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Modern Backyard Design: 11 Practical Tips & Best Modern Materials

By James King

October 3, 2023

Your home is your sanctuary… So it’s no surprise why you want to extend this solace to the backyard.

And if you’ve curated a modern feel for your interior design… It only follows that your backyard should follow suit.

Which brings us to why you’re searching for modern backyard design.

You want to maintain that aesthetic continuity throughout your property. Both inside, and out.

So you’re wondering…

Do modern interior design principles apply to your backyard?

modern stone outdoor kitchen

Well, that’s what we’re about to parse out.

But before we begin… You might be wondering what makes us qualified to speak on the topic of modern backyard design.

Well, we’ve worked closely with several prominent landscape designers… And over the years, we’ve designed hundreds of outdoor kitchens for modern backyards.

Now that we’ve got that settled… Let’s begin.

Quicklinks:

Backyard Modern Design Overview

If you’ve spent any amount of time researching the topic of modern design… Then you’ll know that the term itself is rather ambiguous.

We tend to confuse modern design with contemporary design. Modern is the most cutting edge in the design-world, right?

Well, not exactly.

Contemporary design fits the bill here. Contemporary backyard design really just refers to what’s trending right now.

So where does modern design fit?

It’s actually a design style dated from the 50’s and 60’s, which focuses on minimalism and clean lines. This could also be known as mid century modern backyard design.

And although this style originated around 70 years ago… It’s well-appreciated the world over, and still endures to this day.

So with that said… Let’s get into some more concrete elements of modern backyard design.

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Trendy & Low-Maintenance Modern Design Materials

In general, modern design favors the use of low-maintenance and understated materials.

This contributes to the effortless and minimalistic feel of the space… And there’s a lot to appreciate about the unpretentious atmosphere.

But aside from aesthetics alone… There’s also a lot to love about the use of low-maintenance materials.

You can rest assured that the materials you choose will last the long haul… And won’t require much upkeep on your part. (Which also saves you some cash in the future!)

Concrete

Undoubtedly, the use of concrete is a hallmark of modern design. (Especially when used outdoors.)

The varying shades of gray embedded in concrete is a natural match for the grayscale hues commonly seen in this style.

But also… Concrete gives off a distressed, industrial look. This pairs beautifully with the modern aesthetic.

And thankfully… It couldn’t be easier to introduce concrete elements into your backyard.

Concrete patios are the obvious choice, of course!

But you won’t have to stop there.

Concrete fire pit tables, coffee tables, planters, outdoor kitchens… Even benches can bring that distressed minimalism to your space.

You could turn your backyard into a true concrete jungle… But a modern, classy one!

Now, where does maintenance come into play here?

Well, there’s a reason why concrete is the material of choice for so many industrial structures.

It’s solid… And it’s not going anywhere for a long time.

So on the maintenance front, as long as the item is well-made… You won’t have to lift a finger for years. (Possibly even decades!)

Metal

outdoor bar seating at outdoor kitchen under pergola

Now, metal is a bit of an interesting one.

While it can be sought out specifically for creating a modern look… More often than not, it’s chosen in favor of materials that give off a more rustic look.

Namely, wood.

And while wood can certainly be a key aspect of a modern backyard design… If it dominates your space, you won’t achieve the feel you’re after.

Hence why metal is so useful!

It effortlessly contributes to that modern minimalism… Without taking away from your overall design.

There’s no better example of this than a metal pergola.

Wooden pergolas tend to offer a rustic, boho aesthetic… Which is the exact opposite of your intention with a modern backyard design.

Just by springing for a metal pergola instead… The entire space is transformed into a modern paradise.

Metal framed outdoor furniture, light fixtures, and minimalist wall art will also contribute to this effect.

When it comes to maintenance… This really comes down to the quality of the metal you’re using.

Marine grade aluminum will be extremely resistant to corrosion, and impervious to rust… And 304 stainless steel will be highly resistant to both rust and corrosion.

Unfortunately, many brands won’t reveal the grade of metal they’re actually using for the product.

So do your best to nail down these details. If you simply can’t get your hands on a high grade metal… Just be aware that there’s a good chance your furniture will start rusting or corroding a few years down the line.

Pavers

man laying pavers for a patio

Paver patios are a broad category.

But depending on how you utilize them… This material can become an indispensable part of your modern backyard design.

As you know, modern design favors the use of simple, predictable, and orderly patterns.

In this way… You can seriously use pavers to your advantage.

A simple pattern in a single, consistent color will enhance the modern feel of your space.

But you can take it a step further.

