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

Sacred Circle Spring Update

Sacred Circle Farms Spring Update

The homeowners sent me this photo of Sacred Circle Farms in Alexander, NC where we completed the Sacred Fire Circle in January of 2014. We also did the path leading to the front door of their home, and they planted it with phlox. The pinks and purples of the phlox in full bloom really frame the stone path and create a colorful, welcoming entrance.

Design at Evelyn Place Wins Award

Design at Evelyn Place Wins Award

The Association of Professional Landscape Designers recently awarded a gold award to a project we did in collaboration with Gardens by Mardi. The APLD International Landscape Design Awards Program honors excellence in landscape design. Projects in eight different categories are judged on the basis of difficulty, craftsmanship, attention to detail and execution.

Huge congratulations to Mardi for receiving this award! And big thanks for all the collaborative projects we’ve gotten to create and construct together.

Completed collaboration

Design Detail

Front Before and After

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.