How to create a patio area

When former Gold Coast couple Sandy and Tim Palmer arrived at their new home, surrounded by a lush country garden on three acres of former apple orchard, they discovered a glasshouse standing forlornly in the New England landscape.

For next to no cost, they’ve transformed the area inside and outside the three-metre by eight-metre glasshouse to make it a destination in its own right, and the best place on the property to weather the chill of winter in Tenterfield, NSW.

“Tim got out the excavator and built a lovely pebbled concrete pathway around it, with a retaining wall in railway sleepers and a Japanese box hedge, so the glasshouse is not just sticking out of the paddock anymore,” Sandy said.

“It already had a big potting bench inside so I added some old shutters and decked it out with vintage furniture including a day bed so we can sit or lay in there, and it’s so toasty when it’s cold! It’ll be lovely to sit outside in summer too.”

The plan is to one day replace the laserlite roof of the glasshouse and connect water and power, so that Sandy – a furniture restorer, florist and antiques dealer – can run workshops there.

“It’d be the perfect spot for a workshop in winter, and there’s even great phone service up there!” she said with a laugh.

How to create a patio area:

Outdoor area with lots of greenery and a white bench
Tip 1: Decide on a site

Patios next to the house are the most convenient for activities such as outdoor cooking and dining, or sitting around a fire pit. Do you have a beautiful view or a mature tree that would provide natural shade for a seating area? Is there a flat area in your garden that would be easy to build on? Or if you have a forgotten section of garden down the side of the house, would a patio provide a quiet space for contemplation? Also consider what the patio will look like from inside the house.

Sandy Palmer holding a basket walking towards a white outdoor shed
Tip 2: Measure the space for your patio

It’s easy to underestimate the space you need and end up with a patio that is too small. Take the furniture you plan to put on the new patio and place it where it’s likely to sit, then use a can of spray paint to outline the shape. Consider whether you want to add extras such as an outdoor kitchen area, a fire pit, a spa or a water feature. By adding a wide brick path to connect the patio to other outdoor spaces, such as your home and garage, you can blend the new structure into the outdoor area.

Sandy Palmer arranging her pots in her outdoor shed.
Tip 3: Plan your materials and design

Firstly, check whether you need a building permit. If you’re building your own, it’s best to start with a gravel base, then add sand followed by your chosen patio material. Factor in the material’s durability, longevity and ease of maintenance. Concrete slabs, bricks, pavers or flagstones are all sturdy and attractive, while stone or ceramic tiles are more expensive but very durable. A simple square or rectangular design is the easiest and quickest to install. To save work, choose a pattern that doesn't require cutting of materials. Bricks or pavers in straight or gently curving patterns work well, and flagstones are irregular in shape, so they will suit an informal patio with natural appeal.

Man and woman sat together at an outdoors cafe surrounded by greenery and purple flowers
Tip 4: Allow yourself plenty of time

Installing brick patios is one of the more laborious outdoor projects you can attempt, so be realistic about the time you’ll need to do it properly. If necessary, hire an excavator to dig the foundation, use a compactor to tamp the soil down rather than a hand tamper, and if you need to cut bricks, have a masonry saw on hand. Place your materials as close to the site as possible and if you can enlist friends or family to help, that will speed things up.

Sandy and Tim Palmer walking next to a white outdoor shed
Tip 5: Lay a proper base

The key to a long-lasting patio surface is laying a proper base. Scraping off lawn and then laying brick over a couple inches of sand is a sure way to create an uneven, unstable surface. A good installation consists of 10-15cm of base screed and 2.5cm of sand topped by bricks, so you’ll need to dig down about 20-25cm below the level of the finished patio. If you have to, backfill some spots, and make sure you compact them before you lay the base.

Sandy & Tim Palmer admiring the garden in their patio area
Tip 6: Maintain your patio

If the patio stones start to wobble over time or the sand begins to wear away, add additional sand between the cracks, sweep the patio, and water with a hose to maintain a smooth surface. To prevent mildew and stains, clean the patio at the beginning and end of the outdoor season with a pressure washer or by scrubbing with a detergent solution.