Modern backyard ideas – 12 clean and contemporary looks for your outdoor space

From feature fire pits and cool color schemes to perfect paving and pools, the experts share their top tips on achieving a fresh and functional backyard

modern backyard ideas
(Image credit: (From left to right) Mariko Reed / Design: Surfacedesign – Jacky Hobbs – Marion Brenner / Design: Surfacedesign)

Choosing a modern backyard style is proving more and more popular – and it's easy to see why. These sleek and chic spaces offer a breath of fresh air from fussier or more traditional schemes, and can suit yards of all sizes. 

For most modern backyard ideas and schemes, materials are chosen carefully and tend to be smooth, hardwearing and low maintenance. Strong lines are celebrated and layouts are clear. Planting schemes are stripped back, with often just a handful of varieties selected for their complementing color palette and architectural form. 

And of course, as with any backyard idea, the most successful designs aren't just pleasing to look at but are functional, too. Covered outdoor entertaining areas, atmospheric fire features, swimming pools, pathways and planters can all be integrated into a modern-style backyard plot. 

Above all, it's important to note that a contemporary look can still feel just as welcoming as other exterior styles. Designs often emphasize natural light and neutral tones to embody modern flair that is cozy, not cold.

12 looks to inspire a modern backyard scheme

Whether you're planning a total transformation for your outdoor space or just a stylish yet smaller update – perhaps for your pathways or planting – these modern backyard ideas will provide plenty of inspiration.

1. Tie together tranquil living zones with an all-white palette

modern backyard with white pergola

(Image credit: Brett Hilton / Design: Living Gardens)

With contemporary designs, less is generally more – and your color scheme is a great place to start. By simplifying your palette down to one or two primary tones, the space will feel focused and considered. In fact, the impact will be far greater than a muddle of contrasting hues.

This serene scene (pictured above) from Living Gardens is a wonderful example. It elegantly showcases bright white tones across large format pavers, furniture, and the central structure that shelters a dining area and outdoor kitchen space. The result feels open and airy, with each zone flowing seamlessly into one other. In terms of planting, greenery and grasses pop against the neutral backdrop.

Of course, you don't have to stick with pale hues to achieve a modern vibe. A contemporary color palette can be formed of moody, earthy, or vibrant tones just as effectively if you stick to a select few. It all depends on your personal style.

2. Soften hard paving materials with natural planting

fire feature in modern backyard by Surfacedesign

(Image credit: Marion Brenner / Design: Surfacedesign)

When exploring materials for a modern backyard, consider large format, modular hardscapes for paving and pathways. Smooth lines and neutral colors are ideal options.

To add a more naturalistic and visually interesting effect, consider leaving spaces between and around your hardscaping to intersperse low-growing greenery. Gravel or stones in the gaps can also create a pleasing contrast in textures. This approach also allows you to get creative with layouts and geometric patterns. 

'We always seek to incorporate natural materials in our hardscapes,' says Dani Alexander of Studio AKA. 'Concrete is exceptionally modern and it can be warmed up and softened with natural stone aggregates in a range of colors and textures.'

Large, matching backyard containers add the perfect finishing touch to this scene, while bringing more greenery into the mix.

Dani Alexander
Dani Alexander

Dani Alexander is the founding principal of Studio AKA, a landscape architecture and design firm based in Washington, DC. Dani has practiced in the United States and Switzerland and is currently a Fellow with the Tory Burch Foundation.

3. Build a statement wall or backdrop

modern paved backyard with feature wall and waterfall

(Image credit: Mariko Reed / Design: Surfacedesign)

Gray can bring a sense of sophisticated, urban cool to an exterior scheme, as demonstrated in this basalt-paved courtyard space designed by California-based Surfacedesign

The sculptural, freestanding garden wall is a true attention-grabber. Built from puka lava with custom cladding, it creates a show-stopping statement at eye level. Tropical planting and soothing waterfalls bring pops of color, movement, and balance.

Painting a feature wall with a bold color, adding an outdoor mirror, or planting vertically to create a botanical backdrop are other ways to bring your backyard's boundaries into a contemporary scheme. Whatever approach you go for, try to repeat the materials, colors, or planting picks around the rest of your site, to pull it all together.

