Selecting the Proper Pavers for Outdoor Spaces

By Kate Riley May 24, 2012

Hello everyone, it’s almost Memorial Day Weekend, and this year we will spend it at home sprucing up our outdoor sitting area in preparation for summer.  I know many of you will be doing the same thing, shopping the stores for upgrades to your yard in order to enjoy them during the longer nights and warmer days ahead. 

Today Mr. Courtney Lake of Courtney Out Loud is back as a Contributor with his story about how he chose pavers for his own backyard setting, and offering some very valuable tips on selecting the proper pavers for your outdoor space too.  Enjoy! 

“Spring is in full bloom and the heady sent of the first blooms are beckoning us to light up our grills, put on shorts and enjoy our yards. Yet for many of us, our outdoor spaces are long forgotten dumping grounds of mismatched furniture, yard supplies and kiddie pools or worse, the outdoor spaces are just vast barren patches of concrete, grass, or in my case, gravel.

When my Partner and I opted to invest in our outdoor space last year, we were completely at a loss on what to do with it. We inherited a barbell-shaped space that was half French limestone pavers surrounded by pea gravel and dirt. Functional but not very user friendly is how I would describe the old space. The major issue was the pea gravel which (1) the neighborhood cats assumed was their personal litter box, (2) didn’t allow the patio furniture to rest evenly as the legs always sank an inch and (3) wood floors and pea gravel don’t mix unless you enjoy refinishing and patching scratches every few months.

We opted to spend the majority of our budget on replacing the pea gravel and dirt with something a bit more “friendly” both underfoot and to our interior floors.  Since the builder had already started with the limestone pavers, we decided to continue with the look because it was economical since we only needed enough pavers to complete the space, the limestone is pretty durable and finally, we actually liked the neutral look of the pavers.

Courtney Lake Interiors


Before we came to this decision, I did a considerable amount of research to determine if continuing with the limestone was the best fit for us (which it was). Today I have recruited Ethan from One Project Closer to help establish some important ground rules for selecting the best pavers for your needs.

1)  Determine How You Will Be Using Your Outdoor Space

Sounds simple enough, but it was the one thing that took the longest to determine for my own patio redesign. Outdoor spaces are quickly becoming extensions of the indoor living spaces and consumers want their patios, porches and yards to reflect their home’s internal architecture and furniture but with low maintenance products. I advise clients to think about the following when decorating their outdoor spaces:

a) How is your interior space decorated? Can we replicate a similar mood outside with weather appropriate materials?

b) Will you be using the space for entertaining or for more solitary moments?

c) How much time and budget do you want to allocate towards the maintenance of your outdoor space?

2_Topsy Design

Topsy Design

3_D and S Kuhn Inc

D&S Kuhn Inc


2)  Choose the Right Materials

You want to create a flow between the indoor and outdoor space and the best way to do that is to repeat color and materials found in your home. However, many of the surfaces you would use in your home are not amenable to outdoor use without considerable upkeep.  Ask yourself questions like whether the look of slate outweighs the convenience of stamped concrete, etc. 

One issue that I found while researching pavers was understanding in what environments could the pavers be used.  Natural stone is beautiful and hard wearing but comes with a host of unique issues. For example, sandstone tends to have large amounts of iron ore in it making it not a suitable choice for saltwater pools since it will develop rust stains.  Or in my case, as flowerbed edging since plant fertilizer reacts in a similar fashion causing rust stains.

If you are looking for maintenance free or low-maintenance alternatives to natural stone, Ethan suggests, “look for manufacturers who are utilizing surface techniques that focus the pigment and aggregate at the surface. This helps prevent oxidation. And regardless of what you choose, use a good solvent based sealer to protect the pavers. This simple step alone can protect your investment for 10+ years.”

5_Sennikeff Architects

Sennikoff Architects


DuChateau Floors

3) Get The Math Right

So I may or may not have measured correctly when doing our patio causing us to be short several tiles and extend the project by a day.  However my math mistake cost us several hundred extra dollars since we had to retain the crew for one more day to finish, which meant an unexpected cost expenditure for labor. Ethan suggests that a good rule of thumb for measuring your yard for pavers is to add 5%  for waste to your estimates.  If your patio is irregularly shaped, divide it into uniform sections to measure to help with your estimate.

8_Don Ziebell

4) Lay It Out and Lay It Down

Just like any other room, pattern is essential in creating a sense of movement and liveliness. While pattern can be incorporated into the space via pillows and cushions, why not be more adventurous and lay your pavers in an interesting herringbone or circular pattern.  You can also opt for irregular shaped pavers like flagstone, which will give you tons of visual interest.

If you are going to attempt this design element, then be sure to follow the above mathematical rule and measure accordingly.  Depending on your pattern of choice it can increase your total material allocations by as much as 20%.  If budget is constrained and you still want the “wow factor” consider creating an outdoor rug in the center of your space – it’s impactful and uses considerably less materials than doing an allover design.

