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American homeowners love their outdoor spaces. At the end of a day’s work, or on the weekend with friends, relaxing on a gorgeous backyard patio or deck is one of life’s great rewards. So let’s do it in style.

Plan for good times. Before you turn the first shovel of dirt for a patio or deck, get out your sketch pad and use your imagination. Using graph paper, count each square as a foot in length. Measure, then sketch the area, including the house, other structures, adjoining flowerbeds and fences. Ideally, the space should be designed to flow naturally from house to landscape to your planned oasis.

If you wish to hire someone to do the work, get designs and bids from three contractors, all of whom should be referrals from friends and neighbors. Your sketch will be a good jumping off point.

Next, shop online and at landscape supply vendors for materials in keeping with the colors of your house and existing landscape. Professional designers likely will have their own vendors and a broad selection. When your project is finished, your outdoor space should seem to emerge naturally from the surrounding environs.

Patio perfection. If your choice is a patio and you plan to do it yourself, be prepared for some intense labor, which will include excavating the soil, laying a weed/grass guard fabric, and leveling. Among your masonry choices: a natural stone to match the regional terrain or manufactured paving stones that fit together in a pattern. For a sloping yard, consider a multi-level patio with one level cascading to the next with connecting steps. Add accent lighting and well-placed planters of shrubs and flowers.

All decked out. Decks offer rich woods, architectural features and less excavating. Like patios, decks on a sloping terrain provide the chance to have a flowing, tiered space. Creative lighting brings out the best features of your design. Besides wood, low-maintenance artificial materials with a wide range of colors are available.

Fire pits and outdoor kitchens. A fire pit in the midst of a patio offers a focal point with seating arranged around it. An outdoor kitchen, with grill, prep surfaces and a mini refrigerator mean your cooking can be done without missing your guests’ company. Use gas or wood as your fire source.

Sun protection. A pergola or arbor are great options to keep the sun from driving you indoors during hot sunny days. Pergolas, which have a series of beams overhead, allow for a mix of shade and sun. Newer pergolas that have beams on a motorized track can be opened and closed like a window blind.

Furniture. The final step is to furnish your outdoor space. The choices are almost endless. Metal, wicker and wood are among the options. Soften the seating with cushions made of outdoor fabric that resists sun-fading and mildew.