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If you live in a dense urban environment, you might not have a sprawling lawn or a spacious backyard. More likely, you’ll have access to a rooftop deck. And with a little legwork, you can transform this elevated outdoor patio into every bit of the oasis you desire.
“With the warm climate and longer days to appreciate outside in the wake of being cooped in the house over the previous year, right now is an ideal opportunity to refresh [a rooftop patio],” says KD Reid, an emerging New York City interior designer whose work has appeared in Architectural Digest and House Beautiful.
So if you’ve got a rooftop patio — no matter the size — don’t let that precious real estate go to waste: Check out these expert-inspired rooftop patio design tips to create the entertaining space of your dreams.
Commit to a style and color palette for your rooftop patio design
“Most patios are way too busy and cluttered,” explains Kennedy Reese, founder and lead designer of the holistic design firm Instinct Home Design. “All the different styles bombard our subconscious and are visually distracting to the eye. This can make it difficult to relax and enjoy the space you’re in.”
That’s why Reese’s number one tip for patio design is to choose a design style and color palette and commit to it. Consider these trending styles for inspiration:
- Modern tropical (bamboos and rattans, organic details, prints inspired by nature)
- Restoration Hardware-inspired (oversized scale, neutral colors, references to historic art and architecture)
- Mid century modern (clean lines, natural materials, sleek furnishings)
Reese recommends going with a light and airy color scheme. “These colors can make your space feel more expansive, your mind feel more hopeful, and your body feel more energetic,” she says.
Get the look: Tulum lounge chair, $499 at West Elm
Invest in composite decking
Home improvement expert Emily Perez, head of design and digital PR at Kitchen Infinity, recommends installing decking for flooring. “The most durable decking nowadays is the capped composite decking, which is known to require very minor maintenance,” she says. “Not only that, the composite decking is visually very appealing and enables house owners to add more landscape material to their rooftop, making it a grand but worth-it one-time investment.”
Composite decking is made of wood fibers encased in plastic. It’s ideal for a rooftop patio since it’s extremely durable and low maintenance. Expect to pay $50 per square foot, including installation.
Get the look: Grooved Composite Deck Board, $28 from Lowe’s
Establish defined zones with rugs, planters, and other features
How will you use your rooftop patio? Depending on the available square footage, maybe you have room for a dining table, a lounge grouping, and a meditative or exercise space. Whatever you choose, create defined zones for each purpose as a way to build an attractive and functional patio design.
“Start by zoning the areas between dining and lounging, using outdoor rugs to define each space,” Reid recommends. “Introduce a medley of plants to naturally create privacy from neighbors or help block any unsightly views like electrical cords.”
Here, natural teak wood and textile fabric create a comfortable yet sustainable — and thoughtfully defined — dining subsection of the space.
Adding a fire pit is another way to instantly define a zone. It becomes a focal point for warming up, gathering, and toasting marshmallows by romantic firelight. Indeed, firepits are a widely loved decor element; in our recent Top Agent Insights Report, 54% of agents ranked fire pits as the number one upgrade home buyers want to see in 2021.
Get the look: Rowan striped outdoor rug, from $129 at CB2
Style your rooftop patio with unique decor and seasonal textiles
To anchor your patio look, Reese advises choosing a centerpiece that provides additional cohesion and visual appeal. “In addition to being visually stimulating, studies show that seeing beauty in our environment boosts our serotonin levels, making us feel more content,” she says.
Yours might be a cool sculpture, a vintage find, a memento from travel, or a family heirloom. “Opt for a centerpiece that has a special connection to you, and it will help center you, boost your mood, and relieve your stress,” she says.
Adapt the details of your space seasonally: When the weather turns cooler, bring in cozy textiles like sheepskin. “Recycled plastic, resin, and stainless steel are all materials that are safe year-round to sustain the various weather extremes,” Reid says.
Get the look: Trio of Moroccan lanterns with geometric inlay, $158.43 at Etsy
Add abundant flowers for color and fragrance
Greenery — whether from natural plants or artificial turf, or a combination of both — gives a rooftop patio space a critical connection to nature, even if it’s right in the middle of an urban center.
Here are six tips for working with flowers in rooftop spaces from Costa Farms horticulturist Justin Hancock:
- Keep it simple. “One of the most — if not the most — important things about creating a beautiful space with plants is that they look lush and healthy,” Hancock says. “So don’t overdo it and bring in more plants than you can realistically care for.”
- Choose flowers that will thrive. Since rooftops are often more exposed than decks and patios, look for plant varieties with thick leaves and strong branches. Tropicals like yellow allamanda bloom profusely in the sun and don’t need constant watering.
- Look for statement pieces. “Tall, sculptural, structural, and boldly colorful plants are excellent statement pieces to draw the eye,” Hancock notes. For instance, red climbing mandevilla grows quickly, can climb a trellis or other structure to 10 feet or more, and produces a constant display of ruby-red flowers. Bonus: This tropical loves heat, is drought tolerant, and is super easy to care for.
- Save space by growing vertically. If space is limited, flaunt color through a vertical garden, which displays plants upward instead of horizontally. Achieve the look with hanging planters affixed to a wall or grid system.
- Use repetition. Repeating an element, such as a color, across your design is one of the easiest and most effective ways to give your space a cohesive look, he says. In this space, the team used snapdragons, lilies, and cosmos flowers in different containers for a pulled-together look. Not sure what to accent with? “White flowers go with everything, and practically shimmer at dusk and under moonlight when darker and more intense colors tend to fade into the shadows,” he says.
- Engage the senses. Make your rooftop haven more experiential by considering plants for reasons beyond just their good looks: Varieties such as gardenia and jasmine are excellent for adding a sweet scent with their beautiful flowers. Fuzzy foliage, like lamb’s ears and artemisia, delights the touch with their velvety leaves. And trees like quaking aspen and ornamental grasses “bring a delightfully pleasant white noise to your rooftop with even the slightest breeze,” Hancock says.
Get the look: One-quart pink geraniums, $31.70 for a pack of 4 at Home Depot
Fire up the grill and roll in a bar cart
Make your rooftop patio a hospitable, functional place to entertain guests — or just yourself — with an area dedicated to food or drink prep. Even with limited space, you can accommodate a grill or bar cart sized to your specs and in keeping with your design style.
For your bar cart, choose an outdoor-friendly material, such as rattan or treated wood. Style it with decorative objects or plants for a bespoke look that fits with your chosen motif.
Get the look: Rattan bar cart, $598 from West Elm
Create a vibe with water and fire features
Water and fire features are an excellent way to soften and elevate your urban rooftop patio.
Water features — such as fountains, waterfalls, and birdbaths — are customizable with a wide range of natural stones, glass, and trim colors for a bespoke look around the perimeter or as a centerpiece. The sound from the water helps block out unwanted traffic or neighbor noise and imparts peaceful noises that make even small rooftop spaces feel like oases.
Similarly, fire features add warmth, ambient lighting, and sensory pleasure. Design-forward heat lamps, lanterns, and tiki torches can be easy and affordable additions to a rooftop patio. Ethanol fireplaces are another excellent addition since they’re portable and easy to install. They take clean-burning bioethanol fuel that produces no soot.
For a dramatic look, style your water or fire features next to a large-scale sculpture on the rooftop patio.
Get the look: Grandeur River floor fountain, $5,230 from Soothing Company
Header Image Source: (Olesia Bilkei / Shutterstock)