Patio cover ideas – 15 ways to keep your outdoor space sheltered

Make the most of your outdoor space with clever patio cover ideas that will extend its use all season long. Whether you have a small patio, a compact deck or a large, spacious terrace, by providing the area with some extra shelter you can make your garden or outdoor space fully usable come rain or shine.

Patio cover ideas can range from the simple to the more elaborate. An extra-large parasol or pop-up canopy will provide shade in a small garden space – and can be tucked away in a shed when not being used. Or consider a fixed structure, such as a pergola or awning if you want more permanent protection from the elements.

Patio cover ideas

The last couple of summers has seen us spend more time in our outdoor spaces than ever before, improving and investing in our patio ideas and gardens, so that they’ve become an extension of our homes. Adding extra shade coverage against the sun (or shelter from the rain) helps maximise the time we spend in our gardens, so they can be in use for longer than just the summer season.

‘Government guidelines advise that the safest outdoor shelters have at least 50% of their walls open,’ says Ginevra Benedetti, Ideal Home’s Deputy Editor, ‘so if in doubt, use this as a guide to ensure a well-ventilated, yet safe from the elements, outdoor shelter.’

1. Create a compact covered seating area

black painted pergola with bench and yellow cushions and throw

Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson

Make your outdoor space more usable by installing a wooden pergola to provide coverage for a patio seating area. A timber structure will provide shade from the sun and shelter from wind and with climbing plants trained to grow over it, the extra greenery will provide additional coverage as time goes on.

Add wow by painting a timber pergola dark grey or black. Dark colours will stand out against greenery and foliage and will make a seating area more of a focal point. Treating wood will also help to protect it against the elements for a longer-lasting finish.

2. Supersize a pergola to cover a large patio

wooden pergola with dining table and chairs and deck chair

Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole

To provide garden shade and shelter over a larger area, consider extending the size of a pergola so that it gives coverage over the entire patio area. A simple wooden pergola combined with lush greenery helps to enclose the space and create extra privacy if a garden is overlooked.

Using an overhead structure can also be a clever device that helps to break down a large outdoor space into smaller, more intimate zones – say for cooking, dining and relaxing. Suspending outdoor lighting and hanging greenery from the overhead timbers creates a natural divide that breaks the space up visually.

3. Keep it compact with a simple outdoor parasol

white parasol with table and chairs

Image credit: Future PLC/Nick Pope

For a simple, fuss-free way of providing patio shade ideas, opt for an easy-up garden parasol. Choose a design that will complement the size and shape of your garden table – square or circular – making sure that it is large enough to provide shade for everyone seated.

Pole height should be tall enough so that people won’t have to stoop to sit under it, while a cantilevered design with a side pole won’t obstruct the view across the table and can be used independently of the table, although it will require a heavier base to keep it steady.

4. Train greenery to provide extra coverage

wooden pergola with climbing plant

Image credit: Future PLC/Marianne Majerus

Give a patio pergola extra coverage by training climbing plants to grow over it. Opt for fast-growing climbers that will establish themselves quickly and provide coverage in as little as two years.

A rambling rose, is the ideal choice for growing over a pergola. It will usually flowers once a year to provide a blanket of coverage,  bursting with colour and sweet fragrance. Alternatively for a no-fuss plant which does not require pruning, Virginia Creeper is ideal. This flowering vine grows quickly, and provides a brilliant splash of colour. Wisteria is another winning choice for a pergola.

5. Be clever with your planting choices

patio with palm tree and black and white garden chair

Image credit: Future PLC/Alasdair McIntosh

If you’re planting up a patio area from scratch, it’s always worth factoring in a few shady areas with taller plants and trees strategically dotted around the space to provide shade from the sun at different times of the day.

Adding shade to an existing patio is easy to do using large potted plants or small patio trees that can be positioned to provide shade in areas where it’s lacking. Wheeled planters are a great option on paved patios, allowing plants to be moved around when they are in and out of flower, or shifted to provide extra shade in sunny spots.

6. Extend outdoor shelter with an awning

red retractable patio cover

Image credit: Hillarys

Provide shelter where you need it most, with a retractable awning that can be installed on the side of a property to give cover for a patio or courtyard. A brilliant option for spaces where a permanent covering isn’t required, at the press of a button it can be zapped in or out, providing instant shade when the sun is at its hottest, or tucked away out of sight when shelter isn’t needed.

A retractable awning like this one is controlled via a handy remote, with added extras that include integrated electric heaters and neat lighting strips that will illuminate the patio area after dark. Clever built-in vibration sensors will automatically retract the awning in windy weather.

7. Keep it chic with a co-ordinated design

striped outdoor awning with dining table and benches

Image credit: Thomas Sanderson

For larger patios and terraces, an outdoor awning offers more substantial coverage than a standard-sized garden parasol. Choosing a design that suits the style of the property and the look of the garden is a must as it will be in use and on view for many years.

‘Awnings come in a variety of fabrics which allow you to find the colour, pattern and texture that’s right for you,’ says Lisa Slack, Head of Product at Thomas Sanderson. ‘So it’s worth thinking about what you like. Do you want a colour that matches your interior décor so your patio feels like an extension of your home? Or would you prefer something different to give your outdoor space its own identity?’

