Recent Stone North Asheville Stone Project

A drystone wall creates a planting terrace.

We knocked this little project out in two days. It’s a small retaining wall to create a planting bed. Stone steps- narrow at 24″ wide- lead up from a secondary driveway, to the front of the house. The wall is Hooper’s Creek. The steps are slabs of Tennessee sandstone, the gray variant, also known as Crab Orchard.

An Old Wall

A drystone wall in an Asheville Garden

We built this wall seven or eight years ago in North Asheville, for our friend and colleague, Mardi Letson of Gardens By Mardi. She is designing a new phase of gardens and construction in this yard, so I was there this past week to look at some new stone walls and pathways. I took a couple of pictures of the original work. Stonework is one of the few that get more beautiful as they age.

A weathered drystone wall

A drystone walkway with a heart-shaped stone inlaid.

Here’s a link to the walkway back when we built it.

Culvert Finished!

Last week we finished the stonework surrounding the culvert. It’s a bit more organized now than it was when we arrived. We used sandstone from Tennessee and stacked it all dry. The stonework is self-supporting. The stone does touch the culvert as it frames the sides, but the central cap is not actually resting on the plastic culvert (though I’m sure it could handle the weight!)

A drainage culvert surrounded by a drystone wall.

The homeowners asked us to improve the look of their culvert

Seating Wall

A formal cap for a seating wall

We used buff sandstone from Tennessee to create this formal cap. The wall is eighteen inches tall, ideal height for a bench. This wall is level with the deck and extends around to frame the back corner of the patio, where the yard is steepest. Above it all looms Beast Wall, a drystone retaining wall we completed last autumn. These clients have some of the most interesting things we’ve built in any residential setting: Beast Wall, the bridge, the culvert, a semi-circular staircase. It’s fun when the people and the project let us roam.

A small retaining wall with a seating cap frames this small patio below Beast Wall.

Stone Culvert

A process shot as we work to tidy up the stone work around this culvert

Our current project has no end to interesting details. Right now we are workin on this culvert. The homeowners property is split in half by a small stream. In order to access the back half, they had this culvert installed a few months ago. The crew that did the installation adorned the culvert with shot rock and left it. The homeowners asked us to tidy it up a bit. There are already several walls of Tennessee sandstone in place- including Beast Wall, built last fall- so this choice of stone seemed appropriate. It’s a really tricky place to work; we’ve laid a pallet across the stream as a platform to keep our feet dry.

The homeowners asked us to improve the look of their culvert

I’ll post finished pictures next week.

Niche Wall Rock Collection

We built this drystone retaining wall recently for an Asheville couple who have two kids, both of whom have a things for rocks. I can identify. As part of the design development, I proposed that we add a handful of niches to the walls, as a place to store a small rock collection- or anything else. The niches are about 4″ by 4″. We’ve done this before and they have been used for hot wheel cars, candles, and antique glass insulators from power lines that were wired to glow at night!

The wall itself is made of sandstone from Tennessee. A set of slab steps cuts through it allowing access to the upper yard. There’s a small patio below the wall, that I call the antechamber, as it serves as a hangout spot just below their expansive deck. Building niches is a pleasing departure from straight walling. And it was fun to find treasures to place in the niches. I am confident that this collection will be dismantled, amended, lost and replaced over time. That’s the point; I like that the wall has an interactive component.

Niche in a drystone wall, with elephant carved in slate

This niche has a small slate elephant I carved a long time ago. This guy has been looking lonely at the shop, so I’m happy he has a new home. The dolphin totem came from an old necklace. I guess this is the stone mammal niche.

Niche in a drystone wall, with banded onyx sphere

There’s another wall, not pictured, that runs near the driveway and connects up to the antechamber. This orb of banded onyx is in that wall, as a teaser of the larger collection visible above. I found this- and several other treasures, at Enter the Earth, a local rock and gem store here in Asheville.

Niche in a drystone wall, with heart of stone

Four stone hearts for the four members of the family.

Niche in a drystone wall, with fossilized coral

Petoskey stone- a fossilized coral from Lake Michigan. Great for bug eyes in mosaics!

Niche in a drystone wall, with cool fossils

More fossils. That’s a tiny sand dollar out front. I’m a big fan of the orthoceras fossils, the long tubular seashells in a black matrix. I just discovered that orthoceras means straight horn.

The last couple of pictures show the wall itself, with the niches visible. We just finished, so the land needs a minute to recover. Some ground cover and mulch and the rock collection will be complete!