11_AMS LAndscape

AMS Landscape


Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape

checkerboard pavers outdoor environments

Outdoor Environments Inc

5) Know What Lies Beneath

Regardless of what stone you choose, you need to choose the right base to support your outdoor surface.  Choosing the correct base materials not only helps with creating a uniform look, it will drastically improve the wear-and-tear on the material. “The base product should be a consistent 4” minimum or 6” in vehicular areas” says Ethan. “Use CR-6 crushed stone or RC-6 recycled concrete with a leveling course of 1” concrete sand. This combination is good for all types of pavers.” notes Ethan.  He stresses that one place DIYers tend to skimp is with the paver joints, and recommends homeowners “use a polymeric sand for joints because the binder will keep the sand in the joints and your stones in place.”

stone patio martha stewart

Martha Stewart

6) “Accessorize” with Greenery

Depending on your level of comfort, you may want to forgo a paver or two in lieu of adding areas of green space. A sea of stone can be a bit monotonous and austere.  By breaking up the vertical plane with dots of greenery, it gives the eye a place to rest and also places where you can design your own outdoor vignettes.  You can also opt to add greenery around the paver joints instead of throughout the design.  Remember to choose a plant that can take foot traffic like a moss or bent grass.

pavers with moss casa sugar

via Casa Sugar

Green between pavers fresh home

Fresh Home

As you can see, choosing what goes underfoot in your outdoor space takes many considerations, but your efforts will give you the perfect jumping off point for all your other creative endeavors.  With simple planning, research and even a little DIY, you can have create an extension of your home that you and your family can use through the warm summer months.”

courtney pic

Courtney Lake is the writer behind the blog Courtney Out Loud and runs the interior design company Courtney Lake Interiors. 

Courtney enjoys spending time with his partner, cooking, and playing with his dog Scruffy. Connect with Courtney on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you so much Courtney and Ethan for your valuable tips today!!  There is so much to consider when choosing an outdoor surface but you’re both right, taking the time to do the research, choose the best product, and invest in the proper surface installation will add both beauty and real value to your home.  Excellent advice gentlemen!

How many of you have been in this position before, having to choose the proper pavers or stone for your outdoor living space?  Any tips or advice to share?




  1. I love the look of grass growing between pavers or stones. Another consideration is sustainability. More pourus surfaces, or those that allow water to drain into the ground between the pavers tend to be better than concrete surfaces that create runoff.

    Wonderful post and pics!

  2. Not sure if that’s relevant, but we just completed a backyard project about 3 weeks ago; we didn’t use any pavers but stamped concrete instead. We have a covered patio already when the house was built. I did the researched and found a professional stamped concrete company to put in an extended patio (in a quarter-circle shape, with a bench, and a cut out for a herb planter in the ground (1 by 9 ft), and a curvy path from one end of the new pation to the other end of the existing patio. Most people in our neighborhood put in a pool and spa, but my husband is in a wheelchair and he planted a lot of big (I mean, 20 ft tall kind of big) trees in the back so I hope he can use the lawn space as well, instead of just being stuck at the covered patio, so the path idea works great for us. We added a zen-like fountain in the middle so we can see it right from our master bedroom bay window. I am never an outdoor person but have to admit that it was nicely done and I do spend more time out there now. We have a few gatherings and everyone is amazed how tasfully done it was! Wish I can show you some pictures. The pattern that we chose looks like stone/slate. And the company told us that by using stamped concrete is about 1/3 of the cost of natural stone. We got it done in 10 days and we know it’s a lot of work! The only thing is that concrete does retain a lot of heat and we live in Texas so it will become very hot to go out in July/August anyway (at least the fountain looks cool!)

  3. As a dog owner, I have always made sure to have a pea-gravel section of our yard specifically for pottying. I also was a trainer and would suggest this to my clients. Most dogs prefer to use these areas anyway — and it keeps the rest of your yard cleaner!

  4. amazing tips ! Thank you so much for the time invested in the research ! It will be so helpful next year when we’ll redo our horrendous backyard ;-)

    lots of thanks from Montreal


  5. Love all the choices except the stone/grass in the Martha Stewart picture (with the puppy). Although it looks great, it is really hard to place chairs and tables on that kind of surface, since everything seems a little uneven for sitting – beautiful to walk on though. We created a walking path with stone and grass and The Big Guy just mows it. I like the stamped concrete look. We had to use that on the front porch and chose a limestone type pattern. Perfect for the front porch and easy to keep up. Thank you Alexm for the pea gravel hint. That might help us out.

  6. All of these outdoor space look spectacular! Specifically, I think step two is the most important. Finding the right materials for the outdoor space during the planning period will be super helpful throughout the process. Also, matching the indoor to the outdoor helps the space flow well and makes guests feel welcome!

  7. I agree that the material used to build your patio would be really important to consider. It would seem smart to find a builder experienced with the right type of material that you have decided on. My sister is installing a patio in the back of her house so she’ll have to follow your advice and consider the materials she’ll use to build it.

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