The ultimate guide to outdoor living space design and build

Offering reliable landscaping services to homeowners in British Columbia since 2013

At back40landscaping, our goal is to educate homeowners on their potential landscaping projects, and we truly find that honesty is the best policy. By doing so, we believe that people will be able to make an educated decision for themselves and their family.

Picture of Natasha Maerz

Natasha Maerz

Owner/Office Manager

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What is an outdoor living space?

 

An outdoor living space is so much more than just a place that you spend time on in the summer. It is a place where you can actively use your garden, patio and backyard, and where you and your family and friends socialize, cook, read, and eat.

 

It is a space that you can enjoy all day, and most importantly, all year.

outdoor-living-pergola

How much does an outdoor living space cost?

 

Outdoor living spaces start at $20,000 +

An outdoor living space can be anything you want it to be! The most typical outdoor living space has:

  • A patio (made out of wood or brick)
  • Wood accents (pergola, roof structure)
  • Greenery and/or flowers
  • Fire pit
  • Water features
  •  

For each homeowner, the wants and needs of their patio will different. Some homeowners want an outdoor space that is great for entertaining, while others want it for relaxing.

Your contractor can build you a space that is ideal for your lifestyle and wants, and fits your budget, and You can get inspiration for your outdoor living space from magazines, and Pinterest, or hire a designer to help your vision come to life.

Most of us tend to think that an outdoor living space is something that is attached to our home, but it can be anywhere on your property that makes sense to you, and the layout of your outdoor space.

How big should an outdoor living space be?

An Outdoor Living space should be sized according to your intended use.

If the space is too big it will not feel relaxing or intimate. On the other hand, if it’s too small, it will be frustrating to fit everyone comfortably.

If possible, homeowners should always choose a larger space, as its easier to make it feel more intimate than to add more space down the road.

For an eating area picture the size of table in your head that works for you and your family.

For 6 people you will need at least a 4 x 6-foot table. Then add 3-4’ all around it to easily get into your chair. This is a important part of figuring out how much space you will need for your outdoor living area. 

Guests will be going in and out of their chairs throughout the night, and you want to make them feel comfortable while doing so. 

An eating are should at least be 10’ x 12’, and even larger if you plan on having more than 6 people over.

For a relaxing area you will most likely be basing your size off of the furniture you like. For a typical L shaped couch and a 2-chair setup, expect to need at least 14-16 feet of room in either a circle, square or rectangle. Again, more room than you need Is recommended, as it’s much easier to use up space than make more.

Entertaining areas can be very valuable and are often overlooked. Just like the kitchen at a house party people will need a place to gather!

This can be incorporated into your relaxation area, but really should be in a separate area altogether.

Relaxation should be quieter, and placed further from the door to your home. Put the entertaining area just outside the house as this is where people will gather. An added bar area where people can lean on and share stories about their work week is a great added touch.

Ultimately the size of your Outdoor Living space will depend on your desired use, and the available space in which we can create it.

Outdoor living space prices

 Low $20,000+

 What is included:

20’x14’ paver patio
Cedar privacy lattice
Fire pit
Flower bed
Hedges

Best suited for:

This outdoor living space is a great spot to relax after work and on weekends.

The cedar lattice allows you all the privacy homeowners crave, and the small fire pit is a great place to sit and sip on a glass of wine while the sun goes does down.

paver-patio-landscaping-and-retaining-wall
Average $30,000+

 

What is included:

20’x14’ paver patio
Pergola
Fire pit
Flower beds

Best suited for:

This type of space is best suited for a couple that likes to have friends over for entertaining every once in a while, and enjoy sitting outside with their morning tea or coffee, basking in the landscape before heading to work.

High end $76,000+

 

What is included:

30’x35’ paver patio
10’x10’ cedar roof
Fire place
Patio lighting
Water feature

Best suited for:

This type of space is best suited for anyone wanting a complete backyard transformation, and that loves entertaining.

 The cedar roof structure will allow the patio to be used all year round, in all types of weather, while the fire place gives the patio warmth in the colder months.

A water feature brings everything together, and brings a peaceful calm to the backyard.

paver-patio-with-water-feature

Outdoor living problems

 

 

The Wrong Design for Your Backyard

When designing your backyard space, keep in mind that not everything you love is going to match what your backyard looks like.

 If you are wanting to do a contemporary design for your yard, but your house is older, your outdoor living space is going to look out of place.

