A sunken seating area is a luxury feature. We check out some inspiring designs and list the things you need to think about before installing one in your garden.

Large rectangular sunken seating in Golden Stone porcelain paved area with steps up to lawn at back of period house.
This large rectangular sunken garden seating, made comfortable with cushions, provides a sense of seclusion from the house behind, in this impressive project by Boxtree Design, built by Langdale Landscapes.

What is a sunken seating area?

How deep?

Sunken seating involves soil excavation so that, at the very least, you will be seated at ground level. Often seating is sunk deeper, so that surrounding ground creates at least a partial backrest. However, it doesn't have to be that deep because, as in the design above, descending just a couple of steps will still give a special feel.

Makes the most of your garden

A sunken area takes a considerable amount of excavation, but once it's there, the seating offers a permanent feature that helps you to make the most of the garden, especially if you add protection in the form of a pergola or similar.

Essential features

All designs share two features. One is inbuilt seating. The second is a heat source to gather around - often a fire pit. It is this feature that makes it such a welcoming spot in the evenings and and helps you to enjoy your garden in winter.

Advantages of sunken garden seating

Largely paved back garden with sunken seating area and fire bowl, children's play equipment and furniture. Built by Radial
The sunken seating area in this design by Matthew Beasley, built by Radial Landscape Construction, adds interest to a large paved area, while allowing a clean vista to the house.

Design-wise, sunken seating has plenty to offer. Large patio designs benefit, as it adds contours to a flat space. It can create a focal point, but also maintain an open feel, as you can see above, as it allows a near-uninterrupted view across the garden.

From a soft landscaping point of view, It encourages the use of garden planting and features that add interest from a lower perspective as well as the normal level. At the same time, it can offer a sheltered spot for plants that enjoy a bit of shelter from wind or need increased heat in summer.

4 steps down from long patio to sunken seating with bench seats and  stone table with fire pit.
This is part of a wide patio in Heath sawn sandstone, and injects an intimate space into what otherwise could have been just a flat expanse. Design by Earth Landscapes.

From a practical point of view, it creates an intimate space that can increase privacy and add shelter, warmed by a fire pit, encourages you to the garden in cooler weather, protected from chill breezes.

What to think about when planning sunken seating

Serious thought is required if you are to enjoy your new garden feature. It's worth taking expert construction advice before forging ahead.

Is your garden suitable?

If your garden is very shaded, it may be too damp and cold to make in-ground seating welcoming.

Where to put it?

Do you want an intimate spot attached to the patio, or a secret retreat further away? Will it be a focal point of the garden?

Geology of the area

Make sure you know what lies beneath, and seek expert advice. Excavating into rock will probably put an end to your plans on cost grounds.

What about when it rains?

Consider drainage and install if necessary. You don't want to find yourself welcoming local ducks to an intermittent paddling pool. It may also be desirable to tank the structure to make it waterproof.

What paving to choose?

You may like to continue the paving used elsewhere in your garden, to help integrate the sunken area into the overall design. Alternatively, using a completely contrasting material - perhaps composite decking - in a different colour can give the space intimacy and make it feel even more like a secluded retreat.

If you do use composite decking, and are installing a free-standing fire pit or barbecue, ensure it is not so low as to damage the planks with the heat. It can be a good idea to set a pit or BBQ over gravel as a precaution.

What do you want to face it with?

Sunken seating often uses the surrounding ground to create the backrest to lean against. There's a number of cladding options to choose from. Or would you prefer wooden bench seating with backs incorporated? Whatever you choose, coping makes a neat finish that offers somewhere to place your drink.

Round or square?

Round seating area in Buff sawn sandstone, with protective walls, looks out over countryside to horizon.
A round seating area invites visitors to enjoy the view from this patio, protected from the wind. Built by Garden Solutions, Stroud.

A lowered seating area is ideal for gardens designed for entertaining. Square and rectangular designs work well in rectilinear modern designs. Alternatively, a circular design offers an embrace that makes socialising all the easier. In the picture above, Buff sawn sandstone has been cut to shape by our Bespoke Stone service to create a comfortable sheltered viewpoint.

Firepit and sunken seating circle in wide patio by Graduate Landscapes
The bespoke curved edges of the sunken seating area are given a warm character by the strong, welcoming colour in this design by Graduate Landscapes.

A simpler approach is to dispense with bench seating in favour of a seating pit with curved coping, so that guests enjoy the heat, seated on the edge, as above.

It doesn't have to be big

Wooden bench seating in square sunken area with fire pit, faced with Vulcano Ceniza porcelain cladding.
A small intimate space that makes the most of a corner of the garden is given a sleek finish with Vulcano Cineza DesignClad wall cladding in this design by Bark Brick & Block.

Even with restricted space, where your neighbours are close by, it's worth considering a small sunken seating area. Stepping down a couple of shallow steps separates you a little more from surrounding gardens, adding a a greater sense of seclusion.

Don't forget lighting

Square sunken seating area set at angle to patio, with firepit and underseat lighting.
Florence beige porcelain is given added detailing with clay pavers in this discreet outdoor sunken seating with under-seat lighting for long sociable evenings. Design by The Manor Landscapes, Essex.

You're sure to want to enjoy your outdoor sunken seating area as days turn to twilight and beyond. Before construction, consider how you might like to to illuminate it. Will it be candles along the back edges (take care not to set people's hair on fire!), purely the dying embers of the barbecue, or would under-seat lighting add ambiance?

Enjoying your sunken garden seating in all weathers

Lowered garden seating area with benches around fire pit under pergola.
This comfortable sunken garden seating offers a cosy source of heat as well as protection from sun and rain in this design by The Landscape Design Studio which uses Golden Stone porcelain paving and coping.

Many designs are open to the weather. However, there's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy it in occasional showers. Adding a pergola to create a covered garden seating area makes this feature all the more flexible. Remember to ensure that the roof is high enough above a fire pit or barbecue not to sustain damage.

If you have any questions about installing sunken garden seating, our trained staff are happy to help. Contact us online or by phone, or visit one of our showrooms around the country.