Topography Steps and Path

Topography Steps and Path

Topography

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

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.  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- “Make me something cool.” 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 you’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 you’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 “Pisgah-ish” 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 – I’m not sure, I have a terrible sense of direction.)

Topography
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.

Topography

Topography

Topography

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crew members from left to right: Jonathan Frederick, Tony Costa, & Michael Sellars


Written by Marc Archambault

We spent about a month this summer building steps around a recently completed modern house in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Designed by architect Scott Huebner of Brickstack Architects, the house has majestic views from its steep lot. Our primary job was to provide access for the homeowners so that they can tend their gardens and landscape. Really it was more like backcountry trail construction than our typical more finessed style of work. However, the real fun was when we got to replace a very sloppily built boulder wall at the driveway.

To hear it described, the wall in question was a last-minute add-on. It certainly looked very thrown together, with large gaps, no attention paid to bonding, and lots of gravel between the stones as if using ball bearings as a substitute for mortar. It was nothing to look at, for sure. Adding insult to injury, other tradespeople had mistreated it. Someone had smeared a lot of polyurethane on a few stones, presumably cleaning their brushes. There were similar concrete stains in other locations. All in all, it was a very ugly wall.

So we took it down and rebuilt it. I would say it’s built in the style of our typical walls, but at an uncommon scale. Some of these pieces weigh over 1000 pounds and it required an excavator – a small one – to help move the material into place. The stones with the stains were either removed or turned around to hide the mess. We used hammer and chisel and- as appropriate- the big saw to sweeten the fits and to ensure good bonding. The previous wall had no attention paid to batter or a clean line to the face of the whole wall. We took care of that and the results are pleasing.

I should have done a before and after post, but the original wall so ugly I never thought to take a picture of it. If I find a picture, I will surely add it.
To me, true craft is about caring. The devil is in the details.

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crewmember Tony takes a rest on the newly completed wall.


Special thanks to Fred Lashley for operating the excavator on this project.

Stone Stoop and Patio with Heron Mosaic

Natural stone stoop and heron mosaic

A stone stoop and patio accented with a mosaic inlay of a great blue heron.

Our client in Mills River sent this photo recently of her new patio and stone stoop. Completed late last year, the area is finally getting landscaped. Decorative grasses surround the Great Blue Heron mosaic inlay I made for her. I call these pieces Garden Guardians. They are fun to build but very complex. I detail the process at this link.

All of the horizontal surfaces- patio, stoop, and step treads- are Pennsylvania stone, with a blend of the full-color and some nice blues. The patio is laid dry while the steps and stoop are mortared. The vertical surfaces are Hooper’s Creek. What’s shown is all mortared, though there is a drystone wall of the same material that holds up the patio. I like this combination of colors and materials quite a lot.

New Front Entrance for Alexander Home

New Front Entrance for Alexander Home

Hammerhead was commissioned to design and install a new front entrance for a beautiful home in Alexander, NC. The existing steps were an awkward height and did not suit the main entrance of such a large, attractive home. Haphazardly placed slabs for a walkway are more suitable in a garden area than as a main entrance, so we added a more complementary entrance.

Below are before and after shots of the front walkway and steps.

New Front Entrance

Walkway Before & After

New Steps and a Walkway

Walkway with Steps Before & After

North Asheville Entry Steps

Entry Steps in North Asheville

Under the weird assemblage of wood seen in the before photo, there were concrete entry steps that had to be removed. The homeowner indicated that they wanted the new entryway to reach all the way from the road to the steps of the house. Additionally, we had previously installed the path to the right of the steps, which wraps around the house, and we wanted the entryway to connect to it.

We exposed the bottom step and created a landing that tied the new path in to the new work. The new stone steps are six feet across. Due to the home’s location, vehicles frequently come into the yard a few inches, so we included thick cobblestones to the protect the yard. The cobblestones laid as such will be very sturdy and resistant to shifting even with regular vehicle traffic.