4. Create a floating steps effect with sleek paving slabs

modern backyard with paving, ornamental grasses and pool

(Image credit: Marion Brenner / Design: Surfacedesign)

Every backyard needs a series of garden paths to get from A to B. And in a modern backyard, it's a great opportunity to create a style statement, using straight lines and thoughtfully selected materials.

In this design, sleek, meticulously placed stepping stone pavers lead to steps that appear to float. The straight lines and gray tones complement the exterior of the house beautifully, while smaller-cut stones set between each paver and the raw edge of the retaining wall add a tactile, organic feel.

The prairie-style xeriscape planting to the right adds a bold juxtaposition to the hardscaping, and is also well suited to this sloping plot in terms of its watering needs. The tapestry of earth tones warms up the grays with a result that's breathtakingly dramatic.

5. Consider an architectural outdoor room

modern outdoor living space with plunge pool by consilium hortus

The SunsLifestyle Garden by Consilium Hortus

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs / Design: Consilium Hortus)

An outdoor room allows you to make the most of your backyard rain or shine, and creates a secondary living hub that's perfect for entertaining loved ones. For a modern plot, a luxe, louvered pergola is ideal. That way, you can adjust it easily depending on whether you want to enjoy shade and shelter or soak up the sunshine.

I visited this design by Consilium Hortus at the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival 2022, and was blown away by the contemporary yet welcoming vibe: there is everything you could need for outdoor living in style. Inside the garden building, with its sliding glass sides, was a bespoke fireplace and bar area – a perfect space to retreat to. Outdoors, a plunge pool, ample dining zone, and sun loungers offered multiple places to relax. 

Porcelain slabs are a go-to material for many contemporary paved backyards due to their sleek appearance and easy-care nature, and they were included in this space. I also liked how the edges of the design were softened by a mix of perennials and large-scale boulders to bring a sense of the natural world in around the modern oasis.

6. Opt for a contemporary firepit design

modern garden with statement furniture fire pit and patio

(Image credit: Caitlin Atkinson / Design: GardenArt Group)

Furniture isn't just functional – when selected carefully, it can become a stylish feature in a modern scheme. This seating set is a serious talking point, for instance.

Backyard fire pits are one of my favorite ways to cozy up an outdoor space, and they are particularly well-suited to bringing movement and warmth to contemporary-style areas. There are lots of sleek and streamlined styles to choose from, but a failsafe option for that modern flair is a fire table. For a social feel, place one in the center of your seating area for everyone to gather around as the evening draws in. 

'Simple detailing with clean lines keeps the table quiet in the landscape,' says Daniel Thorp, Partner at LaGuardia Design Group. A low height will prevent it from overwhelming surrounding furnishings, he adds, while wide ledges are useful for placing cocktails or small plates.

Daniel Thorp headshot
Daniel Thorp

Daniel is a registered landscape architect in the state of New York and a partner at the LaGuardia Design Group. Over the past fifteen years, Daniel has led more than two hundred projects at LaGuardia Design ranging from large scale oceanfront residences to a million square foot park in eastern China.

7. Raise up your planting in Corten steel beds

corten steel raised beds in garden at Hampton Court Garden Festival 2022

The Lunch Break Garden by Inspired Earth Design

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs)

'Picturesque landscapes tend to allow you to meander,' says Dani Alexander. 'A modern site has clear relationships between spaces, and views tend to be axial as opposed to hidden and revealed.'

A great way to achieve this more structured layout is to use half walls and raised garden beds. This design is a good example, mapping out the space with sturdy Corten steel containers filled with color blocks of a minimal planting scheme. A central water feature acts as a focal point.

'Modern gardens that lean on consistency or repeated elements often simplify maintenance for their homeowners, because they only need to learn how to take care of a few species of plants or have hardscape materials that are all maintained in the same way,' she adds.

8. Make a statement with tropical planting and simple symmetry

paved backyard with pool, fire features, and tree by Gardenart Group

(Image credit: Chris Jacobson / GardenArt Group)

Here is another example of beauty in simplicity. I love the clean lines and smooth finishes in this design, and how they provide a sophisticated backdrop for a handful of statement features: the tree, two symmetrical fire pits, and a cascading waterfall.

