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Considerations for Designing Great Outdoor Living Areas

One of the most common mistakes people make in their garden design is not allowing sufficient space for outdoor living areas.  Beware of undersized spaces; especially for walkways, entry spaces, driveways and patios.  Most new home builders are notorious for providing the minimum in these areas; so it’s a good idea to make modifications if you can before you buy/build or allow additional budget to make changes later on.


The driveway should be wide enough to provide adequate space to park conveniently but not so large as to visually dominate the arrival area of the front yard.  And it’s important to avoid building walls or adding plantings that might interfere with the passage of cars.  Most cars require a 9’ x 18’ space for parking.  To accommodate two cars, you’ll need to double this space requirement to 18’ x 18’.


Entry walks are very often much narrower than they should be; not wide enough to allow 2 people to walk side-by-side, forcing them to walk in a single file.  Ideally, a walkway that is 4’-6’ wide is comfortable and visually pleasing; anything less is not. If the entry walk does not extend along the driveway’s edge, there should be an obvious indication as to where the entry walk to the front door is located.  To differentiate the walkway from the driveway you may want to consider using different paving materials or patterns than driveway itself.

Outdoor Arrival and Entry Space

An outdoor arrival and entry space is the exterior complement to the interior entry foyer.  When people arrive it’s important to consider whether or not the space provides a pleasant experience and says, “Welcome” or if it is simply tolerated until one enters the house.  Aside from utilitarian considerations to accommodate pedestrian movement to the front door of the house, make sure the space is comfortable and interesting to visitors and exhibits some of the character and personality of you and your home.  It’s also a good idea to ensure that the arrival landing is somewhat private from street view.  You can easily accomplish this with appropriate plantings such as an ornamental tree or decorative panels to block direct view from the street to the front door.  Furthermore, it’s a good idea to add an overhang so that guests waiting at the front door are protected from possible effects of bad weather.

Outdoor Patios

When designing an outdoor patio it is really important to think ahead.  Most patios need to be larger than you may think they should be.  Before deciding on the size of your patio consider how you would like to use the space.  What furniture will you need it to accommodate?  How many people do you plan to entertain in the space on a usual basis?  Will the patio require space for just dining?  If so, what size of table and chairs would you like to have on the patio? Will the space also need to provide for lounging or sofa-style seating?  What about a barbeque?  All these considerations will require your consideration so that you can design the patio to accommodate your lifestyle requirements.

Remember that a dining table with chairs must fit not only when the chairs are tucked in around the table but also when people pull the chairs out to sit down.  And the space requirement to pull out and comfortably sit down on a chair is at least equal to the depth of the chair.  So if a chair is 18” deep, you will require at least another 18” in depth to pull the chair out and be able to sit down on it.  So often I find that new home builders allow for a minimal area for outdoor patios that will not sufficiently accommodate a dining table with chairs, lounge chairs and a barbecue grill. Therefore, it’s important to create a layout beforehand.  Keep in mind that you’ll need a minimum area of 150-225 square feet for a table and chairs to fit 8 people.  It is wise to know exactly what you want to do with the space in as much detail as you can.  This tells you or your designer how big the spaces must be if they are not limited by existing structures.

In summary, before you invest in hardscape installations make sure that you think about the function of the space you are creating; allow sufficient room to comfortably accommodate family gatherings, décor and furnishings and traffic.  By doing it right you’ll be adding to the overall enjoyment, appeal and re-sale value of your home.

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh, Founder of Outdoor Rooms Landscape Design is an accredited Landscape Designer and Floral Designer. She graduated with Honours in Landscape Design in 2005. Sally is passionate about creating beautiful gardens with timeless appeal and loves the challenge of transforming the most difficult spaces into beautiful ones. Sally has a sound knowledge of horticulture and Project Management. Learn more about her work at