Think of your patio as another living space that just happens to be located outside. You want the ambiance of the outdoors to match the décor used inside. If your living area is very formal, your patio should be as well. Keep the colors coordinated if the patio can be seen from the inside. Let your inspiration for designing the patio come from your travels.
A brick patio lends itself to a French flair when decorated with black wrought-iron bistro tables and chairs. If the patio isn't brick, consider using brick veneers to convert a plain cement planter into a brick planter. Use outdoor fabrics in toile patterns. Blue contrasts nicely with the black wrought-iron and the red brick.
Use blue and white flowers such as lobelia, petunias, larkspur, hibiscus, alliums and candytuft in pots, containers and as a border around the patio. Create a focal point with a wall mounted water feature or fountain. Place big umbrellas for shade if the patio doesn't have a roof.
Set up a small rock garden in one corner of the patio. Follow the Japanese tradition of Zen gardening with the placement of the traditional stones, sand, plants and water. The water feature may be as simple as a reflecting pond in a bowl of water or a waterfall at the back of the Zen garden.
Add containers that reflect the oriental design planted with bamboo and chrysanthemums, a flower often used in Japanese floral arrangements. Place a bonsai or two on the tables. Continue the Japanese theme with patio furniture with clean lines in neutral colors.
Grow bougainvillea on or around the patio. The plants grow in colors of shocking pink, peach and purple, evoking a tropical Hawaiian sunset. They aren't climbing plants, but they throw out long branches to secure along a trellis, roof or trained up posts. Add potted palm trees, ferns, cannas and a few fragrant flowers like angel trumpets.
An above-ground pond with a rim wide enough for seating adds the sound of water to the tropical patio. Goldfish don't grow as big as koi and won't destroy water plants like koi do. Add a few goldfish to the pond as well as a fish that likes to eat mosquito larvae.
Instead of a lounge, use a self-supported hammock outfitted with brightly colored pillows in a tropical floral design.