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

New Front Entrance for Alexander Home

New Front Entrance for Alexander Home

Hammerhead was commissioned to design and install a new front entrance for a beautiful home in Alexander, NC. The existing steps were an awkward height and did not suit the main entrance of such a large, attractive home. Haphazardly placed slabs for a walkway are more suitable in a garden area than as a main entrance, so we added a more complementary entrance.

Below are before and after shots of the front walkway and steps.

New Front Entrance

Walkway Before & After

New Steps and a Walkway

Walkway with Steps Before & After

North Asheville Entry Steps

Entry Steps in North Asheville

Under the weird assemblage of wood seen in the before photo, there were concrete entry steps that had to be removed. The homeowner indicated that they wanted the new entryway to reach all the way from the road to the steps of the house. Additionally, we had previously installed the path to the right of the steps, which wraps around the house, and we wanted the entryway to connect to it.

We exposed the bottom step and created a landing that tied the new path in to the new work. The new stone steps are six feet across. Due to the home’s location, vehicles frequently come into the yard a few inches, so we included thick cobblestones to the protect the yard. The cobblestones laid as such will be very sturdy and resistant to shifting even with regular vehicle traffic.

Entry Steps

Entry Steps Before and After

 

Pennsylvania Stone Steps & Patio

Pennsylvania Stone Steps & Patio Hammerhead Stoneworks Asheville, NC

Pennsylvania Stone Steps & Patio

We completed this set of steps as well as a patio for a home in North Asheville. Made of Pennsylvania stone, a short stack of steps leads up from the driveway to a stepping stone path. The patio is built over an old concrete slab, which isn’t always possible, but we had the clearances necessary to get our stone and setting bed in place. Leaving the slab in place instead of removing it saved the customer a considerable amount of money.

While the steps and patio were laid dry, the flagstone on the stoop was mortared in place for supplemental support.

 

Sandstone Path with Landings

Sandstone Path with Landings

path with landings hammerhead stoneworks

This path was designed and installed for the entryway of a house of modern design in Alexander, North Carolina. It is 4 feet wide and is comprised of boulders found and selected around the site as well as Tennessee sandstone (also used here and here).

In addition to helping to maintain a comfortable walking rhythm, the steps and landings are spaced to run with the slope. This was essential in order to avoid excessive excavation and/or build up.

sandstone path with landings hammerhead stoneworks

Garden Stonework in Mardi’s Yard

Over the last several years Hammerhead Stoneworks has worked closely with garden designer Mardi Letson, owner of Gardens by Mardi. The images below are from garden stonework projects we’ve done in her own yard. Mardi has a wonderful sense of design and can integrate plants into stonework wonderfully. She’s very talented and very easy to work with. She is especially good at working with small spaces as is demonstrated in her own yard. Her yard is not huge by any means, but it has so many little rooms and small special places to hang out.

The Finished Garden Stonework Products

garden stonework

Dry Stone Wall in Mardi’s yard

 

Stone slab steps at Mardi's

Stone slab steps at Mardi’s

 

Dry-laid flagstone path

Dry-laid flagstone path featuring the heart-shaped rock Mardi requested

Water Feature, Stone Paths, Steps & Bench

Asheville stone masons Hammerhead Stoneworks recently completed this water feature with a natural stone bench, paths, drystone walls and steps.

Dry Stone Paths & Steps

This dry stone pathway connects the homeowner’s driveway with their favorite hangout spot, on their back deck. A single slab of sandstone provides an easy step up to the deck. The regular shape of the slab lends an air of formality to the entrance, sometimes used by guests. This serves as a counterpoint to the more natural looking stones that make up the adjacent steps, walls, water feature and bench.


The bench is found at the bottom of the water feature. It is very organic, a natural slab with a patina of lichen. The area is fairly shady and so I am hopeful that the lichen will survive. Two rugged boulders were topped and anchored in concrete to provide the bench supports.

Water Feature Before and After

 

This pair of images shows how we transformed this unused space. The drystone retaining wall at the bottom raised the overall grade. This allowed us to hide drainage pipes running from the house’s many downspouts. We used heavy duty solid white PVC pipe to extend the drain pipes. Though more expensive, these pipes have never failed me. Everytime I have dug up a black corrugated drain pipe it is either collapsed, perforated or clogged. Or all three. Next spring, once the plants have been chosen and given time to establish themselves, this will be a lovely view.
Click on the image above for a larger view of the water view and overall design.

Coming soon: more pictures of the water feature itself.

Drystone Pathways Over Bad Concrete

Drystone Pathways Over Bad Concrete

A broken down piece of concrete magically disappears under a stone pathway laid without mortar or cement.

