Drystone Wall Terraces

drystone walls make garden terraces

Terraced drystone walls create planting beds on a steep mountainside.

This spring we did a large drystone wall project on a steep mountainside. The clients were unable to drown anything because the bank was live rock- basically mountain ledges under a couple inches of sliding mulch. In most locations we had to carve away live rock to create a shelf to set the walls. We moved in a lot of soil for the gardeners too. We used Hooper’s Creek, a favorite building stone for walls of this type. The walls are laid dry, with gravel and chips behind and geo-textile fabric wrapping the whole thing.

Using the crane to move pallets of stone up to the work site

Using the crane to move pallets of stone up to the work site


One of the primary challenges of the project was the fact that the work site was behind the house, several feet above the driveway and inaccessible. We ended up using over 50 tons of material. That’s a lot to carry up a narrow set of steps. So we had Jerry and Bodie Rogers help us with their crane. They flew the pallets directly from the delivery truck to the staging area. It was fun to see the huge pallets swinging gracefully through the air.

Making the Benches with the Marble Inlay

In a recent post I mentioned a couple of benches we installed at King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffle that had marbles inlaid into the bluestone bases. Here’s a few pictures from the process.

onyx spheres

Banded onyx spheres for a stone bench


These spheres are made of banded onyx and are slightly larger than the regular glass marbles that made up the majority of the bench inlay. I used them in the corners to help secure all of the other marbles- so they wouldn’t roll away as the epoxy was setting.

glass marbles

Glass marbles


I went to the toy store and bought so many marbles. It was awesome. I decided to avoid grouping them or trying to control the color pattern. During the inlay process, my rule of thumb was generally to not put the same color/style of marble next to each other.

helpers at the shop

My boys helped me lay marbles into the bench bases


My boys came to the shop with me one day and helped me put marbles in. The marbles are set in a groove that was cut into the base stone- a large chunk of bluestone. I used a very heavy duty epoxy as the setting agent. Each marble has a couple of small cut on their backsides to ensure that the epoxy has something to bond to. The boys also helped me figure out how many marbles I needed to buy. It was a practical math problem we solved over dinner one night.

Lifting a big stone

Lifting a bench base with a cherrypicker engine hoist


My friend Wally loaned me his cherrypicker engine hoist. We used it to get the big pieces off the truck. From here we dropped them onto our cart and brought them to the installation site. We used the cherrypicker again to set them onto the mortar bed. Because the bluestone bases were precision cut and had fine corners- and because they were full of marbles- we didn’t want to risk our typical approach of flipping things around and muscling them into place. Sometimes we are capable of finesse! We used Lewis pins to lift the stones. Holes are drilled into the top of the stone and the pins slide in. When you lift it up, the pins ‘grab’ the stone and lock in place. The holes are under the slab and out of sight in the finished installation. The three small pieces on the top are spacers that give the seating slab a lift and help imply a floating feeling. They are epoxied and pinned in place. The holes you can see on the top of those pieces were for pins that slotted into the bottom of the seating slab. These will not be easily undone.

Marbles laid into stone

Marbles inlaid into stone for bench base


A look down one side of one bench during fabrication. I could only do one side at a time and I ended up redoing a lot of parts because my starting point with the epoxy was nervous hopefulness. It was a messy process and it took me a while to figure out how to make it work and look good. And since I was practicing on the finished pieces- not the smartest thing to do I admit- I had to undo a bunch of things. I expect that for the next few years I’ll be finding marbles at the shop that have been flattened top and bottom as I cut them out of these benches. But now I got epoxy swagger!

Boulder Bench

Big stone bench

Twenty inches tall and 60 inches tall, this is one of our biggest boulder stone bench builds

We built this boulder bench in Flat Rock, North Carolina. It’s longer (60″ instead of 48″) and taller (20″ instead of 18″) than most of our stone benches. This was at our client’s request. Having recently undergone surgery on her knee, she wanted something stable and a bit taller, so sitting down and getting back up didn’t require as much effort.
A thick slab of Tennessee sandstone is supported by two fieldstone boulders- also from TN. Both boulders are anchored into a single slab of concrete that is about the same size as the slab. This prevents differential settling- having one leg start moving away from the rest of the bench.

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.

Stone Benches With Glass Marbles

stone bench with glass marbles

Glass marbles inlaid into a groove in the base of this natural stone bench provide a splash of color.


