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Experts share the worst patio decorating mistakes and how to avoid them

Keep making the same patio decorating mistakes over and over again? Patch things up with this professional advice

A modern patio design with L-shaped grey outdoor sofa, with outdoor cushion decor and outdoor coffee table
(Image credit: Dobbies)

Patio decorating mistakes poo-pooing your plans? Let's face it, there's nothing better than soaking up some sun or enjoying a little alfresco dining on your paved space. But if your outdoor living area is clearly in need of some love, could it be that you're making some of the most common decorating faux-pas?

The heart of every backyard, your patio has so much potential and a well-designed space can go a long way to make even a tiny spot feel welcoming and cozy. So, before you dive into the best patio ideas, listen to the experts and make sure you are aware of the errors that can derail your outdoor project.

an outdoor terrace with a green dining table on a rug, to illustrate the worst patio decorating mistakes

(Image credit: Cuckooland.com)

The worst patio decorating mistakes, according to experts

A poorly-designed patio can make you reluctant to use this space for your best grills, relaxing and the like, making it appear smaller than it is, or even worse, resulting in you having to redo your patio hardscaping... Take note for a super stylish outdoor space this year and beyond.

1. Not spending enough on outdoor furnishings

The first – and probably most common – patio decorating mistake is scrimping on outdoor furnishings. Or, if you do opt for budget garden ideas, not treating them as well as you do your interior items, according to garden designer Chris Harrington.

We've all seen the highly stylized patio areas that look great on Pinterest – outdoor living spaces are all the rage right now. But if that's the look you're going for, Harrington warns against buying cheap decor. 'Anyone can get stuff for a photo shoot and make it look nice,' he comments. But do these garden rooms continue to look good in the reality of daily life?

According to Harrington, 'the reality of those cheaper products is that if you leave them outside for any length of time, they're going to deteriorate. If you're going to dress everything to the nth degree, acknowledge that you've got to take everything in, or you've got to invest in proper external stuff.'

The HarringtonPorter (opens in new tab) creative director also argues that many of the outdoor furnishings that pop up on Google aren't really fit for purpose: 'It's fine for a few months, but give it six months outside and all these garden lighting ideas will rust, the rugs will deteriorate, and the cushions will fill with water through the zips.'

This doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune on outdoor furnishings, but investing in items from a trusted outdoor furnishings retailer will save you money in the long run.

If you're now reading this in sheer panic wondering: 'is my outdoor furniture waterproof?', check the original packaging, or contact the retailer's customer service department for advice.

2. Forgetting outdoor storage

a delicate white table and chairs set in a garden, to illustrate the worst patio decorating mistakes

(Image credit: Getty / Indy)

Harrington also reminds us of the importance of outdoor storage. 'You can dress your patio like you dress an indoor space, but make sure to have storage in your garden to put everything away,' he says.

'Be prepared that you can't leave throws and outdoor cushions that are making these desirable photos outside. Having storage outside is a really good idea, just don't build them into your garden bench,' he adds. Well-planned garden storage ideas will make a huge difference to your patio. 

3. Botched DIY jobs

Laying patio pavers – easy, right? Adding drainage – just watch a YouTube video! Well, it's important to be realistic about your DIY skills. 

Calum Maddock from HomeHow (opens in new tab) warns that 'if you’re no good at DIY, don’t try and botch a job of repairing or laying a brick patio; hire a professional. It will look better, last longer, and save you money in the long run.'

Trust us, you don't want to DIY a patio only to discover a year later that the pavers have moved...

4. Failing to plan the space

Interior designer and co-founder of La Di Da Interiors (opens in new tab), Steph Briggs, told us that not planning out a space before filling it with furniture is one of the worst patio decorating mistakes you can make. 'If you are going to create an area on your patio for socializing or alfresco dining, think about the flow through and into the house,' she says. 

'You don't want to be stepping over people or furniture to gain access to the kitchen! If you are shopping for furniture, layout boxes or mats to the size and shape of the furniture to get an idea of scale and setting before you buy.' Even the best patio furniture will not look good if you haven't thought through the layout. 

5. Using indoor cushions on outdoor furniture 

An outdoor balcony area with garden furniture and assortment of outdoor cushions

(Image credit: Article)

This patio decorating mistake is similar to the first one. Even if you do invest in expensive furnishings from a great brand, if they're indoor-only – you're in trouble. Jamie Penney, who runs and operates thebackyardpros.com (opens in new tab), has plenty of experience designing patios and outdoor living spaces for clients. 

One of the most common patio mistakes she's seen is 'using indoor cushions on
outdoor furniture. This is a no-no. These cushions accumulate water and get
moldy quickly. Always use outdoor rated cushions for outdoor furniture.'

You don't have to use the ones your furniture came with, but you do need to always check that your cushions can withstand the elements. It helps to be sure that you can clean your outdoor cushions properly, too.  FYI, most pillow liners can be popped into the washing machine on your usual laundry setting.

Likewise don't go using your very expensive vintage area mat outside. There are plenty of good outdoor rugs out there including beautiful options from Ruggable (available to buy on Amazon) (opens in new tab).

6. Not watching what your dog does in your backyard

Golden retriever sat on a bench on a patio outdoors

(Image credit: Image Source / Getty)

It's completely understandable to want to enjoy your backyard with your pooch. However, not training them to pee only in a designated area (away from your expertly-designed patio) can have dire consequences. Depending on what your pavers are made from, dog urine can leave marks that are hard to remove even with the best patio cleaner and/or pressure washer.