Entry Steps

Entry Steps Before and After

 

Pennsylvania Stone Steps & Patio

Pennsylvania Stone Steps & Patio Hammerhead Stoneworks Asheville, NC

Pennsylvania Stone Steps & Patio

We completed this set of steps as well as a patio for a home in North Asheville. Made of Pennsylvania stone, a short stack of steps leads up from the driveway to a stepping stone path. The patio is built over an old concrete slab, which isn’t always possible, but we had the clearances necessary to get our stone and setting bed in place. Leaving the slab in place instead of removing it saved the customer a considerable amount of money.

While the steps and patio were laid dry, the flagstone on the stoop was mortared in place for supplemental support.

 

Big Stone Patio

big stone patio Hammerhead Stoneworks Asheville, NC
Big Stone Patio

The patio is what we call big stone paving, and it is one of Hammerhead’s signature styles. It is made of sandstone slabs (also used here) about two inches thick and also connects to a pair of boulders found on the property.

big stone patio Hammerhead Stoneworks Asheville, NC
As a preventive measure to protect the look of the patio from grease drippings, we ensured that the grill is set in a small gravel area next to the patio.

big stone patio Hammerhead Stoneworks Asheville, NC
The shape of the patio is very free-flowing and truly complements the both the modern design and color scheme of the house.

big stone patio Hammerhead Stoneworks Asheville, NC

Sandstone Path with Landings

Sandstone Path with Landings

path with landings hammerhead stoneworks

This path was designed and installed for the entryway of a house of modern design in Alexander, North Carolina. It is 4 feet wide and is comprised of boulders found and selected around the site as well as Tennessee sandstone (also used here and here).

In addition to helping to maintain a comfortable walking rhythm, the steps and landings are spaced to run with the slope. This was essential in order to avoid excessive excavation and/or build up.

sandstone path with landings hammerhead stoneworks

The Mountain Waterfall Mosaic

The Mountain Waterfall Mosaic is located at First Baptist Church of Asheville, and it was the last part of the Memorial Garden that we completed there. The waterfall was a collaborative effort between Hammerhead and the crew at Medallion Pools led by Mark Dorsey. While Mark and crew took charge of the waterwork elements of the waterfall, Hammerhead was charged with designing and installing the stone.

Details About the Mountain Waterfall Mosaic

The waterfall is located at the end of the stream path. In fact, the bluestone that runs throughout the stream path represents the flowing water and widens as it reaches the pool. The floor of the pool is completely done in the bluestone as well. The sky in the waterfall mosaic is also bluestone, and I like the implied metaphor here. These elements were key components of the design created by Steve Wyda and Ryan Blau of Vision Design Collaborative, the landscape architects who designed the Memorial Garden.

Stream Path Leading to Waterfall

Stream Path Leading to Waterfall

The spillway is made of mountain stone, while the sun and sunset clouds are made of Tennessee sandstone. The Tennessee sandstone is used throughout the entire project at First Baptist Church of Asheville, including in the stream path, the labyrinth itself, and several of the benches. The mountains are made of a native stone that is sometimes called Emerald Gray. We were able to source it from Marion, NC, a town about an hour east of Asheville.

Mountain Waterfall Mosaic

Mountain Waterfall Mosaic

Our Thoughts About this Project

The waterfall was a very challenging build. It wasn’t one project but rather ten small projects combined, each with its own specific components. And when it was done and the water was flowing for the first time, it immediately became my favorite. The sound of the water washed away the months of stress of getting the whole garden finished.

Our completed waterfall flowing

Our completed waterfall flowing

At Hammerhead, it’s the challenges of the project that get us excited. We will take on almost any project, but we do have a couple of rules: no veneer and no water features. Of course, we broke both of these rules for the waterfall. The mosaic background – the mountains and the sunset – is a cut stone approach to veneer. It’s 4 inches thick, basically the depth of the brick, and is affixed to a block wall coated in shotcrete. I am proud to say, it doesn’t look like any lick’em-stick’em I’ve ever seen.

I try to avoid the naturalistic water features that are so commonplace now. Making mountain streams is Mother Nature’s domain, not mine. But this waterfall had just the right balance of creative freedom in the design, execution, and technical challenges to keep us all engaged and excited about the outcome. It’s my favorite project – for now…

Our completed waterfall flowing

Our completed waterfall flowing