Patio panache is easy with many new materials Garden: Whether stone, brick, tile or concrete, today's terraces issue an invitation to relaxation that's hard to resist.

March 23, 1997|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Few home decor ideas reflect graceful living as well as patios or terraces. Separate, yet an extension of the main house, they invite people into the outdoors to relax and unwind, to dine and entertain.

Wood decks have their own appeal and continue to be popular. They can be dressed, painted and stained to blend with traditional homes, but more often they are suited to contemporary architecture. Patios and terraces, on the other hand, suggest something old-fashioned, though they can be tailored to fit in with the most modern buildings. In fact, the profusion of materials and styles makes it possible to create a patio for everything from a formal garden to a rustic country setting.

Materials available include natural stone (flagstone, slate, bluestone), brick, loose stones, tile (not only for temperate climates -- firing at very high temperatures makes tile able to withstand freezing temperatures) and concrete. The homeowners' dilemma of which to choose usually comes down simply to a matter of personal preference and cost.

But it is this very range of materials that makes it important for you to take into account several design considerations before plunging ahead: Look at the space available and determine how much of it you want to use. Do you want a slab-like, seamless look? Do you want a pattern, such as a herringbone (which works well in brick), or something more irregular, such as uneven stones of different sizes? Would you prefer small tile shapes or huge pieces? You can go from mosaics to 3- and 4-foot squares.

Just as in planning indoor floors, consider the impact of the space. Light-colored paving materials will visually expand the area, especially shady locations. Medium hues work best for sunny places. Very dark colors will absorb the sun's rays, making the surface tough on bare feet.

For small spaces, designs should be simple, just as in interiors, so they won't overwhelm, and furnishings should be kept to a minimum. Larger areas can stand bigger-scale treatments as well as divisions of space for seating and lounging, just as you would create in a large living room.

Easy care

Most paving materials, once properly installed and sealed, require little maintenance beyond sweeping and hosing down, and they will retain their beauty for years.

Among the most exciting and economical materials today is that old standby, concrete. Standard gray, poured-concrete slabs or blocks can look dated, so some manufacturers have added sizzle with color and texture.

Bomanite Corp. (P.O. Box 599, Madera, Calif. 93639; 209-673-2411.), a design leader in the concrete paving industry, has developed a series of chemical stains that can be applied to existing concrete, then sealed to a waxed sheen or matte finish. Or pigment can be added to the basic mixture of cement, water and fine and coarse aggregates such as sand and gravel. Some additives increase slip resistance as well.

What's nice about concrete is that it can be poured into virtually any shape. Stamped-on grids can create embossed patterns that simulate a variety of stones so well that the end product could pass for real sandstone, slate, granite, limestone, flagstone, brick or even river rock, for example.

Exposed aggregate is another option available with concrete. For this "seeded" look, variegated gravel or pebbles are embedded into wet cement. An entire surface may be treated this way, or aggregate may be used as banding or for any other decorative accent.

Poured concrete costs about $2.50 per square foot; sometimes contractors charge more (50 cents to $1 a square foot) for grout lines and fancier installations (stamped, special finishes -- up to $5 a square foot). A 12-inch concrete block costs about $1; an 8-by-16-inch block costs about 89 cents.

Natural stone can be double to two-thirds the cost of poured concrete -- as much as $30 for an 18-inch square. Broken stones are sold by the pound or ton, and can range from 7 cents to 50 cents per pound. Add to the cost of the material the cost of installation -- unless you feel you can tackle the work yourself.

Inside out

For homes with rooms that open onto a patio or terrace, a nice touch is to continue the interior material outdoors. That's one reason slate is so popular. But some slates are not durable in climates with extremes of temperature. They tend to be thinner, with a flaky surface, and the flakes are prone to break. So be sure to check the strength of the material you're considering.

But the right slate can be worth the hunt. It comes in colors that include green, gray and even amethyst, sometimes in solid hues and sometimes variegated.

Flagstone and sandstone are other options that offer camel and terra-cotta coloring as well as chocolate, desert pinks, purples and creamy beiges.

Any of the natural stones can be installed with a small grout line or with cracks that allow vegetation to peek through.

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