It’s become especially trendy to allow for space in between your pavers.

For example, the patio will consist of square pavers that are spaced out about 2” from each other on all sides.

The homeowner will then allow for either grass to grow in the crevices… Or fill it with small pebbles.

This creates the illusion of empty space, relaxing the eye… And maintaining that highly sought after modern minimalism.

And in the maintenance department… There’s nothing to complain about here!

Pavers can be made from several masonry materials. This includes concrete, natural stone, brick, or porcelain.

Once again, these are hard-wearing materials that are made to last the long haul. As long as you hire a skilled contractor to install them… Your patio will be looking pristine for years to come.

So now that you have a sense of what modern materials to use in your backyard… Let’s mosey on over to discussing some excellent ideas and suggestions.

Modern Backyard Design Ideas & Tips

The buzzwords “simple”, “clean”, and “minimalistic” are plastered all over descriptions of modern design… (Guilty as charged!)

But how do these descriptors translate to creating the best modern backyard design?

That’s what we’re about to discover.

1. Consider a Black & White Color Scheme

black and white modern outdoor design

While the concept of a black and white design might seem overdone… We’re here to argue that’s far from the truth.

It’s the ultimate exercise in contrast.

And when it’s done well… The direct juxtaposition of black and white never ceases to be interesting.

The key is to make use of different shades and textures… Which this outdoor space happens to do a beautiful job of.

The home itself is nearly-black, with pitch-black furniture peppered throughout the space.

The concrete retaining walls and paver patios serve as more of an off-white element to the backyard… With the striped umbrellas bringing home that pure white hue.

There are a variety of different patterns that bring intrigue to the space… Keeping the eye interested and wanting to explore more.

Now, if you like the idea of a black and white design but don’t want to be pigeonholed… There’s a way to add a tasteful pop of color.

As Raf Michalowski of Meble Furniture put it, “A modern backyard aesthetic often thrives on a restrained color palette. Opt for neutral tones like whites, grays, and blacks, accentuated with pops of vibrant hues like teal or mustard. These colors create a sense of sophistication and provide a versatile backdrop for integrating various design elements.”

For a sense of liveliness… We could see this space benefitting from teal or mustard colored umbrellas rather than just black and white.

But for now, let’s feast our eyes on another restrained color palette option.

2. Ponder a Grayscale Color Palette to Add Intrigue

modern concrete industrial with outdoor seating area on deck

While black and white is the classic high contrast choice for a modern backyard… Grayscale certainly deserves to be the runner-up.

This might come as a surprise.

To many, gray is a bit of a boring color. The English language even reinforces that fact!

Depending on the context… Gray can be used to refer to something as “unremarkable” or even “soulless”.

But we’d posit that when planned properly… A grayscale color palette can become anything but blase.

Take this modern backyard landscape design, for example.

It’s dominated by different shades of gray… But it doesn’t come off as unimpressive.

The restrained color palette here creates quite a bit of intrigue, actually!

This home’s medium-dark shade of gray forms the foundation of the space.

The black dining set, light gray outdoor kitchen, and mid-gray deck offer a subtle, yet enticing contrast between each other.

If you prefer your modern backyard design to have an understated feel… There’s few things better than implementing a grayscale color palette.

3. Add a Metal Pergola

metal pergola above outdoor kitchen by pool with seating

Yes, we’re circling back to the metal pergola… But after looking at this example, how could we not?

While this modern outdoor backyard design is truly stunning as-is… The metal pergola really takes things up several notches.

First of all, it adds the dimension of height.

For the most part, the elements in the backyard are all at relatively the same level.

This is fine… But you want your eyes to be drawn upward as well.

That giant palm tree certainly accomplishes this!

But the metal pergola adds a nice mid-level point that naturally draws your eye upward… Rather than the stark contrast that would exist otherwise.

modern linear outdoor kitchen with pizza oven by pool
mike pyle in front of his modern outdoor kitchen with pizza oven

In this California backyard design, the pergola also creates a pseudo-privacy barrier.

Situated at the edge of the property… It blocks some view from the potentially prying eyes of a nosy neighbor.

But if you’re already in a secluded situation… A freestanding metal pergola would also make a dazzling impression on your modern backyard design.

4. Make a Splash with a Plunge Pool 

make a splash with a plunge pool
Photo Credit: Soake Pools

Without a doubt, an in-ground pool in your backyard is the height of luxury.

And when done well, they can prove to truly level-up your modern backyard design.

But you don’t always have to spring for a full-scale, enormous swimming pool.

