As an extension of your home, an outdoor space is part of your design personality, and you should treat the process of choosing patio ideas with the same creativity and care as your ideas for your home. To do this, you need great landscaping. Whether you live in a city apartment with a small patio, or a sprawling renovated farmhouse with acres of land, these patio step ideas will help inspire you to create a courtyard or garden that’s reflective of your unique design sensibility.

Patio steps ideas

When thinking about how to design a patio, do bear in mind that the space needs to be used as efficiently as possible, incorporating a degree of flexibility since it’s a multi-purpose area used for a range of activities like outdoor dining, entertaining and relaxation. ‘Think very carefully about how you will use the space and plan your patio steps accordingly,’ says designer John Wyer (opens in new tab).

1. Plant between steps 

There is something oh-so extraordinary about the juxtaposition between concrete and plant life. Patio planting ideas between steps gives this garden patio a sense of natural beauty. Designer Stefano Marinaz (opens in new tab) explains: ‘The steps are built using concrete clad with stone. To accommodate Sarcococca humilis we made a 100mm gap between the steps to allow for soil and drainage. This specific evergreen Sarcococca was chosen for the gap between the steps because it stays compact.'

2. Light up your patio steps

Patio lighting ideas are a must if you have a patio or are planning to add one to your garden. Taking your space seamlessly from day to night, illuminating the steps on a patio is perfect for extending the usability of your outdoor space. Illuminating borders, paths and steps in your garden offers practical benefits as well as aesthetic ones, creating an ambient glow after dark. Steps can be illuminated from above, below or from the side.  ‘Lighting steps is mainly about making them safe for use after dark. Our aim is to make the lighting as even as possible without too much glare,’ says Philip Milner, technical manager of Lighting For Gardens (opens in new tab). ‘For that reason we avoid putting lights in the step risers. Instead add lights into the walls; opt for a recessed designed for an uncluttered look.’

3. Use the right materials

Finding the right patio step ideas for your outdoor space is of upmost importance when designing a sloping garden, and this is where materials and hard landscaping comes into play.  ‘We like to use the junction where different hard landscaping materials butt up to one another as a design feature,’ says James Lee (opens in new tab) . ‘In small patios this attention to detail can be very important where it’s much more likely to be in constant view.’ Porcelain as a hard landscaping material has many advantages, especially for a modern scheme. ‘We’ve used it in this patio at the terrace level and also to clad the vertical faces of the steps and planters that lead from the lower level to the lawn level, where the pale color offsets the vibrant greens of the evergreen plants,’ explains James.

4. Use steps to tackle tricky topography 

Work with the natural forms and features of the land to create a gentle, meandering journey up through the garden, with sloped planted beds that weave their way to an upper level. Use pathways or sets of steps to link different levels or terraces, with the chance to experience an ever-changing perspective of the garden.  ‘To access the upper areas of this garden, we designed wide gravel and Corten steel steps which invite you to stop and pause along the route,’ says Sara Jane Rothwell, winner of the 2021 Society of Garden Designers Grand Award for this stunning sloped garden in London. ‘Corten is very strong and straightforward to install, and any joins will be hidden by the rusty patina that will build up over time. The top level of this garden is accessed via folded Corten steps to the upper lawn, a new decked area and a woodland dell outside the client’s hidden studio. It offers magnificent views over the rooftops of London.’

5. Use steps to elevate a split level garden

Having a garden set over more than one level can give so much more than a single plane.  ‘Urban gardens almost inevitably have a change in level,’ says London-based garden designer Butter Wakefield (opens in new tab) and there’s hardly a garden she designs which doesn’t include a set of steps. Different levels help to zone areas and present a wonderful opportunity to play around with materials. Steps leading to terraces create focal points and a sense of journey and discovery, according to Butter.  Planting also lends itself to split levels. Having built-in beds at different heights ensures that planting can be designed to fill every line of vision. Meanwhile, Francesca Langlea of Langlea Design (opens in new tab) explains that terracing is the optimum way to deal with a change in level. ‘With terracing, we can make usable, level spaces as opposed to impractical sloping ground. The key is to create the most spacious terraces possible while maintaining a balance between the cut and fill of the existing land.’

6. Create a garden path on a slope 

While it may not be easy to build a garden path on a slope, it is most certainly doable. No patio or courtyard is completely flat, unless a digger has been in and levelled the site, and, many patios, are on a slope which when viewed at initially can be a little daunting. To create a pathway on a slope, TV gardening presenter, landscape designer and writer, Mark Lane suggests that: ‘You should position steps at alternate ends of each terrace to create a defined route or pathway through the patio or terrace. This will add interest and tease you on to the next level.’

7. Use concrete as an alternative to stone

Lusting after a industrial patio steps ideas? Durable, easy to clean and heat-retaining, there’s a lot to love about polished concrete flooring in a modern patio. Perfect for nailing the urban trend, it works best in contemporary spaces, but can also be mixed with more traditional materials to create an interesting juxtaposition.   While the use of concrete has become commonplace, it was once seen as an inferior material in comparison to stone. But if we can forget about it as a cheap substitute we discover that it has its own intrinsic qualities, as interesting as natural materials and very much more versatile.   This material has made possible incredible structures and surfaces. It is the cement that gives concrete its dull-grey appearance, and so the secret with in-situ patio steps is invest in beautifully polished concrete. Highly durable, once sealed, it will last 100 years or more.

8. Level up with wood deck steps

Beautiful deck ideas are a godsend for split-level areas – built up into a platform or stepped downwards to cope with a sloping site. Deck steps make an attractive alternative to stones ones. You could use them to link two outdoor living spaces in a tiered plot, a stretch of decking to a lawn, or, as seen here, to connect a raised patio area to a lower level. It is also worth paying attention to materials. Here, timber lends itself to different styles of architecture and design. Your chosen deck steps can be designed in a smart, contemporary look, as easily as in a more traditional style.

How do you make patio steps safe?

While there are endless materials to choose from and exciting combinations to try, safety is paramount when designing and planning patio steps ideas.  Of course, when implementing any new landscaping idea, safety is important as well as the practicalities and aesthetics. Patio steps and stairs need to be comfortable and secure to use. And in some instances, they need to comply to building regulations.  Always seek professional input for complex projects, as the design specifications will need to be carefully calculated before building is undertaken. Don’t worry about having to tone down your patio steps ideas to meet these stipulations, though, as handrails, balustrades, and glass panels can all add a welcome note to the final look.