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  • Writer's pictureKatie Unicorn

Use layering to create a stunning and functional outdoor patio

Updated: Jan 23

Layering is the secret ingredient to your outdoor patio makeover. Not just to make a beautiful space – but also a functional and comfortable space. One that you will actually use.

Outdoor patio makeover in Downtown Dallas. In the foreground, tall bamboo, potted grass, lanterns, and a tan rug. In the background: gray couch with a wood frame and a wood cocktail table with tulips, a wide candle, oranges, and a glass of soda. Outlining the balcony is a brick wall with palmettos on top. Finally, the background is the Downtown Dallas skyline facing AT&T and Manor House.

Ever wonder why outdoor patios are difficult to design and decorate? You are typically starting with a cold, harsh, and industrial-feeling space. Transforming such a terrace into something cozy and welcoming can be daunting unless you understand layering.

This was the case with my clients, Dani and Sean, who had recently bought a condo in the heart of Downtown Dallas with a large terrace attached. When Dani first came to me to talk about her terrace design, I almost couldn’t believe it. A private terrace of this size in a downtown high-rise is rare!

They came to me to figure out how to transform this cold, harsh space into a Zen oasis. Dani said, “I know what furnishings I want, but I don’t know how to tie the rest of the space together.”

I asked Dani to picture her patio as an extension of her home and personal style. Because while outdoor spaces may be harsher than your home interior, the approach should be the same—to soften the space with thoughtful layering.

Keep layering in mind, and your own personal style, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful outdoor patio makeover.

Here’s how I helped Dani achieve her downtown oasis and how you can apply what I did to your own outdoor spaces.

7 ways to create a cozy patio with layers

1. Think in three dimensions

All parts of the space must be considered.

Soften the flooring: Breaking up the monotony of the largest surface in your space will have a huge impact. A bare floor is cold, harsh, and uninteresting. Switch up the flooring and start from the ground up. You can lay decking tiles, stencil the surface, and use different materials like pebbles to add variety.

For this project, we used modular IKEA decking tiles to promote drainage and to soften the overall space. A pebble border detail was added around the edge for an extra luxurious feel. (See more about the pebble border detail here.)

Use area rugs: Think of your floor as your staging area—everything starts there. Area rugs anchor your space and give a sense of place for your furnishings and all the other elements. Use durable, outdoor rugs made of natural materials like woven rattan or jute. The more texture the better!

Go vertical: Tall elements like bamboo or other tall potted plants help define the space. They can also provide you with privacy. And most importantly, they soften vertical surfaces like windows and walls that otherwise feel harsh.

Think of the overhead: Adding an umbrella, pergola, or arbor will have the benefit of protecting you from the elements, while making the patio feel more like a room.

2. Define your spaces

If you have room, create different areas within your patio to maximize functionality.

Group your furniture and use area rugs to ‘anchor’ the groupings to create cozy custom-made nooks and intentional gathering areas.

An L-shaped sofa, a hanging chair, or a café-style table and chairs are some outdoor furniture ideas you can adopt to make your patio more attractive and welcoming.

3. Texture, texture, and more texture

Texture is crucial. The more texture you can introduce into your space, the better. This technique is subtle but very powerful and used by all the pros. Do not underestimate the impact.

Texture is best achieved by paying attention to the materials you are using throughout your space. From your furnishings to your accessories – everything is an opportunity to layer texture in your outdoor patio. Get rugs for the floor (multiple!). Add throw pillows and blankets to your casual seating area. Place baskets and ottomans throughout for décor that’s functional.

💥 A top designer tip is introducing items with similar styles but that vary slightly in texture/color/pattern. This will create instant depth, which helps to transform your patio into a cozy paradise. Don’t make everything matchy matchy—variety is key!

4. Use the power of plants

Your patio makeover won't be complete without plants. They will go far to add lushness and softness.

No green thumb? No worries! Using fake plants is okay. Just make sure they are high-quality and UV rated!

💥 With fake plants, I recommend large, dramatic plants that rustle in the wind – like bamboo or grasses.

Whether you use real or fake plants, remember to have fun with it and keep it playful with different varieties! Here are some tips for layering and creating texture with plants:

  1. Mix and match for contrast and variety! Example: Grasses next to cacti, or succulents next to a flowering vine.

  2. Group the plants in pots or containers of varying heights, colors, textures, and patterns. Group containers in odd numbers. Example: One, three, or five.

  3. Use large plants and large containers to add drama and create separation between areas of use. (See how I protected these tall, fake plants from falling over.)

5. Connect the dots

Add a small detail or accent that appears throughout your patio space. Doing so creates a visual “breadcrumb trail” to guide your eyes throughout your patio.

As seen below, we wove an orange accent throughout this terrace for a bold pop of color!

A close up of the seating area where an orange blanket is thrown over the couch on the right. In the center of the couch is an orange accent pillow. And on the cocktail table, is a bowl of oranges and orange-tipped tulips. These were some of the final details to complete our outdoor patio update.

6. Accessorize

Accessories make a space come alive. So, don't skip the details! They matter as much on your patio as they do in your home—adding depth and that “lived in” feel.

Groupings are often more effective than single items strewn about on their own.


  • Group two or three lanterns next to your seating areas.

  • Add a large tray on your table to gather a few décor items.

There is no need to go overboard. A few thoughtful pieces that tie color and texture back to the overall look and feel of your design go a long way.

Add one unique element to boost that ‘WOW’ factor! It can really transform your patio into a whimsical place. You can use a sculptural piece of furniture, a statue, a fountain, a piece of art—anything that gives the space a unique focal point and makes you smile every time you walk out there!

Example: On this terrace we made Dani’s incredible Buddha statues a focal point.

7. Last but not least, don’t forget lighting

Lighting is one of the key factors in an outdoor patio makeover. In fact, lighting is arguably the most important yet most forgotten element. It helps set the mood, create ambiance, and add softness.

Ever wonder why everyone loves overhead party lights? It’s because they're magical. We are drawn to them.

Add those party lights. Work in some solar lanterns. Give yourself permission to make the most magical space you can!

Parting words for your outdoor patio makeover

There are many different design directions you can go with for your outdoor patio makeover. For now, you may have a blank slate, or maybe your space is just falling a little 'flat.'

No matter what your style preference is, if you apply these 7 layering tips to your outdoor spaces, you will transform your patio into an outdoor oasis.

Remember to:

  1. Think in three dimensions

  2. Define your spaces

  3. Texture, texture, texture!

  4. Use the power of plants

  5. Connect the dots

  6. Accessorize

  7. Don’t forget lighting

Katie Unicorn – Make room for whimsy™

Check out @katieunicornofficial on Instagram where we share DIY tips for your home and garden. You can also hire Katie Unicorn to create a small space design for your home and garden in the Dallas area.

Watch this patio transformation in:


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