A Guide to Patios With Mixed Materials

mixed materials patio

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Mix up Materials

Outdoor patio with table and chairs

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Where do great patio design ideas come from? You might see patio designs on TV or get garden design ideas from a garden tour.

Outdoor patios can be attached to a house or detached. They are often designed and oriented to the landscape. Patios are versatile: they can take on any shape and be built with various materials, like concrete, pavers, stone, tile, brick or gravel. Most patios are set on a concrete slab or a sand and pebble base.

Once you’ve decided to build a patio and chosen a site, there are other design considerations:

    • Space: Available space will determine your patio’s size.
    • Shapes: Squares, rectangles, ovals.
    • Levels: Multidimensional surfaces work well with slopes and uneven levels.
    • Drainage: Working with existing runoff systems or determining the best place to build one.
    • Grading: Deals with soil redistribution for a flat, even patio base.
    • Privacy Screening: Walls and enclosures turn a patio into an outdoor room.

Patios are versatile: they can take on any shape and be built with various materials, like concrete, pavers, stone, tile, brick or gravel. Most patios are set on a concrete slab or a sand and pebble base.

Division of space and suggesting a separation or another area outdoors can be achieved by altering the direction of pavers or bricks, or by mixing materials.

The following pictures include these design elements.

Gravel Fire Pit Patio

three patio materials

Lisa Hallett Taylor

As you look at this patio, keep in mind that there was no mixing of mortar involved. Using the circular fountain as a focal point, the grey stones radiate out in a sunburst pattern from the edge of the fountain. Underneath is a loose material—pea gravel. The larger flagstone pavers can be spaced apart for pathways or butted-up closer together and levelled for a seating area. When designing a patio surface, remember that there’s no hard-and-fast rule about using just one paving material.

Round Pavers in Gravel

round aggregate pavers

Lisa Hallett Taylor

Loose materials like gravel are an easy way to create an almost-instant patio or hardscaped area in any part of your garden. Gravel is much easier and more forgiving than the concrete-pouring process or even a brick-and-sand patio. Round aggregate pavers in assorted sizes were common and available at hardware stores and garden centres in the mid-20th century, and are once again finding their way into gardens and on pathways as an interesting alternative.

Flagstone With River Rock Mosaic

river rock with flagstone

Lisa Hallett Taylor

Flagstone pavers on this patio floor get a framing effect with a mosaic border of Mexican river rock. The smooth rocks used for this mosaic are usually laid flat — note how these are turned on their “sides” for a more richly textured and unusual look.

Square Pavers and Pebbles

pavers with pebbles

Lisa Hallett Taylor

A prefab house at the L.A. Garden Show gets an easy and attractive patio area with square concrete pavers spaced evenly with a filler of pebbles.

The three aqua / turquoise ceramic planters are tall and architectural, making a visual impact without taking up lots of space. Tall modern planters and clean lines look good with architectural-looking plants, like broad-leafed grasses and succulents.

Three Patio Floors

circular patio

Lisa Hallett Taylor

Three paving or patio flooring materials are combined to show variety but also demonstrate that you don’t need to be limited to one type. So what do we have here?

    • Decomposed granite (DG) is the solid-packed dirt-looking material
    • Bricks in a semi-curved pattern with concrete pavers
    • Pea gravel, which is small, pea-sized pebbles

Each patio flooring area has flexible edging that allows you to make curves, circles, or meandering, non-geometric pathways.

Brick Pavers and Black Gravel

cobblestones and black gravel

Lisa Hallett Taylor

A study in contrasts, both in shape and colour: terracotta-coloured square brick pavers of a patio are edged or filled-in with black-rock gravel. The result: even though both are on the same level, you know where one ends and the other begins, or vice versa.

It’s a striking, geometric, modern look – and not all types of plants would look good in this planting bed. The cacti and succulents work well here; a cottage garden would not.

