We recently completed a pair of small projects for a customer on Beaucatcher Mountain. They were both short walkways with steps in them. The client was familiar with our work and a fan of our cut flagstone mosaic patios and paths.Â He asked us to incorporate a design into the first project, a set of six steps that led from his driveway into a grassy yard. His design mandate was very generous- â€œMake me something cool.â€ We can do that! (See also “Stone River Step,” another of Hammerhead’s cut flagstone mosaic patios and paths.)
The inspiration for the pattern comes from topographic maps. If youâ€™re familiar with such maps, you know how endless lines loop and circle back to show the contours of the land. When the lines are close together, the land is steep. Lines that are far apart indicate flatter ground. They are beautiful to look at and each bit of land has its own profile; the maps look something like fingerprints.
Topography is important to us here in the mountains, and good bit of our work at Hammerhead is contending with steep ground. Sometimes we have to retain them with walls, other times, like this project, we install steps to help people navigate them. And even when we build a mostly flat patio, we have to deal with issues of rain water and erosion. Our job is topography.
Individual stones have topography too, though we perceive that more as texture. Sometimes youâ€™ll find a stone in the pile that you can imagine could be a complete cliff face, hundreds of feet tall.
I called this set of steps â€œPisgah-ishâ€ because the design was loosely inspired by the topographic map of the celebrated Mount Pisgah. (It may even be visible in the distance from this grassy yard â€“ Iâ€™m not sure, I have a terrible sense of direction.)
For as simple as the design is,it was very complex to execute. Probably the biggest issue was the fact that the stone we used was almost 3 inches thick. That made cutting it to such tight tolerances time consuming and delicate. A couple of the stones were cut to resemble donuts, with an opening inside them for other stones to nestle in. That was just straight up twitchy. Fred and Jonathan joined me at the shop to cut all of these pieces.
After all the stones were cut, I stacked them up, taking the flat map and making it back into a typography. It would be a hard walkway to navigate if we left it that way, but it is probably my favorite image from this project.
Labyrinth paths loop back at returns called labryses.
The places where the labyrinth path returns, turning back on itself, are called labryses. This name reflects their shape, which some see as similar to an ceremonial ax. What’s interesting about cutting them is that those shapes –which we creatively called D’s– are all the same. Each of the eleven paths has its own radius, but they all meet the labrys stones in the same way. We only needed one template to cut all of the D shapes.
This mosaic patio was created for my friend Carmen. She needed something to cover the muddy space just outside the doggy door that leads off her porch. Frankie, the puppy in the picture, is an enthusiastic digger and was tracking in altogether too much mud. I had wanted to try a sunflower design in stone and this seemed like a good opportunity.
Sunflower mosaic made of natural stone
The seeds are Mexican beach pebbles anchored in concrete. I cast that piece in an retired plastic flower pot. The rest of the stone is laid dry on a bed of crushed stone and sand. The background is Pennsylvania stone and the flower petals are sandstone from Tennessee. I might simplify the design if I were to revisit it. There’s a slight “S” curve on the petals that required more time for cutting and shaping than a straighter line might have, though if it were bigger, that curve would be easier to cut.
A river of bluestone runs through a step and landing.
This is the top step and landing that leads into a home in Fairview. The river is cut from Pennsylvania bluestone and runs through a field of Tennessee sandstone. We cut steps slabs in half lengthwise to create the edges to support the flagstone landings.
A bluestone river runs through a set of steps and landings.
Since I founded Hammerhead Stoneworks in 2009, I have been showing my stonework and materials at the Western North Carolina Home and Garden Show at the Civic Center in downtown Asheville, NC. I have shown stone benches and some art pieces. The last couple of years I have shown flagstone patios, including a koi-inspired patio design. Flagstone sections like this are much easier than stone walls to build at my shop and then bring in and install quickly.
This year’s Home Show happened a couple of weekends ago. I drew this sketch of my planned design over the winter and then went to work on it, as time allowed. The plan worked out well, the only major difference being that I had intended a metal table, but built a wooden one myself.
The special stone art piece for this show was “The Sultan”, a mosaic made of highly polished granite and marble scraps and Pennsylvania bluestone with a natural finish. It’s a relatively small piece, at about 11 inches by 17 inches, but it suggests to me the direction I want to take my work.