Patios, walks, driveways, pool decking and all hard surfaces in the landscape are what we in the trade call "Hardscape." There is a definite balance between the hard and soft of a garden for it to be both pleasing and useful. For example, if your garden were all concrete paving, it would seem sterile and industrial. Not only would it be unbearably hot in the summertime but it would be also boring and uninviting. Another negative landscape scenario is when a patio area is too small. The outdoor furniture doesn't fit and guests are stepping into the flower beds or huddled together too closely when you are entertaining. Having a balance of utilizing space and materials is something that we really give careful consideration. Generally speaking, the maximum ratio for the hardscape should not exceed 40% of the overall garden space.
Another factor is deciding what fixed elements are going to be incorporated into the design. If you want a fireplace, an outdoor BBQ, an arbored dining space, and meditation area with a water feature, then the hardscape has to become the thread that ties all these elements together in a seamless and creative manner.
Once we have determined the overall shape and flow of the hardscape, it's time to determine the finishes. There are basically two catagories: monolithic materials and veneer materials. The monolithic materials are the one step processes such as poured in place concrete or interlocking pavers. There are some 30 different colors for concrete and some really nice options for pavers as well. One interesting finish we can do is a matte sandblast finish with a diamond cut tile pattern in colored concrete. These monolithic one step types of paving options are the least expensive.
The second type of hardscaping is the use of veneers. Veneer material could be brick, flagstone, stone tile, terracotta tile, manufactured tile, etc. All veneer material should be attached to a concrete foundation. The integrity of that foundation keeps the veneer from cracking and shifting out of place. We pay great attention to the quality of the concrete foundation by using heavy steel reinforcements and high quality concrete mixes. Any driveway or weight bearing area that may need to support the occasional delivery truck are poured to a greater thickness. The veneer types of hardscape are the more expensive, but vary greatly depending on the type of materials chosen. For example: imported Italian antique tile might be fifteen to twenty times the cost of a Mexican terra cotta tile though the concrete base and labor to set either tile is consistent.
What happens many times is that we will mix these two finish options for design and cost purposes. A big consideration in choosing a style of hardscape is what the existing flooring in the home looks like. We have actually taken tile patterns from the home's kitchen and designed that same pattern to flow into the new patios outside. Other times, with dark hardwood flooring, we will find a rich looking stone that picks up and compliments the wood color.
At any rate, the whole process is a lot of fun and the end product is a unique outdoor space that reflects your style and taste.