When creating your space, you want to go for something that is going to compliment the features that you already have around your property. Look at your house, driveway, garden, and any hardscape features that you may have, and design a look that is going to match it.

Try to keep the color pallet the same around your yard. Pops of color are easy to add with rugs, and pillows, but your base color for your space should match the aesthetic of your property.

Keep in mind that if you are planning on moving in the future, that potential buyers are going to see this space, and most homeowners like a classic look that they can add their own touches too.

paver-patio-by-lake

Wrong Material Used for Your Build

 

The two main materials that are used in an outdoor living space are wood and brick. Many homeowners feel that wood gives a more inviting, “cozy” feel that you cannot get from brick.

While in some cases this can be true, nowadays, pavers come in so many options of color and style, that brick can have a warm feel to it.

If brick pavers end up feeling too “cold” for your space, it is easy to add warmth by adding rugs, curtains, and cushions to your living space. Looks aside, wood does not last, and we always recommend that patios, walkways, fire pit pads, etc., are made with brick pavers.

If you would like to add a wood feel to your outdoor living space, a wooden roof structure, or pergola do the trick.

outdoor-patio-pavers

Size

 

When determining what size you want your outdoor living space to be, think long and hard about what you are using your space for.

Many homeowners have opted for smaller spaces because they think that they will only use their outdoor space every once in a while, but will this be the case five years down the road?

Of course, you can always add to your space if your needs change, but it’s better to do your build all at once. Some styles and colors of pavers can get discontinued, and may be hard to match years down the road, especially if your pavers or wood fade.

If you are single now, but plan on having a family in the future, maybe you want to have a space that can accommodate your children and pet.

Size can also be an issue if the area is too big.

Maybe you have dreamt about having a big outdoor living space all of your life, but find out that you would have been better off with less patio space, and more flower beds and plants.

 Whatever you are looking for, try to envision yourself in different situations on your patio, and make a decision from there on what size is right for you.

small-patio-seating-area

Bad Planning

 

The top things that homeowners think about when designing their outdoor living space is what they want their patio to look like, what type of roof structure they are looking to get, and what furniture will look good with their new space.

These are all important things to consider, but something that most people forget to do is plan for things that cannot be installed after their patio has been built.

These include things like electrical lines for any lighting that you want to add, adding cable or WIFI to enhance your entertaining, and natural gas lines for BBQ’s or fire pits. Sure, these can be added after your outdoor living space renovation is complete, but will require your contractor to rip out part of your brick pavers or wood patio to get to the area.

If this happens, your patio is not going to have a uniform look, no matter how good your contractor is.

The cost of labor will be more than if you would have had these services put in when the build was happening, and it is just going to add more stress and having machines come back and tear up your lawn.

So again, think about what you would like to see incorporated into your outdoor living space, and do these measures before it is too late to change what you envisioned.

 

backyard-landscape-paver

What Are the Steps to Designing an Outdoor Space?

 What Type of Feel Are You Going For?

 

First, you need to think about how you want your outdoor living space to “feel”.

 Is this space going to be a sanctuary, or are you planning on entertaining here every weekend?

 If you are looking for a space to relax, you are going to want to your space to have a neutral palette, comfortable pieces of furniture, and a water feature.

If this space is more of an entertaining area, you most likely will want to add speakers, an outdoor kitchen area, lighting and lots of room for people to move around.

What Is Important to You?

When designing the perfect space, think about what is important to you. Do you want to relax in nature after a stressful day, or do you want to tan and have drinks with friends?

Having a hammock or cozy chair for you to read in is helpful if you are going to be the only person enjoying your space, but if you are going to want to have some friends over for drinks, you will need to have more space available for friends to sit and lounge.

Hobbies and what you enjoy doing in your spare time are also an important thing to consider when designing your backyard space.

If you enjoy reading, having a shaded area that will protect you from hot days will allow you to enjoy your book in peace.

People who enjoy sitting around a fire are more likely to want a really nice fire pit, and sunken in chairs, while homeowners who like to entertain will want an outdoor kitchen and bar.

outdoor-patio-with-fire-pit

What Type of Lifestyle Do You Lead?

Each homeowner is different, and is going to use their outdoor space for different things.

 If you have children, you are going to want to design your patio so that there are sections for the children to play, and areas that you do not mind getting messy, and can clean easily. (Think water table or sand box area).

Children and pets also need an outdoor place to go to cool down from the heat of the outdoors, so a roof structure is a must.

If you are single and are having lots of, get togethers, a bar area adds extra seating to your space, and is a place for everyone to congregate too.

