300sf: A Case Study Published on

300sf : A Conceptual Design Case Study

The truck gets put into park, I grab my binder and I quickly review the name of the new client I am about to meet.  I shut the driver side door and double check the address to ensure I am not about to introduce myself to the wrong person.

After a typical 15 minute back and forth about the weather, the story behind my companies name and a couple of questions regarding the proposed project, the client and I take a look at what the Homebuilder has given us to work with…

Existing Concrete Patio

I can honestly say that I get a good laugh out of this situation every time I see it.  Whether it be the complete lack of functional space, how uninviting and exposed the pad feels when standing on it or the way in which I imagine the Homebuilder selling this as a commodity, it is downright humorous.

This is how I imagine it happening and up until this point in my career, no client has told me otherwise… 

The homebuilder is in the middle of reviewing a redesigned kitchen plan when the option of Granite countertops is approached.  The homeowner is initially hesitant about expanding their already bloated budget when the tension is eased by one sentence, “It’s alright Mr. & Mrs. Smith, we have a decent budget earmarked for landscaping that we could pull from to give you the countertop of your dreams.”  At this point the homeowner is both tired from making decisions and, not surprisingly, unaware of what a Landscape Installation costs.  Flash forward two months and the property has been graded and ready to reseed when the homeowner excitedly asks the homebuilder about their backyard patio options.  This is when the homebuilder mentions that the budget for landscaping is almost used up due to “unforeseen” change orders, but he will work with the concrete contractor to get the homeowner a deal on a “decent sized” concrete patio.

And that is how I arrive at every concrete square at every new construction home with every underwhelmed client.  So why is this square a problem?  Not only does the overall size limit functionality but the shape provides wasted space that cannot be used efficiently.  After all, we have to fit a dining table, a grill and a moveable fire pit on this 10’x10’ square!  Luckily for me and my potential client, removing concrete is not terribly expensive.  That is why I will always advise them to start over and let me think outside of the box for their new outdoor entertaining space. 

What I will show you with the help of a few conceptual designs and explanations is that this problem has plenty of viable solutions.  Not only can we create spaces that are more unique and functional, but we can do it quickly and in a way that is easy to budget for.  For these examples, we will be showing 300 square foot patios.  300sf is admittedly not a lot of room, but it is a good start for a dining/lounge space and an area for a grill.  This argument will also utilize the following criteria:

  • The space may not exceed 300sf
  • The space must have room for a grill(Not directly adjacent to the home)
  • The space must have room for a 6 person dining set
  • The space must allow for foot traffic to easily move from home to turf
  • The paving detail will remain the same

The following is a list of design exceptions I will not be taking into consideration due to various reasons, but most importantly, simplicity.

  • The space is flat and does not require steps or walls.
  • The space has no current drainage issues or downspouts

So let’s start brainstorming with a couple of sketches…

Voila! These shapes do not look like much, but they are a start.  They look even worse when I am scratching away at a random sheet of paper with home dimensions and site views located.  At first glance, these shapes would mean nothing to a homeowner, but they mean a lot to a designer who comes up with them.  Radii are purposeful, larger spaces have proper dimension and planting surround is considered.

To support this argument I am going to take each shape and show how it can be developed into a workable conceptual design.  The designs are similar to what I would review with the homeowner during a follow up meeting, excluding a bit of rendering.  They locate the grill, dining space, screening, generic plant surround and any other details that I find are crucial to relay to the client.  This is prepared alongside a preliminary budget which breaks down costs necessary to install the proposed area.  Without an accurate budget, a pretty picture means very little when it comes to spending someone else’s money. 

Let’s dive in…
Conceptual Design 1Conceptual Design 2

This first conceptual design focuses on separating grill space from dining space immediately.  It also relies on an ornamental tree as a focal point from within the house.  The grill is pulled away from the house which allows foot traffic to easily move through either of the patio exits and on to the turf.  In this example, the main view away from the dining area of the patio is unobstructed.

The second solution prioritizes a planting screen toward the right side of the patio and offers a small auxiliary sitting area in addition to the dining space and grill area.  Foot traffic has to bend out and away to reach the turf rather than moving in a straight line from the door, but separating the spaces with the small planting bed gives a great aesthetic detail and makes the auxiliary space cozier.

Conceptual Design 3Conceptual Design 4

For the third conceptual design we have showcased a 45 degree angle to the home.  This helps visually direct you towards the corners of the lot rather than directly into the backyard.  This can also be enhanced by installing a focal point off of these site lines, such as a specimen tree.  The grill space is tucked a bit closer to the home, but still far enough away where the heat should not bother the siding.  A space for an ornamental tree is also introduced to provide shade in future years.

The fourth solution makes moving from home to turf a breeze.  This is great for families with kids that like to run as fast as possible to the sandbox without any regard for visitors’ safety.  The grill space is tucked nicely off to the right and the dining space introduces a semicircle paving detail.  There is a planting bed directly adjacent to the home which would help screen an unsightly foundation.

   Conceptual Design 5       Conceptual Design 6

The final two solutions introduce the option for a fire pit.  Similar to the previous solution, foot traffic from the house to the turf is extremely efficient.  The fire pit, although small, allows for up to four people to sit with furniture on the pavers while offering additional seating in the turf when needed.  The planting backdrop along the left side of the patio as well as the fire pit orientation emphasizes the view toward the right.

The sixth conceptual design combines the angled approach of the third and the fire pit option of the fifth.  This concept minimizes the paved space around the fire pit which would then typically require a seat wall around the back side.  The functionality of the seat wall could also be replaced by a built in bench.  Views are heavily directed out and to the right from the paved space.  The larger planting bed would allow for a specimen upright evergreen if desired.  

And what do we do when given a square concrete patio without any budget or willingness to change?  We design around it the best way we know how.  In this last example, the planting beds are angled as compared to the layout of the patio. This breaks the space up while also enclosing a portion of it.  The grill and dining space do not have an aesthetically pleasing separation, but it is functional and safe.  As with any design, a bit of color, shading and labeling go a long way, especially when working around a square.  Please visit our Design Portfolio to see more examples of our work!

After this process, a well-designed space is approved by the client.  Now what?  Often, in the previously described situation, we remove the existing pad at a charge and start over.  This adds an unnecessary cost, albeit minimal.  In a perfect situation, the homeowner has a Landscape Contractor invested in the process from the very beginning that is informing them of realistic costs and design options.  If budget is a concern, I will advise the homeowner to install all functional elements, such as retaining walls, at the time of home construction to help with future costs and then reseed the entire property.  This allows the homeowner to have a finished and safe property while allowing time to set money aside for when the actual outdoor space is created.  In the event that the homeowner needs a space to set a grill, pour concrete minimally and understand that it will be removed when the time comes to create a long term space.

As with most Landscape Renovations, this 300sf example of a simple outdoor space is just the tip of the iceberg.  Typical sites involve elevations that require steps and walls and typical client’s request spaces that may be larger or have different functions.  So as a homeowner, be aware of your options and plan on putting as much thought into your outdoor space as your kitchen or living room.  As a designer, challenge yourself to create spaces that have an emphasis on function while still maintaining aesthetically pleasing qualities.  It is this challenge that makes our profession so unique and enjoyable.