Completed in the spring of 2010, the Montford Terrace has been featured in the local paper and in a home tour organized by Handmade In America. Designed by Steven Lee Johnson of Sitework Studios, it features structural stone steps and columns as well as this drystone retaining wall. The wall, columns, and step risers are made of granitic gneiss, mostly from the Hooper’s Creek Quarry. The step treads and column caps are full-color Pennsylvania bluestone, fabricated by hand in my shop. Marbles hide in dark corners and provide flashes of color and intriguing details.
The image above shows the backside of the wall and steps, demonstrating the structure. I call this the ugly side of the wall, as I built it knowing that it would never be seen. I made no real effort to make the faces pretty or detail the joinery like I did on the front, but the structure of the back of the wall is carefully laid. The wall is bombproof. I took this image just before I laid a layer of geo-textile fabric along the back of the wall and then placed the caps.
It was a cold start to the Montford Terrace project. The steps and columns are structural stone, rather than the more customary veneer over block. The granitic gneiss I used is formed in layers, like a sedimentary stone though it’s a metamorphic rock. As a result, it is susceptible to exfoliation when it’s stood up on edge, as is commonly done in a veneer. I’ve seen stones in walls that were peeling apart like pages in a book. I laid all of my stone the bedded plane, as it came out of the ground. I used junk brick, scrap granite countertops and other ‘found’ materials as the fill for the inner structure. There’s at least twelve tons of material in the steps and columns alone.
I fabricated the step treads myself. As with the Eight Leaves project I made paper, then roofing felt, templates. This time I used my seven inch grinder instead of the five inch. These radii are more gentle on these steps and the bigger blade made it easier to get through cleanly, but the downside is that the bigger grinder kicks like a mule when the blade catches.
The Finished Product