Wheelchair Accessible Patio Garden

wheelchair accessible garden beds

Lisa Hallett Taylor

This wheelchair-accessible garden was featured at the L.A. Garden Show. Laramee Haynes’ design is ingenious on many different levels. The height of the raised planters is perfect for individuals in wheelchairs to work in their gardens. The entire patio garden and planting beds are designed in the round and rotate on a truck axle, making it easy and comfortable to wheel from one section to another or have the planter boxes move like a lazy Susan. The design also allows the gardener a good view at any point of the rest of the planting beds.

This patio garden design is inviting—it draws you in and engages you to interact almost immediately, rather than being formal and unapproachable.

Mid-century Modern Patio

lloyd wright designed house

Lisa Hallett Taylor

Two vintage designer lounge chairs are positioned poolside on a smooth, subtly patterned concrete patio floor. The Agave americana in containers is an appropriately architectural plant choice for this house, which was designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, in the late 1950s. The home and garden were part of the Theodore Payne water-wise garden tour.

The View From the Terrace

terrace-like patio

© Lisa Hallett Taylor

A terrace-style patio at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, California, takes full advantage of the breathtaking ocean view. The low, curved wall establishes a definite shape to the patio area as well as a barrier.

While the patio is situated on a “bluff” that’s only about 4 feet from ground level, the wall and landscape design give the illusion of being set on a much higher level. Note also that the seating area is kept to a minimum and faces toward the view — it’s not designed in the standard conversation-style layout.

Low Wall for Privacy

patio with low privacy wall

Lisa Hallett Taylor

A raised patio that is used as a room-like outdoor entryway requires some privacy, especially when the homeowners dine outside. This is where a low wall serves a few purposes: it encloses the patio and makes it more of an outdoor room, offers privacy by not being as visible from the street and provides a physical barrier, so you don’t scoot your chair back too far and end up in a prickly shrub.

When entertaining, add some pillows and use the wall for additional seating; place containers for colour and interest; add candles or lanterns for evening ambiance.

The mixed materials used on this patio are saltillo tiles and glazed ceramic tiles where they show on the stair risers.

Sun Bath Garden Hideaway

flagstone and gravel patio

Lisa Hallett Taylor

Large flagstones set in pebbles or pea gravel make up the floor of this back garden patio retreat. The tub is large enough for two, but no more, making it the perfect hideaway for a couple. Privacy can be obtained by way of close plantings or containers. A nearby water feature creates a different type of privacy by blocking any neighbourhood noise with the soothing sound of running water. Patio citrus trees enhance the sensory experience of this patio hideaway.

Front Garden Flagstone Patio

flagstone patio

Lisa Hallett Taylor

Instead of a boring, thirsty lawn in drought-stricken California, this Santa Monica front garden uses every inch of space for drought-tolerant and sustainable gardening, recycled pathways, repurposed and creative sitting areas, like this patio.

Materials used are widely spaced ​pink/peach flagstone pavers with pea gravel in between. The circular metal object in the centre is a vintage street-hole cover that the homeowners bought on a trip. This is a perfect example of repurposing: in this case, a former industrial object becomes a decorative element and focal point for an outdoor patio. Simple, easy and original!

This garden was part of the Theodore Payne Foundation’s annual self-guided garden tour.

Gravel Framing and Edging

gravel patio

Lisa Hallett Taylor

Drought-tolerant plants in a bark-mulch bed and pea gravel edge and frame a patio area, delineating it from another section of the garden. The pea gravel probably has some sort of edging to contain it and keep it neat and linear.

Bark Mulch and Pea Gravel

patio with gravel path

Lisa Hallett Taylor

This outdoor room at the L.A. Garden Show shows how loose materials can be pulled together for a casual yet finished look. The pathway is filled with pea gravel while bark mulch is on each side of the path. Pavers are placed in the patio dining and seating area for a more solid surface underfoot. Plant boxes edge the pathway and patio area for some instant plant life. An umbrella serves as a focal point and provides much-needed shade for dining outside, of course.

By Lisa Hallett Taylor