How Much Do You Use Your Outdoor Space?

Ask yourself this question, if you had a space that you always dreamed of, how much would you use it?

 If you can see yourself using your outdoor living space every day, or at least all spring and summer, you are going to want to design your space to be comfortable, and useable.

The area should be big enough to fit all of your furniture on, with enough space between areas to walk around comfortably.

If you think that you are only going to use your space every once in a while, perhaps a smaller patio with a simple coffee bar will meet your needs just fin

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What makes an outdoor living space?

There are many factors that go into an outdoor living space, and these things take a “typical” backyard, and turn it into one of luxury.

Patio

The main part of the best outdoor living spaces have a patio that was designed for comfort and useability.

Most homeowners that have a small patio wish that they had planned ahead and thought hard about what they were going to use their space for.

If you are a family that has a lot of gatherings and enjoys cooking outside, it makes sense to have a large space for get togethers, and a place to put a BBQ.

 If it is just you using the patio and you enjoy a cup of coffee listening to bird’s chirp, then maybe a smaller patio that can fit two comfy chairs on will be enough for you and your needs.

outdoor-patio-and-edging

If you are a family that has a lot of gatherings and enjoys cooking outside, it makes sense to have a large space for get togethers, and a place to put a BBQ.

 If it is just you using the patio and you enjoy a cup of coffee listening to bird’s chirp, then maybe a smaller patio that can fit two comfy chairs on will be enough for you and your needs.

For a patio that you want to last a long time, is easy to clean, and will look aesthetically pleasing, pavers are the way to go.

Pavers come in many different styles and colors, and will match any color scheme homeowners are looking for.

Lighting

Are you going to be using your outdoor living space in the evening?

Time spent with friends on your patio should not be limited to when the sun is up. When the sun goes down you can still enjoy your patio by adding lighting to your space.

The nice thing about adding lighting, is that you can go all out, or keep it simple. Some nice twinkle lights (or even Christmas lights) add a beautiful ambiance, for little cost.

To really make a dramatic change to your space you can add chandeliers that provide light, and double as beautiful décor.

 

Most outdoor living spaces that have themes have a look and feel of being “luxurious”. When matching rugs, furniture and other décor, look at what colors are in your landscape and your house.

Try to find complimentary shades to one another so that your patio is a part of your house, and not a separate space.

Little pieces of décor can be added for pops of color, like pillows or candles, and are relatively cost friendly.

Even changing out your couch and chair cushions every couple of years will give your outdoor living space a fresh new feel without having to do anything drastic.

 

 

 

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The best outdoor living spaces are spaces that can be used all year round, and decorating your space for the holidays will have you enjoying your space that much more.

This is as easy as adding pumpkins in the fall, and Christmas lights in the winter.

christmas-wreath-outdoor-patio

Furniture

 

Outdoor furniture allows homeowners to enjoy their backyard comfortably, and home improvement stores are making more and more options for every homeowner’s budget and style.

If your main time spent outside is to entertain, having enough space for everyone to sit comfortably is a must.

A big couch allows for seating a good number of people, without taking up too much space.

For smaller areas, you may want to consider investing in comfortable chairs that can be used while eating, that can be moved to other areas of the patio after dinner.

This is great if you want to have a fire after dinner, or do not want to sit around a table for the entire night.

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Wooden structures

Wooden structures take your outdoor space to the next level, and any type of patio can incorporate them into their design.

Roof structure

A roof structure not only makes a patio look high end; it serves the very important purpose of keeping your space dry.

Having a wooden roof structure allows homeowners to enjoy their outdoor space in whatever weather, and also keeps their furniture dry.

 

 

This is especially handy when entertaining if it has rained the day before.

Without a structure the furniture would be unusable, but with it, your party can still happen.

Roof structures are also great for shade, especially if children and pets are outside during a hot day.

Pergolas add shade for hot days, and extend your outdoor living space. They can cast enough light shade to make your afternoon enjoyable, and if you would like, you can even add a retractable shade cover to it for even more comfort.

Pergolas also provide support for any lighting that a homeowner wants to add, and really enhances outdoor living spaces.

outdoor-living-pergola

Privacy screen

When enjoying your backyard, you want to feel comfortable, and have privacy.

Privacy screens will allow you to have the privacy that you crave, without ruining the aesthetics of your space. You can relax while knowing that you have privacy from neighbours.

 

Plants and flowers

If homeowners are looking for an easy way to add color to their space, plants and flowers do a great job. They add to the feeling of nature, and can spruce up patios that do not have a lot of space.