A section of drystone wall, with niches for a rock collection

A sandstone wall, laid dry, with niches for a collection of cool stones

BIG Drystone Wall

We called this wall Fort Faulkner because of how much it resembled a castle battlement in shape and scale. It is a very tall, at least from the outside, where I took this picture. On the other side, it’s only eighteen inches above grade and surrounds lawn and a patio, acting as a seating wall. The lower section supports the yard and patio. To ensure proper structural integrity, the whole thing is built as a free-standing, double-sided wall. To be honest though, the lower inside sections- below the yard and patio- are ugly as heck. We knew it would be hidden so we didn’t fuss with the look of the faces. Still a few tons of work, forever hidden. The cap is mortared on to eliminate any movement when people sit or walk on it.

This tall wall is part a retaining and part a free standing seating wall

Biltmore Forest Garden Terrace Wall

We recently completed this large drystone retaining wall in Biltmore Forest, a small community if high end homes just south of Asheville. We built this project with Emily Gregory of B.B. Barns Landscape Services, a frequent collaborator. The wall is made of Hooper’s Creek, a locally quarried stone. We mixed in Pennsylvania stone as well, which makes up all of the steps and walkways, which are not really visible in these photos. There are over twenty steps leading from the lower lawn through the garden up to the house.

A stone retaining wall by Hammerhead holds up a lovely garden in Biltmore Forest, NC

This retaining wall holds a lovely garden at this home in Biltmore Forest

Thanks be to Emily for taking and sharing these pictures!

North Asheville Stone Staircase

We built this project several years ago, in collaboration with Mardi Letson of Gardens By Mardi. This was a radical transformation of a sloping, grassy front yard into a main entryway and thriving garden. The big retaining wall to the back- barely visible now behind plants- was set with an excavator. The retaining wall at the street uses the same materials, Daggett Mountain stone, but in a smaller scale. The steps are slabs of gray sandstone from Tennessee, often called Crab Orchard. The staircase is four feet across. To create the a sweeping opening and a welcoming entrance, we widened the steps at the bottom. The bottom step is six feet across- two three footers butted end to end- and the next step up is five feet across.

This project won an award!

Slabs of gray sandstone make up this set of entry steps

A short wall of Daggett Mountain stone laid dry in North Asheville

A drystone wall turns a corner and frames a set of slab steps

Before and After

Beast Wall

Another view of the staircase emerging from Beast Wall


Last fall we completed this project at a home in Asheville. The house had recently been renovated, but the landscape was incomplete. There was a steep, messy gravel driveway and a weird 18″ drop off from where you parked to where you stepped out of the car. It was treacherous. The design mandate included a new entry and safe ways of accessing the backyard. The biggest issue for the homeowners was raising and enlarging their driveway parking area. So “Beast Wall” was born.

The sloping driveway and awkward entrance that Beast Wall was designed to resolve

Early process shot of Beast Wall going up.

A process shot of Beast Wall nearing completion

We used Tennessee sandstone for all the components of the project. I wanted it for the walls in particular because I can usually find a wide range of sizes, including some massive pieces. We needed some big chunks for Beast Wall. The largest piece we found was a rejected hearth that was seven feet long, 14″ tall and twenty inches front to back. We split it into multiple pieces and used it throughout the wall, including at least one massive corner you’ll might find in the photos. With so many massive stones, we used a small excavator to set the biggest of them. It also helped us to move around the backfill. There’s several tons of scrap stone and gravel behind that wall, supporting the parking area.

Our dump truck parked on Beast Wall


This is a new favorite image! We were bringing in some soil for the yard below the wall. The dump truck is parked right to the edge. The wall did not budge. The fully loaded dump truck probably weighs three times what the owners Prius weighs!

A set of steps emerge from the face of Beast Wall.


To provide access to the backyard, we built a set of steps into the face of Beast Wall. I like this emergent style of steps; it evokes something archaic to me, like you might find in a Mayan temple. The steps act as a buttress to the wall. There will be a hand rail someday!

A semi-circular staircase

A set of stone slab steps wrap a tight corner


Access on the other side of the house required less materials, but proved to be a fairly complex build in its own right. This set of steps wraps around an existing block wall. Walls above and below the steps support the staircase and the bank.

Tennessee sandstone creates a new front walkway at a home in Asheville


By raising the driveway, we were able to elevate the front walkway, removing the treacherous drop off. The path connects to another that leads to the street.

Looking down you can see the top landing of the steps.


The parking area is covered in decorative gravel. I like the wheel stops we installed. They are made from a slab step that we split down. There are two holes in each piece with a long bit of rebar driven down into the gravel below.

An oak leaf mosaic element at the top of a set of stone steps.


I made this oak leaf mosaic for the top landing of the staircase that emerges from the face of Beast Wall. It’s a scrap of salvaged granite.