Drystone Pathways

I am frequently asked to remedy concrete walkways. Sometimes these concrete paths are old and broken down, in other cases, they just aren’t the look the homeowner desires. In most situations, the existing walkway, broken down or not, needs to be removed. This can be expensive and bad for the environment, if a good use can’t be found for the broken concrete. Whenever possible, I try to leave the concrete where it lays and place my stone over it. Dry laid flagstone is stronger and more durable than mortared paving, and it doesn’t matter how messed up the concrete is underneath it. (Mortared flagstone should only be applied to solid slab in good condition.) Laying drystone flagstone over ugly concrete saves money, and avoids filling the landfill with concrete waste. There are two main issues that can come up when taking this approach that we’ll explore below: clearance and drainage.

Drystone Pathways

BEFORE: This little used path wrapped around the back of a lovely Asheville home. The homeowners wanted to pretty it up and maintain access to their backyard.

Drystone Pathways

AFTER: A loose stone pathway winds its way through a field of pea gravel. Instead of removing all the concrete, I placed my flagstone over the top. Stucco became a quick fix for this ugly wall. You might see that it’s being pushed over by the bank behind it. Someday we’ll replace it with drystone!

Dealing With Drainage & Your Stone Pathway

Drystone pathways and patios allow water to run over them and percolate through. This prevents pooling and reduces slick spots on the walking surface. It’s important that the top surface of the stone pathway be able to slope gently away from houses, foundations or other areas sensitive to moisture build-up or erosion. It’s equally important that the substrate below the flagstone is also pitched in the proper direction, as some moisture will pass through. This means, when I go over a concrete walkway with stone, I have to be sure the slab is draining in the right direction. This is easily assessed with a level and tape measure. A host of solutions can be considered if the drainage situation isn’t ideal.

Clearance Issues For Flagstone & Steps

Clearance issues are usually the deal breaker for whether a dry stone surface can be laid over concrete. The height of existing thresholds, curbs or steps must be taken into account at all points along the flagstone surface. The risks being that one could create weird little steps, make a trip hazard, or block a door so that it no longer opens! As it happens, so much settling occurs in Asheville homes, old and new, that I can often find the clearance I need, sometimes by replacing awkward and uneven steps with stone stairs that are uniform and solid.

Drystone Pathways

In the image above, the large stone slab that acts as a step was the key to getting the clearance needed to build the path that circled the house. Previously there had been an awkward three inch rise- too tall for a threshold, but not tall enough to be a step. This stone step, at six inches tall, is a real step, consistent with those at the street and that lead into the house.

BEFORE: A broken down set of uneven concrete steps lead to the street. There’s a fourth step hidden in the shadow of the telephone pole. The top step is coming apart and is off center with the steps below it.

Drystone Pathways

AFTER: I had to tear out the bottom three steps, but that was the only concrete removed for the whole project. (Reclaimed by a friend who needs clean fill for another project.) I set the steps further back from the road and gave them a consistent rise over run. I rebuilt the wall, opening the main entryway and making it more welcoming. The steps are now aligned with the path. The steps and wall repairs are mortared; everything else is laid dry.

The homeowners are both craftspeople- he’s a woodworker and she’s a potter. As we stuccoed this old block wall, we embedded ceramic tiles made by the potter. This is a picture of my favorite, a relief print made from a gravestone carving she found at Riverside Cemetery.

A Stone Fire Pit That Saves Patio Space

Invisible fire pit in use

Invisible fire pit in use


Hammerhead Stoneworks offers a stone fire pit design solution for small patio spaces. This past spring I built what I call an Invisible Fire Pit. This is a design solution for a small patio area. A typical stone fire pit can take up a great deal of space. In a small area, this can be problematic, as it limits the amount of outdoor furniture one can use, or make it hard to entertain in the space at times when a fire isn’t desired. The Invisible Fire Pit is built down into the ground, but has a stone cover, so that when not in use, it really isn’t noticed. You can walk right over it with no indication that the space beneath your feet is hollow. Of course, this raises the issue of how to access the fire pit. I had my blacksmith friend Lynda Metcalfe make wrought iron handles. These are drilled through the stone and rest in a small groove I cut into the top of the stone. With the handles recessed in this way, there’s no trip hazard. The stone is still heavy, so it’s best to lift it with a friend! Last weekend the client had us over and my boys roasted marshmallows over the fire with his daughter. It was a great fun and the fire pit will get plenty of use in the coming months, as the nights cool off so perfectly.

Lid for the invisible fire pit

Lid for the invisible fire pit

Invisible fire pit cover

Invisible fire pit cover

Recessed handles for the invisible fire pit

Recessed handles for the invisible fire pit

Lid of the invisible fire pit

Lid of the invisible fire pit

Contact Hammerhead Stoneworks for all you patio and fire pit design and construction needs.