Patio flooring ideas are where the magic happens. The daring pattern, the unexpected material, the design twist that lifts your outdoor space. Yet not one that many of us spend enough time on - aesthetically speaking - when planning how to design our terrace.
On a practical level, it’s worth considering the weather conditions where you live when choosing patio flooring, as decking and certain tile finishes can be incredibly slippery when drenched with rain. If you have a small courtyard garden, you may want your terrace to feel like an extension of your living space. In which case, matching your interior flooring with that outside can be a really effective way to emphasize the visual link.
You might be hoping to use hardscaping to zone your outdoor area, which is where combining contrasting and complementary materials can help. In one generously sized project, designer Lucy Wilcox used Cedec to create a Mediterranean-inspired dining space at the foot of the garden. ‘It’s a great material, and not dissimilar to the fine gravel found in European squares. It can work really well as part of a softer approach to hard landscaping,’ she explains.
If you’re looking for something bolder or more colorful, then tiles should be top of the list. These days, there are a plethora of outdoor tile designs to choose from, whether you opt for subtle terracotta tones or brighter hues and graphic patterns. ‘Cement tiles are a natural fit for outside use,’ says Bert & May’s creative director Ruth Webber. ‘Once properly sealed, these tiles are weatherproof and very hardy, making them ideal for patio flooring. Their chalky finish looks great in all sorts of outdoor spaces, and patterned designs are a great way to create a focal point in your garden, helping to brighten it up on even the dullest of days.’
Patio flooring ideas
1. Look to nature for texture and pattern
'The river provided a strong source of inspiration for the development of this project, informing key features and intricate details,’ says landscape and garden designer James Aldridge of this backyard on the banks of the River Thames in London.
The space is split into two separate levels: the first is a polished concrete terrace garden that cantilevers over an ornamental pool, which has Corten steel spouts that fill the garden with the soft sounds of moving water.
‘The lower terrace is paved with rugged granite setts in four shades of grey, the design of which was inspired the river and echoes its silver lines and ripples,’ James explains.
2. Use a focal point to define your flooring
‘Just like interior spaces, outdoor areas need focal points and definition to feel comfortable,’ says Stephen Eich, director of the Urban Studio at Hollander Design Landscape Architects.
‘Here, the herringbone pattern in the paving defines the roof garden in a similar way to an outdoor rug, but is a much more practical choice due to the high winds that buffet this exposed rooftop.’ For that reason, the flooring was as important as the need for outdoor shade.
To create the effect, Hollander Designed laid alternating shades of Antarctica granite in a chevron pattern, opting to keep materials muted to accentuate the colorful contemporary furniture and blue metal pergola.
3. Make a statement with geometrics
This penthouse was designed by Kitesgrove, who used materials to create a playful interaction between inside and out, most notably the cubic-motif marble floor tiles. The outdoor living room areas are the work of Cameron Gardens, who gave each of the three terraces a unique feel.
‘The east terrace is the central point of the apartment and is visible immediately on entering the home,’ says Tor Cameron. ‘It is a suitably eye-catching space, where dramatic planters with large trees and pretty seasonal plants sit alongside an array of reclaimed pots, complementing the three-tone cubic-style tiling. The result is a delightful melange of textures and tone.'
4. Create a seamless transition
If you’d like your outdoor space to feel more like an extension of your interior, consider using the same material for your living area and patio.
‘Porcelain tiles are a great option for this, as they are available in a range of shades, formats and finishes, and are both beautiful and hardwearing’ says Mandarin Stone’s creative director Louisa Morgan. ‘We offer numerous porcelain tile options in the same finish but different thickness, which makes them suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.’
Shown here is Mandarin Stone’s ‘Industry Sand’ shade, which extends from the dining space out to the terrace and across the built-in wall planter.
