When contemplating your backyard deck or patio design, you will consider which material to use, shape and size of the deck or patio, and best way to transition off the deck or patio (into the house, or onto the rest of the backyard). For our purposed here, let's agree that patios are made of bricks, stone or cement, while decks are made of wood or simulated wood products.
Although I've seen it done, I don't think you want to be carrying trays of drinks down several steps. One step down to the patio, and another step or two from the patio to the backyard, is acceptable. Any more than that, and you should build a deck, or build a platform under the patio, because you will then have the ability to adjust the height of the deck or patio to the conditions.
I think patios are a better choice than decks. Patios last longer, require less maintenance, and allow greater design options than decks. Concrete is the most common material used for patios. Probably because it's relatively inexpensive, and builders use it extensively (because they won't be living in the house themselves).
The drawbacks of concrete include lack of beauty, and long term maintenance costs. The only type of decking that requires more maintenance than concrete is wood. Pavers, bricks, and other stones are the flip side of that coin - pretty, and low maintenance, but initially more costly.
You've got about 1,000 decisions to make regarding the design of your patio or deck. So take your time during the planning phase and get it right. You'll know when that is - you'll feel it, and you'll be smiling a lot. But don't just go for the obvious square or rectangle because it's easy. People spend a lot of time sitting on their decks, so they should feel good about what they built.
Here's what to think about: overall size of the yard; how do you use the yard; contour of the landscape; what functions need to be accommodated on the deck or patio; will you hang out just with the family, or will you entertain often; which other backyard features will be integrated into the immediate area (i.e. awnings, hot tubs, pools, backyard kitchens, plants, seating, railings, etc.). Of course, your budget has something to do with your choices.
If the space is small, and all you intend is a grill and a place to eat, you're practically done. If you can only do the basics now, but have intentions of bigger and better add-ons in the future, plan for them now. Make the backyard patio design large enough to include the desired features when you can afford them.
I'm not telling you how to design your deck or patio, but I want to give you things to think about during your decision-making process. Then you design it - you know what you will enjoy.
If it's more than a grill and a place to eat, draw it (or have it drawn) on paper, using accurate scale of the various components to be sure they will fit.
One way to play with this is to have the deck area drawn, then cut out pieces of paper which accurately represent the various items you'll be placing in and around that area, and move them around until you achieve the layout you love.
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