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.

Stone Steps

Stone Steps in Sloping Yard

I’m nearing completion on a stone steps, wall and patio project in downtown Asheville. Living in the mountains, there’s generally a slope in every yard. This patio required a small drystone retaining wall to create a flat enough area for this patio. Two big slabs of Tennessee sandstone are integrated into the wall, allowing easy access for the homeowner and guests coming from the backyard.


I built another short stack of stone steps at the back of the house, allowing access from the driveway to the deck and into the house. With big chunks of stone like this, I am able to get the proper rise and run, so that these steps walk comfortably, just like the steps in your house. Prior to installing these, there was a muddy slope to the deck stairs, and a ten inch step up. More pics coming soon of the flagstone area above the steps finished.

Invisible Fire Pit

Invisible Fire Pit

Invisible fire pit

Invisible fire pit cover

My current project is a flagstone patio with a fire pit. The flagstone is laid dry over crushed stone. Because of the slope of the yard, I built a short retaining wall at the far edge, to support the patio. Two slabs steps provide access to the yard. The sandstone I’m using is from Tennessee and has some lovely color tones to it.

The fire pit is the fun feature. Because of the limited space, I designed the fire pit to be invisible when not in use. A slab of stone serves as a lid. In the images below you can see the fire pit with the lid on and off. I will install recessed handles that will help the homeowner to remove the lid whenever he chooses. The handles will be flush with the top of the stone when not in use and will be the only indication of the fire pit. There’s still a lot to be done before this is full realized. More pics to come!

hidden fire pit

The lid of this hidden fire pit in patio mode. Note the handles set into the stone.

 

Invisible fire pit handles

Invisible fire pit handles

 

Invisible fire pit

An invisible fire pit in use, roasting marshmallows!

Hooper’s Creek Flagstone Patio


Hooper’s Creek is quarried in Fletcher, North Carolina- the nearest source of workable building stone to Asheville. It is a type of granitic gneiss, a metamorphic stone that is extremely hard and dense. It has a great texture and it sounds like glass when you hit it with a hammer.

These images show a patio made almost exclusively of Hooper’s Creek. And some pebbles of course. The grain of Hooper’s Creek gives it the sharper angles and straighter lines than the sandstones often used for flagging.

 

Gainesville Public Art: Blue Spiral

Gainesville Public Art

Gainesville Public Art

Blue Spiral patio- an art project in Gainesville, Florida

In April I got a phone call from the Art in Public Places Trust (APPT) in Gainesville, Florida announcing that I had been selected to complete a public art project. I am going to build a mosaic stone floor in a courtyard adjacent to a new building on the campus of the Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU). In May I visited the site and met the APPT board and toured the campus/construction site. Back home, I set about drawing.

During my visit to Gainesville, I found myself drawn to the local stone. The area limestone is dense with the fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures. I took pictures of fossil-rich boulders and sketched from them, looking for forms and relationships that might translate into a patio surface. My source photographs and fossil books opened up interesting explorations, but always led me to the same place. By the very nature of seashells, their forms are instantly recognizable and iconic. I strived to sidestep that iconic nature, for fear of creating a floor that looked like wallpaper. The APPT encouraged me to explore natural shapes, but avoid graphic depiction. The seashells were too graphic, too decorative, too obvious.

The design I proposed for the Gainesville public art feature contains a central spiral element, drawn from my fossil sketches. I have shattered the form with other shapes, lines that intersect it and obscure it. It is a form emerging from a background. Like the process of discovering a seashell embedded in an ancient rock, so the nautilus shape emerges to the eye slowly. The intersecting lines suggest water steadily wearing away the matrix surrounding the fossil, stone slowly giving up its secrets. I hope to capture that same magic of discovery for people first venturing upon my mosaic.