 

 

 

Flowers add a nice smell, and they are easy to change up because of their availability, ease of use, and price.

Both small and large patios will get an upgrade with plants and flowers.

 

Water features

The best patio needs to have features that are unique, and add fun and relaxation to your outdoor living space.

 

 

A water feature provides a sense of tranquility and calmness, and can be as big as a water fall or pond, or as small as a water fountain.

 

Fire pits

Fire pits not only add warmth to your outdoor living space, they also add an ambiance that cannot be matched.

Even on a warm summer night, guests love to make smores by a fire, have a nice glass of wine, or just take in the scenery.

In the colder months fire pits make being outside enjoyable, and allow you to still use your space in every type of weather.

Again, depending on the size of your space and what you are going for, there are many options for fire pits and fire places.

patio-fire-pit

Outdoor TV/Speakers

Adding a TV and speakers to your outdoor living space will allow you to have the comforts of home, with the beauties of the outdoors.

Watching a hockey or football game outside is a totally different experience, and movie nights with the stars above allow a romantic date night, or a fun slumber party!

Speakers allow you to enjoy your favourite music, whether it be something lively while cooking with friends, or relaxing music while you soak up some sun. If you enjoy listening to podcasts, close your eyes by the fire and listen!

 

 

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Outdoor kitchen

Anyone who entertains and loves to cook needs an outdoor kitchen, and the best outdoor living space would not be complete without one.

Outdoor kitchens allow the cook to spend time with their guests, (gone are the days of coming in and out of the house a hundred times), and can cut down on heat in your home during the summer time because the oven is not turned on!

An outdoor kitchen feature that many homeowners find handy is an outdoor mini fridge to stock up on drinks. When entertaining, friends can grab whatever drink they want, to enjoy during dinner, or by the fire.

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What extras elevate the look of an outdoor living space?

 

The beauty of designing an outdoor living space is that you can add whatever you want to it. Keeping your budget, size of your space, and needs in mind, there are tons of extras you can add to your outdoor living space.

Extras:

  • Natural gas hookup
  • Large fire pits
    Ponds
  • Waterfalls
  • Outdoor kitchen
  • Bar area
  • Chandeliers
  • Sidewalk
  • Hot tub
  • Pool area
  • Tanning area
  • TV
  • Speakers
  • WIFI
  • Built-in heaters

 

What Are the Main Types of Hardscape Homeowners Can Incorporate into Their Outdoor Space?

 

  • Fences
  • Pergolas or roof structures
  • Driveways
  • Patios
  • Retaining walls
  • Paths and walkways
  • Outdoor kitchens
  • Fireplaces
  • Steps
  • Water features

 

Hardscape Materials

Concrete Pavers

Concrete pavers have a classic look to them, and can be customized to match any home look and décor.

They come in many different shapes, colors, and sizes, and are extremely durable.  

Concrete pavers can be used for almost every single hardscape project that a homeowner is looking for including:

  • Driveways
  • Paths and walkways
  • Patios
  • Steps
  • Fire pits
  • Water features

Natural Stone

Natural stone adds an earthly look to any outdoor space. It is most used for patios, steps and walkways. A home that is darker or has lots of wooden elements to it can benefit from the look of natural stone.

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Wood

Due to its elegant and warm look, wood is one of the most popular hardscape materials that homeowners are drawn to.

This hardscape material works best for fencing, roof structures, and pergolas. Wood used to be a popular option for anyone wanting a deck or patio, but since wood does not last as long as concrete, it has become less popular due to its lifespan.

 

allan-block-retaining-wall

Concrete Allan Block

A retaining wall that is made out of Allan block adds a stunning focal point to any back or front yard, and is truly made to last.

  Allan block is one hardscape material that homeowners cannot go wrong with, as it is long lasting and adds a warmth and richness to any space.

Allan blocks are versatile, and Allan block retaining walls can be made in lots of different shapes, length and height.

Small retaining walls can be used for raised flower beds around a patio to give it an extra stunning look.  

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Gravel And Loose Stones

Gravel is an extremely versatile material, and is usually a fairly easy and cost friendly option for homeowners wanting to add hardscape material to their outdoor space, without having to get big machines or lots of material and labor involved.

Round rock and loose stones can be added to a garden, or walkways to add some extra depth and texture to your outdoor space, and more gravel or stones can easily be added or changed as needed.

Gravel paths and walkways can give a patio a unique look when placed around the perimeter of the space, and/or leading up to it.