Penney also urges pet owners to prevent their dogs from 'urinating on your wooden deck. This causes severe discoloration on the deck requiring power washing and sanding. It also can damage the wood, causing rot.' If you can afford to, introduce a  deck railing idea to fence off the space from your furry friend. It's not guaranteed to keep them away, but it is a physical barrier to deter your dog from doing its business nearby.

Alternatively, grabbing some Amazon Basics puppy pads (opens in new tab) can help to direct your doggo to the toilet (relieving you from cleaning the deck frequently). And of course, good behavior needs to be rewarded, so pop some dog treats (opens in new tab) in the basket too!

Aside from the strong ammonia-heavy scent, if you like eating outside, it's incredibly unhygienic to have your outdoor dining ideas next to your dog's squat spot.

7. Growing incorrect plants for your climate zone

A tropical themed garden with plants and wooden sun loungers

(Image credit: Jean-François Monnot / EyeEm / Getty)

Penney recalls once visiting a backyard where 'all the plants were in rough condition, some were completely dead. The reason was the owner had planted plants that were NOT to be planted in this zone/climate.'

Not even the best-designed patio will look good with dead plants all around it, so 'knowing what plants you are growing in your garden will make or break its appearance. Discuss with a local garden expert before you get started.'

If you're blessed with regular warm weather, then opt for full sun plants to add color and interest around your patio. On the flip side, if you're an amateur gardener go down the container gardening route instead.

If you don't succeed with your first set of flowers, you can take the wilted foliage out of your pots and planters and replace it with something new (read: easier to look after).

8. Using too much patio furniture

a busy outdoor patio with furniture, umbrella, and pots, and decor on top of the table

(Image credit: Andreas von Einsiedel / Getty)

We get it. Patio furniture comes in handy when you have lots of family and friends around, so many people think that you need extra patio furniture to make those garden party ideas a reality. 

However, the truth is that cramming your backyard with patio furniture is likely to backfire. Lindsey Hyland, gardening expert and founder of Urban Organic Yield (opens in new tab), calls using too much patio furniture one of the worst patio decorating mistakes she's encountered: 'It's really important to remember that less is more, and you want to leave plenty of open space for people to move around comfortably.'

This is especially the case if new acquaintances aren't familiar with your backyard arrangement. A simple garden paving idea can help visitors navigate around the external area much more easily. And, a creative design can keep kids entertained for hours (not to mention keep them away from digging up the flower bed you've been working on!)

Size matters when you're searching for a patio dining set too. You want something that'll accommodate all your guests but at the same time, they shouldn't be sitting elbow-to-elbow.

9. Using busy, clashing prints

Comfortable rattan couch on a sunny patio of a calm summer house during the weekend

(Image credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz / Alamy Stock Photo)

Again, social media is a little to blame for this common patio decorating mistake. Filtered images can make even the wildest graphic prints look cool. The reality, though, is that going for very bold, clashing patterns and prints 'can be really jarring against the natural backdrop of your garden', according to Hyland. Instead, 'try sticking to solid colors or simple stripes, and avoid mixing too many different textures together.'

Remember backyard trends go in and out of fashion, so if in doubt keep it classic, especially if you're looking for ideas for a small garden as too many contrasting designs can make your external space feel teeny.

If in doubt, why not take inspiration from your interior scheme? Should budget permits you can create a seamless indoor-outdoor design with a bi-fold door idea. Failing that a sliding door setup will work in a similar way to give the adjoining areas an airy aesthetic. And, if you're weighing up the pros and cons of bi-folds or sliding doors, we can help you to whittle down your decision based on your architectural objectives.

10. Placing your BBQ next to flammable materials

BBQ Cooker on cedar patio ready to use, with greenery in the background

(Image credit: Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)

This one goes beyond a simple design mistake – get this wrong, and your whole patio could go up in flames. While a great BBQ or the best pizza oven can make a backyard party a lot of fun, you need to be sensible about where you place any equipment with open flames. 

Tansy Millard, a designer at Floorlampstyle (opens in new tab) recalls a real horror story involving a homeowner placing their BBQ directly under a patio roof: 'When her husband fired up the barbecue, the plastic netting under the roof caught light. This caused the husband and guests to attempt to extinguish the blaze. Sparks flew around, and (inevitably, some would say) sparks landed on the delicate paper lampshade that the lady of the house had dragged out of the house to light up the rather gloomy patio area. An anxious guest threw a bucket of ice over the lamp, completely ruining it. What a mess!' 

The moral of the story? 'Be sensitive about placing BBQ area ideas, pizza ovens, and firepits or the like, on or near patios. And avoid placing flammable textiles on a patio, where the wind blows and sparks fly.'

And be sensible with where you put your patio heater. While it'll keep you warm in winter, sudden rain and thunder can be dangerous to those sitting next to it, even if it's not an open-flame design. Water and electricity do not mix people.

Millie joined Real Homes in early 2021 as a homes news writer. When she isn't writing about trends, makeovers and houseplant care, she spends her free time making tweaks to her rented flat in North London. Her next project is a very basic armchair reupholstering job to help create a cosy reading nook in her living room. She loves browsing antique centres, tending to her small front garden, and is never without some fresh flowers at home.


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