residential landscape design deck with seating area

Backyard Decks and Patios in the Chicago Climate

When designing decks or a patios people often forget that what you see from the inside of your house is just as important as the view from the outside. Working with James Martin Associates brings 40+ years expertise of Landscape Architects and Landscape Designers to each and every detail of your dream landscape. Choosing a material is just one of many important factors in the design process. We make sure to pay attention to every aspect of your project, including creating rich visual elements that enhance your landscape experience when you are outside AND inside!

You want a deck or patio to be an extension of your indoor living space and the team at James Martin Associates will ensure this happens in the most beautiful way possible.

residential landscape design family dining on deck 5


Remember, living in Chicago, we only get to use our backyard space for 5-6 months in the year. However, you should be able to visually appreciate it year-round, even when it is covered with snow or ice.

Here are some important factors you should consider when working with a landscape architect or designer on developing outdoor decks and patios.

Intro to decks

Consider the adjacency to your home! Think about the entrances from your home to the deck and from the deck to your yard. Think about the circulation of where your guests will walk. How many people will you want to host on your deck? These are important factors to think about before starting on a design. If you’re a family that entertains large groups often you may want a few separate seating areas, not just one to accommodate your family.

circular wooden deck with stone fireplace and paver pathways in backyard


Natural vs. Recycled Deck

When choosing a material for your deck, think about the pros and cons of natural wood vs. recycled plastic.

Natural wood is aesthetically pleasing and looks higher in quality, but it will age faster and require repairs and replacements over its lifetime. Recycled plastic imitates the look of natural wood and is more durable in the elements. Recycled plastic will start to age and cannot be “treated” or refreshed rather must be replaced, on average a recycled deck has a longer life span.

Decks can also feature stone accents that compliment or match the stone on the exterior of your home. This gives your deck a more permanent look, like it was designed specifically for your home vs. an afterthought or add on.

backyard pool with wood deck surround


An interesting Deck surface pattern

The pattern of the boards on your deck are a feature you might not have considered. Consider the deck in the photo above, you can see how the boards that lead to the stairs are pointed out from the house towards the landscape. This pattern guides your view from the deck out towards the yard, and from the yard it points back in towards the deck and home. Other patterns may be used to match the overall shape of your deck, or to highlight other features like your furniture or a nearby water feature.

How steps guide your view

Steps from your home to your deck or patio can create a seamless transition from inside to out. They guide your view towards other elements in your landscape. They also create a perfect opportunity for illumination. Add some landscape lighting underneath your steps to illuminate the path to and from your home as well as accent some of your favorite plants that you want to enjoy during the day and in the darker evenings.

Often a smaller deck can be a transition to a patio that is at grade. If your floor grade is elevated above backyard landscape, a small deck works well as a transition space that leads down towards a larger patio.

stone stairs leading to deck


Patio vs. Deck: When is a patio the right solution?

If your first-floor grade is within a few feet of your yard grade, a deck becomes unnecessary and the patio is your best option. We also want to make sure that your patio does not feel like it is too close to the back of your home. If the wall of your home is right up against your patio, guests can feel claustrophobic. Pockets of landscaping in between your house and your patio help to alleviate this space issue. Landscaping allows people to look around freely and take in the landscape and home architecture as a complete space.

Residential landscape design patio with seating and fire feature

Necessities vs. Amenities

Every deck or patio needs a place to sit.  Whether that means patio furniture, or built-in seat walls (retaining walls), you will want to consider this during the design process. The style of furniture may even influence the overall design of your new deck or patio. For example, if you would like a long, rectangular, communal dining table as your main sitting area, you would likely rule out a circular shaped deck or patio.

Even if you aren’t immediately ready to install some of the amenities common for decks and patios, you still might want your design to accommodate them in the future. Gas fire pits, outdoor kitchen & bar areas, and outdoor lighting are all features that you may want to add in a second or third phase of your project.


Why hire a Landscape Architect or Landscape Designer?

Our experienced Landscape Architects and Designers are more than just a project designer. We will help navigate village/city codes before you start your project which could have a significant impact on what you can or cannot legally install on your property. Many communities have limits on permeable/impermeable landscape features. For example, your property must adhere to drainage codes when it comes to patios or decks that do not absorb water. Because of our extensive work with these materials, our team members know how to research the correct information for your community! We have been working in the Chicago land community for 40+ years and have strong relationships forged with local community team members which make permitting and the construction process seamless for our clients.

Residential landscape design family sitting by fire on patio 10

Let’s chat!

We have all been practicing our social distancing and staying away from public gatherings for the past few months. As Illinois begins to reopen and we can comfortably invite guests over to enjoy the summer, now is a perfect time to get started on a project that makes your home the place to be.

Whether you know exactly what kind of deck or patio you want, or are just exploring your options, we are excited to start building the landscape space of your dreams. Connect with us today by simply clicking “Contact Us” in the top right corner of this page. We can’t wait to meet with you to discuss your future project!

Request Consultation

Brian Jordison

Brian Jordison

Brian is a Senior Landscape Designer with James Martin Associates.