Homeowners looking to spruce up their outdoor living space should consider adding hardscape landscaping to their space for a fresh, updated look.

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Outdoor cooking space must haves

Grill

This is an obvious one, but when it comes to choosing what grill you want, there are so many options it can be extremely overwhelming.

Think about how big you want the grill, whether you want propane or not, and if you want your grill to be incorporated into your counter top.

Fridge

A fridge is an important aspect of any outdoor kitchen. You do not want to have to keep going in and out of your house to grab meat, or drinks for your guests.

Having a fridge as part of your outdoor space allows you to save time, and most importantly, keep food safe.

 

outdoor-kitchen-bbq-patio

Countertops

When prepping food, whether it be veggies or meat, a countertop allows you to prep all food conveniently, and give you space to put BBQ equipment (think spatulas and thermometers).

Some counter space can even double as a place for guests to sit while you cook.

Sink

A sink is an integral part to any kitchen, and is really non-negotiable when it comes to having a proper outdoor kitchen.

Having a sink outdoors will allow you to wash any produce, fill up pots, and let you easily wash any dishes.

Storage

Since having an outdoor kitchen is all about convenience, you want to have all utensils, plates and cooking supplies ready for when you need them.

Instead of having to tread back and forth to your indoor kitchen, you can have everything you need waiting for you outside.

Added Amenities

After ensuring your outdoor kitchen has the five basics, it’s time to think about any extras your kitchen could benefit from having.

These can include a tv, fireplace, lighting, dining table and chairs, and even a pizza oven.

It also helps to be aware of where you want your kitchen located.

If you want to be able to use your kitchen all year round and in different types of weather, your kitchen should be located under a roof structure, and easy to get to.

Kitchen Design

If you have a modern look for your patio, you may want to think about adding stones that match the look and feel of your patio pavers.

 Adding a bar top adds to the look of a luxury outdoor living space, and not only provides you with more seating for guests, but allows you to have extra space to put food and drinks when entertaining and cooking.

Whether you have a large outdoor living space, or a small one, every homeowner can enjoy cooking outside, and benefit from making meals and enjoy eating them surrounded by nature.  

 

How to blend your indoor and outdoor living spaces

Planning

To make your outdoors more appealing, there are many things that homeowners who are looking to blend both indoor and outdoor living spaces together can do to create a more “seamless” look.

To start, look at how your indoor space is designed and see how your outdoor space correlates with your home, both functionally and aesthetically.

You want the flow of both your outdoor and indoor living space to feel the same. This does not mean that it needs to be the same layout necessarily, but the flow of your indoor living space should have the same feel as your outdoor living space.

 

 An example of this could be that when you walk into your home you have your kitchen and then a sitting area.

Matching this look of having the kitchen and then your seating area outside (if possible), will keep with the flow of both of your spaces.

Remember, most importantly, to have enough space for you and guests to comfortably walk from one spot to the next.

 

If you cannot do this without losing the flow of your space, do your best to match it, while leaving an acceptable amount of room around furnishings and decor.

 

 

 

 

patio-roof-structure

Connecting a roof or pergola to your home can help ease the transition from inside to outside, and as an added bonus, will keep you dry if the weather is wet, and can be a big wow factor for a patio.

Color

If homeowners are looking to match their inside space with their outdoor space, the easiest thing they can do is stick to the same color scheme for both spaces.

 The colors do not have to be exactly the same, but should be the same hue, whether that be neutral or bold.

Keeping the color scheme the same will naturally bring the two spaces together, and is really as easy as adding a rug or pillows and blankets here and there.  

Furniture And Extra Touches

A great way to bring continuity to both your indoor and outdoor living space is to add the comforts of your home to your outdoor space.

If you have large fluffy pillows, or a nice big couch in your living room, mimic that look on your patio.

Fire pits can be built out of the same material that your indoor fire place is made of, light fixtures can be the same, and hanging a tv outside instantly makes your outdoor space feel cozy and homey.

As you can see, there are thousands of different ways an outdoor living space can be built and designed.

Don’t get overwhelmed! The only “Difficult” part of an outdoor living space build is figuring out what you want for your space, and if your budget allows for it.

The beauty of an outdoor living space is that you can always add on to it later if your budget does not allow you to do everything that you have dreamed of.

Once you have decided what you are wanting to invest in your outdoor living space project, and what your wants and needs are, the fun part can begin!

Thank you for taking the time to read this guide, and we look forward to helping you transform your backyard!