By Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer

Published: Saturday, March 17 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Today we are going to talk about patios. We are sure your spring project priority list is filling up fast.

No doubt many of your lists include some overhaul to or addition of an outdoor space. ‘Tis the season for outdoor renovating!

Patio face Lift

Whether you are looking to create a new outdoor living space or dying to revamp an unsightly slab of concrete, the key as always is to plan ahead.

There are a few questions you should ask yourself when you are designing your patio.

First, consider the intended purpose. Are you going to throw a lot of parties outside, use it as a family space, or are you hoping for a small private patio just big enough for two? The real question is: Is your patio going to be a gathering space or a getaway?

The answer to that question will determine a lot about your project. Most patios are accessible from the kitchen, making a perfect entertaining/dining space. However, a getaway patio (perhaps a new space in addition to an entertaining patio) can be more remote from the main flow of the house, accessible from a more private part of the house, such as the master bedroom.

Location is important. Take a walk around your yard and check out vantage points.

Your new patio should capitalize on the best vistas, even if you have to create the views yourself.

Also consider the orientation of a space and the light it receives: South exposures are generally bright and cheerful. East exposures are brighter in the morning and shadier in the afternoon and evening. Western exposures generally need additional thought about solar screening. North exposures have the most limited season for use.

Once you choose a location, the next step is to consider the size. Underestimating how big a patio should be is one of the most common mistakes.

While there is no hard and fast rule as to size, 12 feet by 12 feet is the minimum size that will accommodate an outdoor patio dining set with seating for six and feel “comfortable.”

If the lot allows, a patio should be designed proportionately to the house. The patio can be as wide as the house and as deep as the house’s height. Another good idea is matching it to the size of an adjacent indoor room.

Remember, one size will not fit all. Your property will most likely influence the size and shape of your patio. Most landscape architects use three basic design styles: symmetrical to the house, asymmetrical (slightly askew to the house but still geometric) and voluptuous curves, flowing with nature.

Non-geometric patios are trendy and create a lot of visual interest, even when you are not using it. A patio should be as visually appealing when you see it from inside the house as when you are out in the yard. A patio should be beautiful, as well as functional.

The material you choose for your patio will largely be determined by personal taste and budget. Whether you choose brick, concrete or slate, make sure the color and material in your patio match the color and style of your house.

As part of the design process, you should also plan the landscaping around your patio. Design the hardscape first and then plan the greenery before you begin construction.

Some designers even suggest planting right into the concrete. If you don’t want to literally jackhammer out a portion of the patio for plants, you can break up the plane of the patio with containers in groupings with different heights.

Done properly, this will make the space feel more connected with the yard.

Whether you are looking to create a new outdoor living space or dying to revamp an unsightly slab of concrete, the key — as in any remodel — always is to plan ahead.

The more details you add to your outdoor space, the more you will want to use it. Consider adding a fireplace or an outdoor kitchen. Water features, landscape lighting and the right patio furniture all add to the appeal of your new space.

When designing your patio, think of it as an outdoor room: Floor, walls and ceiling should be represented. The floor is a given, but the walls can be represented with railings, dividers or retaining walls. The ceiling can be anything from a pergola to a canopy or a gazebo. Overall, your patio should function like an extension of your home. The same principles of order and flow apply to your well-designed outdoor space.

Glean some inspiration from the thousands of photos online and don’t be afraid to dream. Have fun making it your own.

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group,, a local architectural firm specializing in home remodels.

Spring is the perfect time to give your ugly patio a face-lift