We recently installed two natural stone benches at King Daddy’s, an excellent little chicken and waffles restaurant in West Asheville. The two benches rest on the edge of their covered patio/outdoor seating area. Two large bluestone bases support slabs of Tennessee sandstone. The bases have glass marbles (mostly glass anyway- the ones on the corners are banded onyx!) laid into them. It’s partly inspired by my fascination with benches that are super sturdy but look like they might fall right over (see the Harmony Benches we’ve built or the Floating Bench to see the start of this obsession. It’s also inspired by a tale I’ve heard, but never confirmed, that old school masons would put glass marbles or lead balls between large stones when constructing a building. The marbles acted as spacers and prevented the heavy stones from squeezing out all the mortar between them. And I’ve always had a fascination with marbles in general; we find them all the time digging in people’s yards to install a patio or wall. I had a great deal of fun buying all these marbles. It’s a good time when you can go buy toys with the company credit card! Shout out to Dancing Bear Toys!
stone bench with glass marbles

Glass marbles are inlaid into the base of this stone bench to suggest a delicate balancing act.

Thimbleweed Stone Mosaic

Thimbleweed Stone Mosaic

Thimbleweed Stone Mosaic

This thimbleweed stone mosaic is a small part of a very large mosaic that I’m currently building for the Southside STEM Academy at Campostella in Norfolk, VA. It’s part of a public art project that entails designing and installing six natural stone mosaics in various elementary schools there over the course of the next couple of years.

The thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) is a native flower to Virginia. The mosaic was crafted using white marble, green marble, scabos travertine (yellow inner), and ocean pebbles.

Praying Mantis Stone Mosaic

Praying Mantis Stone Mosaic

Praying Mantis Stone Mosaic

This praying mantis stone mosaic is a small part of a very large mosaic that I’m currently building for the Southside STEM Academy at Campostella in Norfolk, VA. It’s part of a public art project that entails designing and installing six natural stone mosaics in various elementary schools there over the course of the next couple of years.

The eyes of the praying mantis are a fossilized coral called Petoskey stone, while the mantis itself is primarily a native North Carolina stone. Each of these pieces is about 34″ in diameter.

 

Speckled Crab Claw Mosaic

Speckled Crab Claw Stone MosaicCrab Claw Stone Mosaic

This speckled crab claw stone mosaic is a small part of a very large mosaic that I’m currently building for the Southside STEM Academy at Campostella in Norfolk, VA. It’s part of a public art project that entails designing and installing six natural stone mosaics in various elementary schools there over the course of the next couple of years.

The claw itself is made mostly of various marbles from Tennessee.

“The Boy With Antlers” Natural Stone Mosaic in Raleigh Gallery Show

mosaic art

“The Boy With Antlers” Natural stone mosaic including travertine, marble, sandstone, granite. 22″ by 34″ This is a personal piece inspired by a character from the bedtime stories I tell my sons.

“The Boy With Antlers” is a natural stone mosaic I made based on one of the characters from bedtime stories I tell my sons. He is one of four friends possessed of animal traits- an impressive rack of elk antlers, as well as an incredible sense of smell. Of the four friends, he’s the only one who is troubled by his wild nature. I have posted one of the stories I wrote about Bo (his name) that can be downloaded here as a PDF. I also have recorded a couple of stories about the friends and posted them here.

The mosaic is currently on display (from March 4th to April 22) at the Betty Ray McCain Gallery in the Duke Energy Center at 2 East South Street, Raleigh, NC 27601. The mosaic was selected to take part in the 2018 North Carolina Artists Exhibition sponsored by the Raleigh Fine Arts Society. It is an honor to be selected to this juried show of talented North Carolina artists. The piece is for sale as part of the gallery show.

The first cuts of “The Boy With Antlers” are completed.

I worked on this mosaic for over a year, finding time to cut a few stones on the weekends. The face is marble and the antlers are made of travertine.

The Boy With Antlers mosaic being assembled

The mosaic is mounted to a cement backerboard using thinset mortar.

Marc Archambault making a mosaic in the studio.

“The Boy With Antlers” gets delivered to the Raleigh Fine Arts Society show.

I had “The Boy With Antlers” framed once he was accepted into the show. It looks great! The good folks at Frugal Framer knocked it out of the park.