Two outdoor patio bean bags in a gravel seating area. Between the bean bags is a low table/footstool with a glass on it.

Building a gravel patio: 7 essentials for sitting comfortably

Gravel is a quick and economical way of transforming an ugly part of the garden into a space you'd want to spend time in.

Pea gravel, slate chippings, and pebbles are significantly cheaper than most other patio or decking options.

Plus a gravel patio is comparably quick and easy to install. The DIY-ers amongst us (even some of those firmly in the Don't-DIY camp) would consider building a gravel patio themselves.

However, add outdoor furniture to a newly gravelled seating area and, if you're not careful, you'll watch it sink awkwardly into the stones.

With a wonky table, chairs that are difficult to move, and expensive garden furniture soon scratched and chipped, you might wonder if a gravel patio was a good idea! 

Two bean bag chairs sit either side of a low snack table on a gravel patio. A woman sits comfortable on one of the outdoor bean bag chairs, enjoying a beautiful view.

Image: A sturdy outdoor footstool is an excellent small table for a gravel patio. Enjoy your new seating area with a glass of something lovely, without the worry of a tipped-up glass on an uneven table! (Image credit: Hoe Grange Holidays)

Is gravel good for a seating area?

Some say that a gravel patio makes a generous litter tray for the local moggies, but never a comfortable place to sit.

I say: gravel is fuss-free, low-maintenance, and a quick and achievable solution to creating a spot in the garden to relax.

However, it's crucial that you build your gravel patio with garden furniture, and comfy-sitting, at the forefront!

7 tips for a gravel patio that outdoor furniture won't sink into

1. Choose the best gravel for a seating area

There is a wealth of size and colour options for a gravel patio from pea shingle to decorative slate chippings. Much comes down to your personal preferences and outdoor aesthetic.

However, for comfortable seating, I'd advise choosing stones that are not too small but - to channel Goldilocks - not too big either.

Between 12mm and 20mm works well. Smaller stones will shift and slide under furniture, leaving garden guests feeling sea-sick every time they sit down! At the other end of the scale, larger stones are uncomfortable underfoot.

As a top tip from fabulous garden designer Pollyanna Wilkinson, make sure not to gravel right up to the doors of your home. Add a little paving before the house to act a bit like a doormat and reduce the number of stones brought inside.

The experts at Stone Warehouse also recommend avoiding rounded pebbles and opting for angular chippings instead. These bed together and lie flatter, forming a smoother surface for furniture.

Two luxury cushioned sun loungers on a gravel patio in the sunshine.

Image: a gravel seating area surrounded by fragrant planting, and furnished with cushioned sun loungers with broad bases, which won't sink into the stones, is a luxurious spot to relax in. (Image credit:  Armadillo Sun customer)

2. Lay a patio sub-base

This is not essential for a gravel patio but does add more stability for garden furniture. The recommendation is a MOT Type 1 aggregate laid to a depth of 10cm. This will promote easy drainage but compact to an even surface.

Make sure to put weed membrane fabric down on top of the sub-base and under the decorative gravel top layer - it stops them from mixing.

3. Put weed membrane under the gravel patio

If you decide not to use a patio sub-base, at the very least, put down landscape fabric. It will prevent patio furniture pushing the stones into the underlying soil - as well as reducing the time that future-you spends weeding!

4. Think carefully about the depth of gravel on your patio

The rough rule is to fill your patio area to a depth of at least twice the size of the gravel to minimise bare patches i.e. if you're using 20mm gravel fill to a depth of 40mm.

For a seating area, don't be tempted to overfill. Otherwise, you'll feel like you're shoving the chair legs through sand every time you move them. Plus the legs of your furniture will sink deeper and more unevenly.

5. Consider using a honeycomb stabilisation grid

For extra stability and a firm base for outdoor tables and chairs, use a gravel grid. This honeycomb-shaped base layer will hold the gravel in place and bind it into a firm flat surface. 

With a gravel grid stopping stones from migrating, there is less of the temptation to overfill your patio and risk the feeling of sitting on sand. You need just enough gravel to fill the pockets in the grid, plus a shallow topdressing so you don't see it.

Putting down a grid to secure the stones will make your gravel patio more accessible for wheelchair users too. 

6. Use slabs under heavy furniture

To give garden furniture a solid even base, use cheap patio slabs under the furniture and push the gravel around and over them. This works well for a table, bench, or fixed garden sofa. It's less of a convenient solution for chairs that need to move over the ground.

7. Choose the right furniture for a gravel patio

Gravel is often used for an 'off-patio' seating area - perhaps a bench in a cosy corner or a fire pit area with fixed bespoke seating.

However, if you do want a table and chairs on your gravel patio bear in mind that gravel shifts and moves under narrow table legs - even when all of the above is considered. It will also chip and damage metal or ratten, increasing the risk of rot or rust. Look for furniture that comes with plastic screw-in feet to offer some protection.

Personally, I recommend embracing the Mediterranean outdoor aesthetic with a lounging seating area, rather than a more formal dining table and chairs. Think garden bean bags and comfortable modular sofas; with weatherproof ottomans or pouffes to serve up sharing-plates on.

Two comfy-looking bean bag chairs on gravel next to a wooden gypsy caravan.

Image credit: Hoe Grange Holidays

What is the best outdoor furniture for a gravel patio?

Traditional wisdom suggests that a gravel seating area caters only for simple fixed seating options, like a bench.

However, if you'd like the option of moving your furniture around - or just want something more comfortable - look for patio furniture that delivers on the following five features to make it a perfect fit for gravel. 

  • Broad-based - narrow table and chair legs are to be avoided to prevent displacement of gravel and the resulting bare spots, uneven surfaces, and damage to the underlying landscape fabric.  Wide-bottomed chairs, like outdoor bean bags, will spread the weight of the furniture, as well as the user. Stop worrying about uneven tables spilling your wine and use weatherproof ottomans, garden pouffes, and outdoor footstools instead.
  • Lightweight - heavy furniture compresses the stones on a gravel patio into the ground making it uneven. More time and money is required to level out and top-up the gravel. Using lightweight furniture, like garden bean bags and outdoor bean bag sofas, reduces the rate at which this happens.
  • Easy to clean - in dry weather, dust from the stones of a gravel patio can accumulate on garden furniture. In wetter weather, especially without an underlying weed membrane, mud will come up from the ground and stain sofas and chairs. Patio furniture that can be jetwashed minimises maintenance time, and maximises time sat enjoying your patio! Watch how quick and easy it is to clean Armadillo Sun fabric furniture in this video:
A couple relax comfortably sat on bean bag chairs on a gravel seating area as the sun sets.

Image: Bean bag lounging chairs, sized carefully for adults, absolutely insist you relax! (Image credit: Hoe Grange Holidays)

If you need to extend your sitting space onto the lawn, read our tips on using garden furniture on grass

To create a garden great for entertaining we have advice from the experts, as well as ideas for making the most of a small garden with comfortable outdoor furniture.

Armadillo Sun are specialists in outdoor bean bag furniture. Each patio chair and garden sofa is carefully designed to blend style with durability, and offers greater versatility than traditional patio furniture.

Transform your gravel patio or seating area with UK-made luxury garden furniture that will look stunning for years, whatever the weather.