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

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crew members from left to right: Jonathan Frederick, Tony Costa, & Michael Sellars


Written by Marc Archambault

We spent about a month this summer building steps around a recently completed modern house in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Designed by architect Scott Huebner of Brickstack Architects, the house has majestic views from its steep lot. Our primary job was to provide access for the homeowners so that they can tend their gardens and landscape. Really it was more like backcountry trail construction than our typical more finessed style of work. However, the real fun was when we got to replace a very sloppily built boulder wall at the driveway.

To hear it described, the wall in question was a last-minute add-on. It certainly looked very thrown together, with large gaps, no attention paid to bonding, and lots of gravel between the stones as if using ball bearings as a substitute for mortar. It was nothing to look at, for sure. Adding insult to injury, other tradespeople had mistreated it. Someone had smeared a lot of polyurethane on a few stones, presumably cleaning their brushes. There were similar concrete stains in other locations. All in all, it was a very ugly wall.

So we took it down and rebuilt it. I would say it’s built in the style of our typical walls, but at an uncommon scale. Some of these pieces weigh over 1000 pounds and it required an excavator – a small one – to help move the material into place. The stones with the stains were either removed or turned around to hide the mess. We used hammer and chisel and- as appropriate- the big saw to sweeten the fits and to ensure good bonding. The previous wall had no attention paid to batter or a clean line to the face of the whole wall. We took care of that and the results are pleasing.

I should have done a before and after post, but the original wall so ugly I never thought to take a picture of it. If I find a picture, I will surely add it.
To me, true craft is about caring. The devil is in the details.

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Photo by Jonathan Frederick

Black Mountain Stone Wall and Steps

Crewmember Tony takes a rest on the newly completed wall.


Special thanks to Fred Lashley for operating the excavator on this project.

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

Kenilworth Stone Steps

Kenilworth Stone Steps

Kenilworth Stone Steps Hammerhead Stoneworks

The Finished Product

We completed this set of stone steps for a modern home of brand new construction. They are 9 1/2 feet across and made of sandstone slabs from Tennessee. They have a clean, modern look to match the style of the home.

Kenilworth Stone Steps Hammerhead Stoneworks

The wooden decking seen in the images above leads to the entrance of the home. We were contacted by the homeowners when they noticed that every time it rained, there was a serious runoff problem, leaving leaves, mud, and debris to stain the deck. The existing steps in this location were dangerously uneven and ugly and created a waterfall-like effect during rainstorms. Additionally, there were only three of them in space where four are needed in order to walk comfortably.

kenilworth stone steps hammerhead stoneworks

Existing Steps (Before)

In addition to creating a more aesthetically pleasing set of steps and making this a safer space, we also wanted to solve the runoff issue. The flagstone landing at the top of the steps pitches toward the road to divert most of the water away from the entrance and into a drain that we installed.

We enjoyed this project because it was a project of functional beauty, providing both aesthetics as well as problem-solving.

 

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

Formal Stone Steps

Formal Stone Steps

Mortared sandstone steps create s stunning entryway to this home in Arden, North Carolina.

Earlier this summer, Hammerhead Stoneworks built a set of formal stone steps leading into a home in Arden, North Carolina. The steps are mortared and utilize a couple of varieties of sandstone to achieve the desired aesthetic. Hidden from sight are several changes we also made to the drainage in the area.

The existing steps were of pressure treated lumber and were rotten through and through. The old steps sat in so much puddled runoff that there were supporting uprights that had wicked water up vertically over two feet. We could squeeze pieces of lumber and water would seep out like a soggy sponge. Stone, subjected to the same abuse would also eventually suffer, so we put in a trench drain immediately next to the steps and reshaped the planting bed to discourage water from accumulating there.

Formal Stone Steps

The formal stone steps from above

 

stone bench, wall, patio

A stone bench, retaining wall and patio built in Arden North Carolina.

Behind the house we built a small patio with this bench and a short retaining wall to address the general slope of the yard. While the bench uses some concrete and mortar for anchoring, the wall and patio are laid drystone.