A plunge pool provides a more affordable (yet just as functional) alternative to a classic in-ground pool.

And this modern house backyard design more than proves it!

As Karen Larson of Soake Pools comments, “This North Shore, MA backyard incorporates a Soake plunge pool and Japanese tea house into the living space. Clean lines and tidy borders make this project feel modern and sleek. The soft gray tones of the porcelain tile work well with the natural stone coping and chaise lounge ‘pads’. Lush grass between the stone elements offers a perfect surface to walk along barefoot!”

The tight rectangular shape of the plunge pool adds consistency and interest to the space… While providing an outlet for cooling off on those searing summer days.

We can just imagine taking a quick plunge in the pool… And enjoying an impeccably-brewed cup of tea while drying off in the gazebo.

No matter which way you cut it… A well-designed plunge pool adds a powerful modern element to your backyard design.

5. Use Nature to Your Advantage

Photo Credit: Jason Keen

When it comes to creating a modern backyard design… Many homeowners fall into the trap of focusing too much on the modern elements.

Confused on this point?

If you don’t temper your modern backyard design with natural features here and there… Your space will end up looking sterile and inhospitable.

Natural elements add a much needed warmth to a modern space… Inviting you in, rather than putting you off.

And this design from Ventures Design couldn’t be a greater example.

This backyard design is firmly in the modern category… Yet well-placed planters and greenery prevent the space from appearing barren.

use nature to your advantage outdoor living space 2

As Juna Durrant describes, “Emerald green arborvitae surrounds the property providing beauty and privacy.”

The shrubbery provides a natural barrier to the backyard… And adds a warm splash of inviting color, welcoming you into the space.

The designer also opted for a smart use of potted plants, peppered throughout the backyard. And with the addition of an outdoor fireplace… This modern space is one we could see ourselves cozying up to, indeed.

“If the fireplace isn’t enough to keep you cozy, there are multiple ceiling-mounted heaters perfectly positioned to warm every seat in the house”, Durrant continues.

Count us in!

Modern Outdoor Kitchen

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6. Keep Decor to a Minimum

modern simplistic backyard design

We’ve already touched upon the importance of minimalism when curating a modern style… But let’s take a peek at what that actually can look like.

This backyard space offers plenty of amenities… But the decor is kept to an absolute minimum.

In all honesty… The outdoor kitchen itself really proves to be the decorative element here!

The square umbrella doubles as an accent piece, and a functional source of shade.

There’s also a small seating area off to the side… With the striped cushions providing the decorative touch here.

You’ll notice there aren’t any vases, decorative lights, knickknacks and the like. The lack of these small, “cluttering” elements provide the empty space needed to create a modern aesthetic.

The fewer elements you have distracting your attention… More likely than not, the more modern your space will appear.

And while this backyard wouldn’t necessarily be considered strictly modern… The focus on minimalism does allow a strong note of modern ambiance to shine through.

7. Include Natural & Tranquil Water Features

outdoor kitchen next to water feature

While this point piggybacks on tip number 5 a bit… We feel it deserves its own explanation.

Because while water features may look natural… Ultimately, they’re a man-made backyard landscaping feature.

We’re essentially attempting to recreate a natural effect by leveraging the use of a water feature.

And for a modern landscape… This can be accomplished in several ways.

Often, it’s most impressive when designed as a meandering, calm, waterfall pouring over stones.

Just like this outdoor living area!

No surprise, the crowning jewel in this space is the water feature.

modern l shape outdoor kitchen with bar seating and umbrella
modern outdoor area with outdoor kitchen and water feature

Wondering what makes it modern?

It really comes down to how the rest of the space is designed.

The paver patio provides a solidly modern touch, and with the umbrella and chairs providing a loud pop of color… These elements temper the rustic water feature, allowing it to appear more modern.

Not to mention… The tranquil sound of running water feels more modern in and of itself.

It’s a calming white noise, creating almost a sense of sonic “empty space”.

So it’s not just the visual of a waterfall that creates a modern ambiance… It’s the sound as well.

8. Spice Things Up with a Fire Pit Table

modern fire pit table on deck

While you want to design your modern space to be simple and uncluttered… There still should be some visual elements that create interest.

And what element is more mesmerizing than fire?

It’s a primal instinct… And for inexplicable reasons, we can all stare intently at a fire for hours on end.

And let’s be honest… All the best moments of a camping trip take place in the glow of the fire pit.

So why not recreate that experience in your backyard?

This outdoor living room proves it can be done… While perfectly retaining the modern aesthetic.

In fact, this is the same backyard we referenced in tip number 2!

