Biltmore Forest Garden Terrace Wall

We recently completed this large drystone retaining wall in Biltmore Forest, a small community if high end homes just south of Asheville. We built this project with Emily Gregory of B.B. Barns Landscape Services, a frequent collaborator. The wall is made of Hooper’s Creek, a locally quarried stone. We mixed in Pennsylvania stone as well, which makes up all of the steps and walkways, which are not really visible in these photos. There are over twenty steps leading from the lower lawn through the garden up to the house.

A stone retaining wall by Hammerhead holds up a lovely garden in Biltmore Forest, NC

This retaining wall holds a lovely garden at this home in Biltmore Forest

Thanks be to Emily for taking and sharing these pictures!

Moon Gate Sign

I’ve been driving by this sign a lot recently, working on a small project in Weaverville. I finally stopped by to take a closer look. We built it five years ago. It’s holding up well. The moon gate itself is an excellent location for spiders to build their webs. Orb weavers had strung up elaborate structures on each side of the opening. We used sandstone from Tennessee for all the components of the sign, including the engraved slab. I drove up there to pick out that piece. Our friends Jeff and Ben at Martin Monument did the engraving work and helped us sling that piece into place.

One of two Welcome to Weaverville signs

Moongate as part of the Welcome to Weaverville sign

Moongate made of sandstone

All the pieces of the moon gate laid out in the back of my old truck.

Magician’s Staff

I recently hosted a family at my shop as part of a mosaic design process. More on that later. While they were there, I gave the two daughters, aged five and eight, a couple of colorful scraps of stones I had. They liked the rich color of the Blue Macaubas marble from Brazil. I had some small diamonds of it left over from the Dragon Family mosaic. We tested the blue as a highlight to the green dragon scales, but decided it just didn’t quite work.

A couple days later, while on site to work on the project, the girls showed me the magician’s staff they had made with the blue diamond. This super cool piece reinforces my strong belief that if you give kids art supplies, they’ll make amazing things. They played in the yard with the staff the whole day while we worked.

A scrap of blue marble is transformed…

Stone Walkway To North Asheville Home

We recently completed this small project with Mardi Letson of Gardens By Mardi. A sandstone walkway leads to a river rock house in a lovely North Asheville neighborhood. The stone is from Tennessee. The house numbers are engraved into a piece of stone set close to the sidewalk, a nice craft accent to the overall project. Though barely visible in this image, we did some pebbling in a few of the joints, where we use small, smoothed river stones laid on edge in the spaces between flagstone pieces. They offer a pleasing contrast in texture. In this case they also echo the river rock used to build the home almost a hundred years ago.

House numbers are engraved into this stone walkway leading to a river rock house in North Asheville

I don’t get a lot of chances to carve in stone. This was a fun little project, giving me a chance to dust off my sharp lettering chisels. My hand included for scale.

Carved letters in a piece of sandstone

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

“The Care Takers” Mosaic

“The Care Takers” stone mosaic, laid out facedown, to be prepped for travel

“The Care Takers” mosaic, intended for OceanView Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia is laid out face down. We will adhere a fiberglas mesh to the back, cut it into manageable sized pieces and load it for travel. WE built this stage for the last mosaic; it makes it easier to work on and is flatter than the floor, which it turns out, really does matter!

Beast Wall

Another view of the staircase emerging from Beast Wall

Last fall we completed this project at a home in Asheville. The house had recently been renovated, but the landscape was incomplete. There was a steep, messy gravel driveway and a weird 18″ drop off from where you parked to where you stepped out of the car. It was treacherous. The design mandate included a new entry and safe ways of accessing the backyard. The biggest issue for the homeowners was raising and enlarging their driveway parking area. So “Beast Wall” was born.

The sloping driveway and awkward entrance that Beast Wall was designed to resolve

Early process shot of Beast Wall going up.

A process shot of Beast Wall nearing completion

We used Tennessee sandstone for all the components of the project. I wanted it for the walls in particular because I can usually find a wide range of sizes, including some massive pieces. We needed some big chunks for Beast Wall. The largest piece we found was a rejected hearth that was seven feet long, 14″ tall and twenty inches front to back. We split it into multiple pieces and used it throughout the wall, including at least one massive corner you’ll might find in the photos. With so many massive stones, we used a small excavator to set the biggest of them. It also helped us to move around the backfill. There’s several tons of scrap stone and gravel behind that wall, supporting the parking area.

Our dump truck parked on Beast Wall

This is a new favorite image! We were bringing in some soil for the yard below the wall. The dump truck is parked right to the edge. The wall did not budge. The fully loaded dump truck probably weighs three times what the owners Prius weighs!

A set of steps emerge from the face of Beast Wall.

To provide access to the backyard, we built a set of steps into the face of Beast Wall. I like this emergent style of steps; it evokes something archaic to me, like you might find in a Mayan temple. The steps act as a buttress to the wall. There will be a hand rail someday!

A semi-circular staircase

A set of stone slab steps wrap a tight corner

Access on the other side of the house required less materials, but proved to be a fairly complex build in its own right. This set of steps wraps around an existing block wall. Walls above and below the steps support the staircase and the bank.

Tennessee sandstone creates a new front walkway at a home in Asheville

By raising the driveway, we were able to elevate the front walkway, removing the treacherous drop off. The path connects to another that leads to the street.

Looking down you can see the top landing of the steps.

The parking area is covered in decorative gravel. I like the wheel stops we installed. They are made from a slab step that we split down. There are two holes in each piece with a long bit of rebar driven down into the gravel below.

An oak leaf mosaic element at the top of a set of stone steps.

I made this oak leaf mosaic for the top landing of the staircase that emerges from the face of Beast Wall. It’s a scrap of salvaged granite.

Kingfisher Mosaic

Kingfisher mosaic made of Blue Pearl granite

This Kingfisher mosaic is done! I just have to wait for the frame shop to reopen once the coronavirus restrictions are eased. The majority of the birds body is made of Blue Pearl granite, quarried in Norway. I used a Mexican beach pebble for the eye, which doesn’t show up great in the photo. The background is the Brazilian marble Blue Macaubas. The mosaic is 12″ by 12″.

On a related bird note, this Carolina Wren is nesting in a corner of my tile stacks. Admittedly, it’s not much of a photo, but she’s really tucked into the back of the shelf and her nest is dark.

Kingfisher Mosaic

Kingfisher mosaic pieces cut, ready for fine tuning

I haven’t had a whole lot to post lately. I have made some progress on this Kingfisher mosaic. It’s ready for fine tuning now. The overall piece will be 12″ by 12″ when it’s done.