5. Create a vacation vibe with a raised deck
‘The best yards are those that make people happy and comfortable,’ says Australian landscape designer Adam Robinson, who created a resort-style outdoor space for this renovated Victorian terrace in Sydney. ‘Every yard needs a destination point for gathering, lounging and conversation, and this one is perched above the pool to catch the sunshine,’ says Adam of this inviting corner, which features pale timber decking and a screen of tropical garden greenery. ‘
The dwarf date palms provide a sense of enclosure, while the generous u-shaped seating creates a perfect spot for entertaining around the fire pit, and a little refuge for the family to relax in.’
6. Break up paving with verdant ground cover
This San Francisco backyard, which is set into the edge of a rocky slope on Tank Hill, features strong architectural planes and a rugged palette of wood, basalt and limestone.
‘Monumental basalt-clad retaining garden walls hold back the hillside and create a dynamic frame for the garden,’ says James Lord, founder/partner of landscape architecture studio Surfacedesign Inc, who conceived a limestone hearth to anchor the terrace.
Here, creeping ground cover both softens and enhances the graphic lines of the paved floor. ‘The woodland-inspired planting bleeds into the limestone paving, bringing the garden even closer to the house,’ says James.
7. Be inspired by Mediterranean gardens
In this project, garden designer Lucy Wilcox wanted to source a softer material for the dining area at the end of the garden, in order to counterbalance the Yorkstone paving used for the terrace and pathways.
'Cedec was a lovely solution for that area,’ says Lucy of the fine golden gravel that covers the floor of this Mediterranean-inspired space. ‘This part of the garden has a wilder feel to it, so a softer approach to the hard landscaping worked very well. It looks particularly effective when combined with the roof-trained trees, which create a natural shady canopy.’
8. Introduce color with encaustic tiles
When garden designer Cali Rand was enlisted to overhaul this outdoor space, the brief was to create a relaxed, beautiful and unique garden that suited the family’s lifestyle.
‘The clients love the color blue, which has been used throughout the house, so it felt natural to carry that through to the terrace,’ says Cali of the blue-and-white patio, which was created using Alalpardo tiles by Bert & May, arranged in a zig-zag formation.
‘The color and size of them really suited the design and the feel of the surface, which is so natural,’ Cali adds. ‘I like the fact they are handmade and I knew that they would age beautifully.’
9. Add instant warmth with terracotta tones
As part of this renovation, Bradley Van Der Straeten architects completely overhauled a formerly dark and dingy basement, connecting it to a redesigned garden outside.
Here, warm-toned brick pavers, laid in a herringbone pattern, meet hexagonal tiles in terracotta hues that run the full length of the basement level. ‘Colors, materials and traditional features intertwine to create a warm and friendly feel that takes inspiration from the client’s Spanish upbringing,’ says practice co-founder Ewald Van Der Straeten.
Can you have a colored checkerboard patio?
Because outdoor tiles are no so advanced, they come in all sorts of shapes and colors. Meaning that yes, it's now possible to extend the ever-popular colored checkerboard flooring to patio.
‘I had the scope to juxtapose traditional architecture with my kind of modernity,’says interior designer and stylist Athena Calderone of her 1900s Brooklyn brownstone, which she breathed new life into with her signature blend of old and new.
For the terrace, Athena wanted to create a checkerboard floor reminiscent of a traditional French château, so sourced blue-grey marble and sandy-hued travertine from New Jersey stone company Sandy Neck Traders. Vintage finds – such as an 18th-century pendant light, 50s Matégot chairs and an art deco table – complete the aesthetic.
‘Find joy hunting for pieces that excite you,’ she says, referencing her own design approach.
Tessa Pearson is an interiors and architecture journalist, formerly Homes Director at ELLE Decoration and Editor of ELLE Decoration Country. When she's not covering design and decorative trends for Livingetc, Tessa contributes to publications such as The Observer and Table Magazine, and has recently written a book on forest architecture. Based in Sussex, Tessa has a keen interest in rural and coastal life, and spends as much time as possible by the sea.
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