But that’s beside the point.

Generally speaking, the key is to avoid a circular fire pit. These tend to look more rustic… And will take away from the modern aesthetic you’re after.

So a square or rectangular option will be your best bet.

And if you can get a concrete fire pit (like this example)… You’re golden.

The modern finish of concrete eliminates any rustic feel that a fire pit might provide.

In our minds, a fire pit is a shoo-in for any modern backyard design.

9. Throw in a Garden with a Modern Twist

modern succulent garden behind outdoor kitchen

If you’re set on creating a modern backyard design… You might think that it’s impossible to incorporate a garden while maintaining the modern aesthetic.

We’re here to tell you that couldn’t be further from the truth!

As long as you’re thinking creatively… A modern garden design is achievable.

And although we wouldn’t categorize many elements in this space as modern… We would certainly say the garden is!

In this case, it’s more of a garden wall.

So rather than opting for an overflowing and unwieldy garden bed… You can accomplish quite a lot by arranging potted plants on the wall.

And while these homeowners primarily selected succulents for their garden wall… You could easily substitute this with a variety of edible plants.

modern outdoor kitchen with outdoor dining table and modenr garden

Rosemary is a hardy shrub that happens to pair well with a modern aesthetic. Purple basil and chives would also be an excellent fit.

But if you want to break through the beginner-level herbs and graduate to something more substantial…

Beans, lettuce, kale, tomatoes, and peppers all grow well in larger containers. (Just make sure your wall can support the weight.)

10. Smart Use of Lighting

When you use outdoor lighting intelligently… It truly is a lightbulb moment. (Please, forgive us for the cheesy joke!)

But in all seriousness… Well-designed lighting creates a dramatic effect that significantly enhances your modern design.

All with the flick of a switch.

In this modern backyard idea… There’s no questioning the electrifying results.

And to be honest, we wouldn’t expect any less… Because it’s designed by one of SoCal’s premier landscape designers, Mike Pyle.

He uses a brilliant blend of uplighting, downlighting, and under-counter lighting… All of which enhance the modern ambiance.

mike pyles outdoor kitchen lit up in evening

Uplighting along the perimeter puts the greenery on full display… The down lighting illuminates those stunning outdoor kitchen countertops… And the under-counter lighting puts a stylish glow at the bar dining area.

All in all, this space simply wouldn’t read the same with string lights or chandeliers. These types of light fixtures are often just too fanciful for a modern aesthetic.

Point is, you generally don’t want the light fixtures themselves on display. What you care about for a modern design is how the light is cast in your modern backyard patio.

11. Kick Back with a Relaxed Lounge Area 

Why go through all the trouble of creating a modern design if you can’t relax in it?

Sure, it’ll be pretty to look at… But the point is to actually enjoy your carefully-crafted outdoor area.

And this modern space is one we’ll kick our feet up in any day of the week.

In fact, this backyard is specifically designed for socialization.

As Larson states, “The firepit is placed within a conversational distance of the pool so that one can sit on the chair at the fire and still converse with people in the pool.”

So whether you’re lounging at the backyard fire pit, or chilling at the pool… You won’t miss a single beat of the conversation.

Not to mention, there’s also a sizable outdoor dining table within earshot of both the fire pit and plunge pool.

So while the elements of this backyard are spaced out to match the modern aesthetic… They’re still close enough to foster an intimate atmosphere.

But there’s just one thing this modern small backyard design is missing…

Bonus Idea: Finish Your Backyard Makeover Off with an Outdoor Kitchen

rta outdoor kitchen in modern space near ocean

No matter how many modern landscaping ideas you thumb through… At the end of the day, your outdoor living space will need a focal point.

And we’d argue that the ideal focal point is an outdoor kitchen.

Many of our previous examples feature a grill island… But this one in particular really brings the concept home.

Dominated by concrete, this modern backyard fully leans into the industrial look.

But without the outdoor kitchen… What are your eyes actually drawn to? There’s not much, is there?

This modern concrete island truly ties the space together. But it also accomplishes far more than that.

An outdoor kitchen brings people together.

Whether it’s grilling burgers, smoking ribs, or firing a Neopolitan pizza… Your loved ones will be looking for every excuse in the book to come over.

So really… An outdoor kitchen isn’t just a way to cook food outside.

It’s an excuse to get together with the ones you love most… And create memories that will last a lifetime.

Every modern backyard design is begging for an outdoor kitchen to finish it all off.

So why not get started by creating your DIY outdoor kitchen design right now?

You’ll be glad you did.

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