Rather than frothy flowers more suited to a romantic scheme, a variety of foliage plants has been used, neatly arranged in a row. They add a layer of texture and color to the rear wall, while creating a subtle tropical garden vibe that would be very effective in a smaller townhouse backyard too. 

9. Add a contemporary pool

pool and planting Miami

(Image credit: Studio Arth)

Geometric pools with clean lines and sharp angles will create a modern look in a backyard. Other popular trends right now include vanishing edges and darker interiors, both of which can elevate a simpler pool.

If you are perhaps renovating an older pool, adding LED lighting can create a dramatic update. Converting an unused spa into a sun shelf and adding water features, such as cascades or fountains, is a great way to enhance a pool's design. 

You could also opt to update the tile, coping, and swimming pool surface to create a more modern look and feel. 

10. Opt for recessed lighting or illuminate your planting

modern townhouse backyard with lighting

A modern townhouse yard, designed by Studio AKA

(Image credit: Allen Russ / Design: Studio AKA)

Outdoor lighting is a must for upping the atmosphere when night falls, and of course, it's practical too. When it comes to modern backyard ideas, recessed spotlights in pavers are a popular approach, while a set of simple, structural wall lights are a contemporary way to illuminate a path. Strip lighting beneath step rises is another option.

Consider highlighting the plants in your borders, too, as this design does. It's a great way to show off their form and create dramatic shadows on nearby fences and walls, and all you need are a few carefully positioned stake spotlights.

11. Add structural steps to join zones together

wooden decking steps with flower filled borders

(Image credit: Francisco Martinez/Alamy Stock Photo)

Forget tricky hills and wiggling paths – for a modern feel, introduce structure to your sloping plot. Here, the wide-format wooden decking steps break the space up into practical zones. 

The clean lines are softened by juxtaposing textures from the frothy planting and statuesque lupins in the bed to the left. 

12. Consider a plunge pool

modern tiered backyard with plunge pool by soake pools

This modern backyard features a plunge pool from Soake Pools

(Image credit: Murphy Foto Imagery/Soake Pools)

A plunge pool, in the bottom right of this image, is beautifully integrated it into the modern landscape.

As explained by Soake Pools' co-founder, Karen Larson: 'Installing a plunge pool partially above the ground creates a destination and a focal point that a flush install rarely offers.

'Additionally, the above-ground edges provide seating. It is also a great opportunity to add additional personality and decorative elements, as the exposed vertical surfaces can be adorned with materials that fit within the landscape.'

Karen Larson
Karen Larson

Karen co-founded Soake Pools with her husband Brian in 2014. The New England-based company manufactures plunge pools. Karen has a background in textiles and design. 


How can I create a modern backyard for a historic home?

You don't have to have a state-of-the-art home to embrace modern backyard ideas.

'We read the site’s context – its geographic location, architectural style, interior furnishings, existing trees, solar orientation – for cues on how to initially respond in our designs,' explains Dani Alexander, Founding Principal of Studio AKA. She explains that even a historic home can give hints that allow them to creatively interpret materials in a modern way.

'For example, the brick masonry of a historic townhouse can look exceedingly modern when used on end in the landscape or with more contemporary, cooler colors such as schist, maroon, or charcoal, and it coordinates well with smooth cut stone.

'Sometimes, it is the introduction of a new material that can tie a historic home to a modern landscape,' Dani continues. She explains how on a Georgian home, they worked with a high-end metal fabricator to create a curving steel and bronze staircase, pergola, and planters that balanced instead of competed with the historic facade.

What are some perfect planting choices for a modern backyard?

'When selecting plants for a modern landscape, we have a few different approaches depending on the site,' says Dani Alexander, Founding Principal of Studio AKA. 'We love a muted palette of green textures, with pops of white to highlight spaces in deep shade. The subtle variations allow for a modern sense of consistency without being dull.'

For very contemporary architecture, Dani and the team love to work with ornamental grasses. 'They lend both structure and softness to facades,' she says. 'For certain projects, a dramatic use of deep and bright colors can feel very modern if carefully selected and coordinated with other project elements.'

No matter your style of home or size of backyard, it is possible to create a modern look and feel with sleek materials, clean lines and well-considered planting. Adding a paved backyard area, combining style with practicality, is a fail-safe option. 

Holly Crossley
Contributing Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.