas or as edging for other materials, like brick, granite, or flagstone. Some of the most popular options are:  

• Granite 

• Marble 

• Slate 

• Travertine 

• Limestone 

• Blue stone 

• Phyllite 

• Sandstone.

7. Patio surfaces: Loose materials

Although loose materials were once strictly considered for side yards or small areas, they have become quite trendy for modern-day patio surfaces. They are especially popular in regions known to experience drought, as many homeowners are opting to replace thirsty lawns with more water-wise alternatives, such as loose materials. Fairly inexpensive, loose materials are also one of the easiest options to work with. 

Some of the more well-known examples include:  

• Pea gravel or crushed stone 

• Aggregate stone 

• Bark mulch 

• Rubber mulch 

• Decomposed granite 

• Sand.

8. Patio surfaces: Mixed materials

Of course once different materials are mixed and matched, that’s when a surface really starts to flaunt some detail and character. Mixed materials is also great for breaking up a large area, ensuring more visual interest than using only, say, cut stone or brick. 

The combinations of mixed materials are truly endless, but one should devote careful planning to a patio’s design and layout before making a final decision. Some of the most popular options include: 

• Brick 

• Concrete 

• Flagstone 

• Pea gravel 

• Pavers 

• Tile.

Taking flooring options and costs into consideration, see these Budget-friendly ideas that’ll transform your patio.

More patio surfaces: Tropical vibes with wooden patio

Emerald Street Residence, New Orleans studioWTA Modern Houses
studioWTA

Emerald Street Residence, New Orleans

studioWTA

For patio surface alternatives, you could turn to something unexpected, like wood. This little tropical paradise looks like the perfect place to unwind in your own space. The patio is simple and stylish in dark wood material. While this patio is rather small, the plants and white outdoor furniture give it a modern look while also making it feel like a cosy sanctuary. If you do have a pool, ensure that you choose a material that can withstand chlorine residue, weather conditions in your area, and won't be too slippery for wet feet.

More patio surfaces: Luxurious dark wood and stone

Rustic style house in Sant Josep De Sa Talaia CW Group - Luxury Villas Ibiza Villas Bricks Multicolored
CW Group—Luxury Villas Ibiza

Rustic style house in Sant Josep De Sa Talaia

CW Group - Luxury Villas Ibiza

This home feels like a luxurious hotel with its bright white exterior and patio with a sweep of dark wood around the pool. We love the contrasting look, which feels both contemporary and classic. This contrast also helps to separate the space and give shape to the yard. To expand your patio options, consider dividing your patio into sections or areas, and even using different materials or textures. This can help break up larger backyards.


Now for those of you with small yards looking at pool options, we can help you find the right fit — check out this ideabook.

More patio surfaces: Chic tiles for practicality and style

These tiles not only look great, they're also the most practical material for an area with a firepit. This will reduce the risks associated with open fires. Tiles can look either modern or vintage, depending on the look you're going for. When you're considering patio materials, make sure to gauge how often you'll use the patio and for what purposes.


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