"Make sure the patio is big enough," says landscape architect Paul Maue. "Getting the scale right is the hardest thing—you always need more space than you think." Try setting up a table and chairs on the lawn first to see how much room they need. Maue's rule of thumb: Allow 25 square feet per person for a seat and room to move.
Consider a Change in Grade: A step up or down by just a few inches can make a small yard seem larger and break up the expanse of a large yard, making it more interesting.
Prepare a Proper Base: After determining the finished grade of the patio, TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook removes enough loamy material to allow for 8 to 10 inches of compacted gravel, topped with about 1 inch of stone dust. Because bluestone is variable in thickness—from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches—Roger mixes 10 parts stone dust to 1 part cement and wets it till it's the consistency of thick mud. "This helps settle the stones in and fill any gaps on the underside," he says. Once the stones are in place he'll brush more stone dust between them to lock them in place—where winters bring snow and ice, frost heaves will crack a patio that's been mortared in with concrete.