Every year this question ultimately comes up in my landscape design studio: "How large should I make a patio for a certain number of people?" I found a handy document from Concrete Network with their suggestions, then put my own graphic spin on it below. If you also have suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.
UDPATE on 5.17.14: While discussing this on LinkedIn, John Welch of 3G Design brought up some additional important points related to this topic that I wanted to share:
The dimensions suggested...seem about right as far as accommodating tables and chairs is concerned. This is not necessarily the whole story, however. I always try to be generous and allow for a couple of extra places and I try to make sure there is clear access to and from the house (if the terrace adjoins it) unencumbered by furniture. Ideally you would be able to walk around the table too without stepping off the paved area or being crushed against a wall.
The other factor to consider is that of proportions. Tiny terraces look odd next to wide, high facades and conversely huge expanses of paving can look out of places against more modest dwellings. Clever design can only do so much to ameliorate this. So, there are aesthetic as well as practical considerations. I also like to place at least a narrow band of planting between house and terrace to soften this transition between horizontal and vertical surfaces. There may, of course, be budgetary restraints which can limit how big an area you can pave and what you use as a surface treatment.
Well said John. Thanks!
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