Clever design and new, low-maintenance materials are upping the wow factor of decks and patios. Add some fabulous furnishings and you can enjoy topnotch comfort levels too. Outdoor living is ingrained in the way Australians relax and entertain. Leisurely weekend breakfasts, Sunday barbecues and drinks with friends take on a richer flavour when they take place out on a patio or deck. Gone are the days when these spaces were tacked on as afterthoughts. Today, they're integral to architectural plans, designed to extend and reflect interior spaces. "Everyone includes an outdoor room as part of their brief to architects these days," says David Hallett, General Manager of Archicentre. "It goes without saying, like having a kitchen." The challenge is to design these spaces well. "Orientation is critical," he says. "They need to be designed to suit your local environment. Depending on where you live, it's all about keeping the sun in or keeping it out – if you live in Sydney or Perth you need summer shelter; if you live in Melbourne or Hobart you'll want to attract autumn and winter sun." Prevailing winds and views also need to be taken into consideration. "There is no one-size-fits-all solution." Written in stone When it comes to patio flooring, interior designer Brendan Wong often chooses stone, favouring it for its durability and "visual texture". For this Sydney patio (opposite), he chose Mt White sandstone cut into 30x60cm tiles and laid in a running bond pattern. To highlight the stone's golden and rust tones he mixed up the patterning. "I wanted the stone to look like an outdoor rug. This patterning gives the floor texture and movement," says Wong. The Jakob Berg teak table and chairs are from FeelGood Designs: "I wanted to be able to see through the chairs out to the garden," he says. He also refrained from staining the timber, instead allowing it to weather naturally. "It gives a sense of the furniture belonging there." A retractable Pergotenda awning by Aalta Screen Systems provides shade. Brendan Wong Design, Surry Hills, NSW; (02) 9699 3228. Natural assets A generously sized sundeck is a great way to extend living space into the garden, especially if there is a shady tree to offer protection from the summer sun. This Melbourne garden (above) is blessed with a north-facing aspect and a large willow myrtle, which landscape designer Scott Leung of Eckersley Garden Architecture has made the focal point of the design. He's softened the angularity of the decking by using fine-leafed foliage, in the form of Lomandra longifolia 'Tanika', as edging. The large exposed aggregate pavers were poured onsite and seeded with decorative pebbles. The table is made of lightweight steel with a perspex top and is teamed with white Panton chairs, chosen because they don't block the view of the garden beyond. Eckersley Garden Architecture, Richmond, Victoria; (03) 9421 5537. Decked out Many people choose to stain, varnish or oil their timber decking for a smooth and sleek look and to enhance the timber's durability. But decking finishes need regular recoating, preferably with a bristled brush to ensure a more even, longer-lasting finish. The job has just become a whole lot easier with the release of the Ezee Deck Brush by Sikkens, a quality bristle brush with an extra-long handle and angled head that allows you to brush the finishes standing up, rather than on your hands and knees. Tenaru. Need to know The sky's the limit when it comes to budgeting for an outdoor room, says David Hallett of Archicentre. He estimates a deck, consisting of a timber platform without a pergola, would cost about $300-$400/m&super2;. A deck with a pergola would cost about $500-$1000/m&super2; and a concrete slab patio with tiles or stone plus a pergola would cost about $1000-$1500/m&super2;. "For more sophisticated outdoor rooms, you're looking at about the same cost as building an indoor room, about $2000-$3000/m&super2;," he says. Underestimating the size needed for a patio or deck is a common mistake, he warns. "If you want it as a meals area, make sure it is large enough for a table and chairs and has enough room for people to get around it comfortably." A retractable awning is a good option when a permanent pergola roof is not desired. "A folding arm awning can extend the use of your outdoor living area for a greater portion of the year and offers much more year-round flexibility than a fixed shade structure," says Luxaflex Marketing Manager, Jenny Brown. She recommends the Luxaflex Sunrain Folding Arm Awning, which offers protection from both sun and rain and comes with an optional wind-protect system. Sun harvest A large concrete slab and a roofless pergola were deliberate design choices when Robynne and John Huckerby built a patio for their home in Petcheys Bay, Tasmania. "We wanted to capture and attract a maximum amount of winter sun and the concrete is a practical option for this rural location," says Robynne, who has planted wisteria, ornamental grapes and jasmine so they grow over the pergola and provide summer shade. The 9x5m space is in a north-facing position and protected from the prevailing west/south-west winds by the house. Located just off the kitchen and living room, this patio is used on a daily basis, "as an extension of the kitchen," says Robynne. An old chimney has been fitted with a Jetmaster heater to ensure that the Huckerbys can host barbecues year-round. The patio is edged with pots filled with Buxus to connect it to the surrounding lawn. Comfort zone A perfect example of how patios have reached new levels of sophistication, this outdoor room (opposite), created by interior designer Meryl Hare, maintains the luxe style of the rest of the home. Extending the width of the house and 5m deep, the space is fully covered, connected to the interior via folding doors while at the same time open to the elements. "We wanted the room to have a relationship to the furnishings inside so we treated it as an outdoor living room," says Hare. The wicker pendant light, from Papaya, is crucial. "It gives the sense that it's a room," she says. Focusing on a "restrained but warm palette", Hare used a deep taupe on the walls and chose large-format (100x60cm) travertine floor tiles from Marble & Ceramic Corp for the flooring. An outdoor gas fireplace ensures the space remains comfortable year-round.