Biltmore Forest Stonework

Emily Gregory from B.B. Barns Landscaping Services took these photos of a project we worked on together about this time last year. This was the project we were on when the pandemic and shutdown hit. We ended up leaving the project for three weeks before resuming. The walls are drystone, of Hooper’s Creek. The steps are made of Pennsylvania stone. The steps are mortared. It is in the Town of Biltmore Forest, just south of Asheville, a tony little community.

Drystone wall with steps in the Town of Biltmore Forest

Drystone wall in the Town of Biltmore Forest

Stone Steps and Backyard Trail

Pennsylvania paving and step treads, Tennessee fieldstone risers and walls. Photo by Jonathan Frederick.

We just completed this project in a quiet North Asheville neighborhood. It will be a total backyard transformation once the good people at BB Barns get done. This was another collaboration with our friend Emily Gregory.

The timber/river rock/concrete steps that led to the street before we removed them. Too tall, sloping, and lumpy.

We started by taking out a set of timber/river rock/concrete steps. They were too tall, awkward to walk, and kinda ugly, but man oh man were they solidly built. I do respect over-engineering though it made for a long day pulling them all out. While not taken from the exact same spot, the photo below shows the steps we built to replace those in the picture above.

The new steps include landings to make the walking rhythm work to provide moments of rest along the steep slope.

The original step ran directly down the slope from street to a gate that opens into even more steps and the back entrance to the home. (Some time later this summer we’ll be replacing the lower steps that lead to the house.) The new design called for a different traffic flow. Instead of straight down, the steps turn onto a landing that runs parallel to the slope. A mulch trail run across the yard and back again to connect back to the gate. The trail offers several benefits: it opens the whole yard to gardens and specimen plants, its gentle slope is easy to walk, and it give the homeowners access to so much more of their yard.

A natural surface trail leads to the steps and landing in a North Asheville yard.

We used Pennsylvania stone for the pathway for the walking surfaces: step treads and flagstone landings. We used Tennessee fieldstone for the walls and step risers. Small Tennessee boulders anchor the corners of the walls. There is a big chunk of Tennessee stone in the switch back, or climbing turn, where the trail turns back on itself, connecting the upper landing to the steps by the gate.

Note the greenman/sedum planter at the wall base.


You’ll notice a large gravel landing above the big wall. That’s for a swing. It is set at such a as height that the homeowners can sit and look at the amazing view over their roofline. There are two little rock knobs sitting up in the gravel. Those mark the place where the posts for the swing will go. There are concrete tube forms under them, ready for the post footings.

Stone Steps

We built these two sets of steps at home just outside of downtown Weaverville. They replace wooden steps they were breaking down. This is a particularly tricky way to build a wide set of steps. To ensure that the seams between the stones are clean and consistent and suitably narrow, you have to square off the ends. That can get fussy. These pieces were anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds, thick ones maybe more. ‘Test-fits’ require a lot of work and more than one person. I think the driveway stack is the largest set of wide slabs we’ve ever done. I think it’s likely to stay that way too!

Slabs of Tennessee sandstone comprise this stack of steps.

Slabs of Tennessee sandstone comprise this stack of steps.

Slab Steps

Our current project has been a slow roll because of the weather. We are replacing some old wooden steps in Weaverville. We started a week ago removing the old staircases; there’s also a set on the front of the house. It took us a week to get back there because of the snow cover and low temps. The next Friday we got these two in place and one ten foot wide step laid out front. More snow coming this weekend, so we’ll see when we get back there! Hopefully soon…

Eight feet across, these slab steps are a sturdy replacement for failing wooden steps.

Pennsylvania Steps

We did this project back around Thanksgiving. We used Pennsylvania stone for the step treads and walking surfaces. The wall stone was salvaged from a section we demolished to make way for the new staircase. It’s local stone and we tried to match the joint style of the existing wall (to the left in the image.) We can’t really match the patina of age, but time will do that for us.

A mortared wall supports the bottom of this Pennsylvania staircase

The stoop was challenging. There was a decent slab of concrete under there that we preserved, though we narrowed it down. It was well-tied to the foundation of the house, meaning our steps are cohesive with the house; they can’t settle away from the house. To get our steps to lay out properly, we had to use some thin veneer stone on the face of the slab. I hate that stuff, but will use it when it’s the best solution for a problem like this. This was the best case scenario here because we got to keep the existing slab (saves time & money & remains tied to the foundation) and made the steps look structurally similar to the work we had done at the driveway.

A basic cut stone design fills out the top of the landing. A nice detail that Fred worked up.

A mortared stoop leads to a drystone pathway.

North Asheville Stone Steps

Hooper’s Creek risers support Pennsylvania stone treads in this North Asheville staircase.

I recently visited an older project, I think from very early 2019. I recall it was crazy cold. The client let us hide out and warm up in their garage. He often made us tea. The project is located in an out-of-the-way corner of North Asheville, off Beaverdam Road, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. We built a drystone wall, mortared steps and a dry laid pathway. The wall and step risers are Hooper’s Creek stone. The step treads and pathway were made of Pennsylvania stone, the full range variant.

I used my real camera for this images, but I think I had it on some weird preset, because everything’s a bit fuzzy. Sorry!

I have posted about this project before.

A dry laid path of Pennsylvania full range flagstone

While I was there, the neighborhood bears came through. Momma led the way. This cub sat lazily in the a street, and then flopped over onto his back. He was then tackled by his sibling and they wrestled in the middle of the road. Momma ignored them and kept on walking.

Momma and a cub, who laid down on his back in the middle of the road, only to be tackled by a sibling.

Stone Staircases

Here’s a few stone staircases we’ve done. This one was earlier this summer, in the garden of a friend of ours in Weaverville.

A stone staircase in Weaverville

This set of rugged steps leads down alongside a home in Black Mountain. We did this a couple of years ago. This is more of a rustic, trail feel than we usually do, but it was appropriate for this site. It connects to a trail that quickly disappears into the woods.

Big, burly slabs of sandstone make this rugged set of steps

These two steps lead up the main entrance of a home in Leicester. It was a very bright batch of sandstone!

A short stack of formal stone steps lead to the front door of this home

Biltmore Forest Walls and Steps

Some more pictures from our friend Emily at BB Barns. They just finished this big project we worked on together in Biltmore Forest. It was our biggest collaboration to date! The picture at the bottom gives a hint as to what was there before. Not pictured- a dysfunctional water feature and walkway with treacherously large spaces between the stones.

A drystone wall by Hammerhead Stoneworks in Biltmore Forest, a collaboration with BB Barns.

A drystone wall by Hammerhead Stoneworks in Biltmore Forest, a collaboration with BB Barns.

The Biltmore Forest project before we started.

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

Stone Steps

We were recently back in Leicester for a small project and got to visit a couple of older projects we had done. :ast year we built this staircase out of slabs of sandstone. I honestly don’t remember that lovely view from the top. My strongest memory from this project was having to do a lot of grinder work to get the steps to the right thickness so they would be the same height and walk properly.

A very straight shot to an incredible view

Slab steps that lead to the street, and a magnificent view

Top landing of a set of steps we built, Tennessee sandstone