‘Awning fabrics come in a variety of plains, stripes and patterns. And you can also choose from a selection of bracket colours to ensure your awning suits your window and door frames for a cohesive look,’ adds Lisa.

8. Enjoy a clear view outside

white wooden porch with clear cover and swing seat

Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson

A covered pergola at the back of a property is the perfect spot to enjoy the outdoors while still staying undercover. Opting for clear roof panels will allow maximum light in while still providing protection from direct sunlight or heavy rainfall.

Look for panels that have built-in UV protection which will help filter out the sun’s harmful rays and prevent patio furniture from fading in harsh sunlight.

9. Create shelter in different parts of the garden

black metal pergola with shuttered roof panels

Image credit: Caribbean Blinds UK Ltd

Take advantage of a large garden to create different outdoor rooms where you can enjoy the sun, or escape from it if you’d prefer. A freestanding pergola can be installed in a spot that suits, whether that’s directly outside the house on a patio or on a paved area further along the garden.

A rotating louvred roof pergola like this one will provide shelter from the sun or rain, plus the option to open the slats fully should you want to soak up some rays. Slats are motorised for easy operation and the aluminium design means that maintenance is kept to a minimum.

10. Opt for an easy-up sail shade at the end of a garden

sail shade with corner seating and rug

Image credit: Dobbies

For a semi-permanent option that can be installed on a patio or deck at the end of a garden, consider a simple sail shade. Made from showerproof fabric, a sail shade will provide protection from the sun, shelter from wind and give an extra level of privacy if an outdoor space is overlooked.

Quick and easy to set up (and take down) sail shades are fixed in place using anchor points that are tensioned to keep it taut. They can be anchored to the side of a property, garden shed or a handily-positioned tree, or alternatively a freestanding frame or fixing poles can be used to allow a shade to be positioned away from the house if preferred.

11. Try a pop-up canopy for parties

outdoor striped canopy with deck chairs

Image credit: Cox & Cox

For a non-permanent outdoor shade that’s perfect for parties and gatherings, try an easy-up sun canopy that makes a roomier and more elegant alternative to the average garden parasol.

Easily erected on grass or soft ground, its central pole goes up much like a standard umbrella or parasol, but the fabric side panels in each corner create extra coverage so it feels more like a mini gazebo. Striped fabric and natty fringing add a jaunty, nautical touch.

12. Install a mini outdoor dining booth

round wooden garden booth with dining table and benches

Image credit: Cuckooland

If outdoor space is tight and a patio shade just outside the house isn’t an option, then go further into the garden and create a shady, secluded spot where space allows.

This ready-made compact booth seats four people (or six at a squeeze) and makes the ideal spot to sit and have a quick cuppa or a bite to eat with friends. A timber frame helps any garden structure blend in with trees and greenery. While a stainless steel roof reflects heat so it won’t get hot and stuffy inside. This booth comes complete with built-in table, benches and cushions.

13. Take advantage of a shady spot

wooden pergola with climbing plants dining table and blue door

Image credit: Benjamin Moore

Set up table and chairs in a shady area so you can escape the heat of the sun when it’s at its hottest. Encouraging trailing plants such as wisteria, honeysuckle and clematis to spread up and over a pergola will provide extra coverage. All while creating a heady fragrance that can be enjoyed both indoors and out.

Climbing plant ideas near the base of each wooden pillar, angled towards the support using small canes to help bridge the gap. To cover the canopy quickly, train the shoots straight up the posts, using vertical wires or wire mesh as supports if necessary. Tie in new shoots to the cross beams and laterals as the plant grows.

14. Add sparkle to a patio after dark

wooden pergola with dining table and festoon lights

Image credit: Lights4fun

Extend time outdoors on summer evenings by lighting up the patio with festoons and fairy lights. A timber pergola or outdoor shade makes the perfect place to drape strings of lights, creating an illuminated canopy that will make the space look magical after dark.

Use hooks to secure lights at each corner of a pergola, suspending strings diagonally in a criss-cross formation. Or alternatively, use single strings on each vertical to provide extra illumination for summer dining or evening parties outdoors.

15. Create a shady spot built for two

purple garden arbour with seat

Image credit: Dobbies

If a full-sized shelter isn’t an option, downsize and create a shaded garden seat with space for just one or two. A garden arbour makes a charming addition to a patio area or can be positioned further down the garden to create a feature focal point or nestled in amongst greenery as a garden hideaway.

What are the different types of patio covers?

There are many different types of patio covers to protect the area from the elements, ensuring it’s useable come rain or shine. Patio cover ideas can range from the simple to the more robust. An extra-large parasol or pop-up canopy will provide coverage in a small space – and can be stored away when not in use. While a fixed structure, such as a pergola or awning, provides a more permanent protection from the elements.

How can I cover my patio cheaply?

A cheap, yet effective way to cover a patio is with a parasol or simple awning – both of which are functional yet moveable.

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