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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Stone Pavement Art

The perfect example of paving enhancing the
structure and plant life.
Last fall we had installed a wall. (Sounds like the opening line of a poem, doesn't it?) This fall we're planning a stone sidewalk to coordinate with it and the previous landscaping in order to enhance the curb appeal of our Mid-century Modern, split-foyer home. Just in those few lines I've encapsulated the three primary considerations in domestic landscaping--the materials, the plant-life, and the type and style of the centerpiece of the whole front yard endeavor. (The design considerations differ somewhat for a more informal backyard.)
What a difference a little planning, creativity, and design
expertise makes when supported by a healthy credit card.
(This is not our home, but derives from the same era.)
As with all such design projects over the years, I've done my homework and learned a lot. I'm no landscape architect nor stone mason, but I've learned to speak their language well enough to express my own design ideas and coordinate with the professionals. I've learned when to nod and when to say "no." In doing so, I like to think I'm more likely to get my money's worth, keeping in mind that materials and labor are often at odds. I'm suddenly reminded of the old joke--everyone knows who designed the Sistine Chapel ceiling but no one remembers who designed the floor. (It was the Cosmati family.)
The National Theatre D. Maria II, Rossio Square,
in the center of Lisbon, Portugal.
Stone pavements go back in history to a time when ancient rulers got tired of muddy or dusty feet (probably the Greeks and Egyptians). However such pavements also got muddy and dusty themselves, to the point they sometimes all but disappeared. The Romans solved this problem by making them beautiful, and thus more likely to be swept clean from time to time. Still today we can admire the classic beauty of Roman mosaics in Pompeii and elsewhere. From Rome, paved roads spread far and wide across the empire and with them the paver's art. Portugal (also Brazil), for instance, is famed for its vast plazas and swirling stone pavements (above).

In that bricks come in just about every size and shape (even stone-shaped), any of these designs should fall well within the expertise of most do-it-yourselfers. Fan patterns are the most difficult, quarry-tile style the simplest. (Leave the bottom row to the experts.)
In discussing paved surfaces, front yard on in back, I'm well aware that bricks have their advantages as to cost, simplicity, and low labor costs. They're also often monotonous in use and barely one step up from plain old concrete. Some people like them. I'm not one of them. I do sometimes find them attractive when used with stone, gravel, or grass. That brings us to the subject of materials. I should add to the list above wood, terrazzo, and various mosaic materials, though they're relatively uncommon as outside paving (They don't stand up well to weathering.)

Colored cement adds a little pizzazz to the project.
The mold tessellates on all four sides.
I should also add at this point, for the sake of the budget conscious, there is an inexpensive alternative to the more costly brick and stone. It's not particularly creative and goes by various names, but I'll call it interlocking molded concrete (above). If you like to play in mud, a few bags of Quikrete and a $35 mold, maybe some sand for a flat base, and you're in the faux stone sidewalk business. Alas, no one would ever mistake it for stone.

Keep in mind, the more texture, the harder it's going to be to sweep or shovel away snow. Smooth textures may be slick in winter. If mixing stone types, avoid differing thickness (they shift over time and become toe-stubbers).
If you're considering a stone walkway (the term sidewalk is too mundane), the first step is to collect as many samples as possible (above), being careful to note with a marker on the back the source and the price per square foot (or yard, or meter). Then take them outside and experiment. Lay them out, creating your own tentative walkway. Discard those you don't like or can't afford, keeping in mind which ones would likely entail the most cost of installation.

How hard are you going to make your stone mason work?
An oriental theme pavement
with LED lighting imbedded
in the "path."
At this point, you have some really big decisions to make. Natural (irregular, above); or fancy design motifs (below)? Geometric or freeform? Mixed media or perhaps a combination of grass and stone. From here on it's a matter of costs, taste, imagination, and daring. Do you want to hear, "how nice," or "WOW!" (left).Be care-ful your paving project doesn't end up costing more than your house. Likewise, something "too radical" may turn off a potential buyer years from now. What you decide at this point will literally be "etched in stone."

With these, you need an artist, not just a stone mason.
You know how much an artist charges?
With those decisions made and a plan forming in the back of your mind (if not yet on paper), it's time to absorb other considerations. What about lighting? You don't want guests stumbling around in the dark and landing in your prize rosebush. How much paving do you want...just a pleasant path to the front door or the whole damned driveway (which demands thicker stone up to 40mm)? I mentioned earlier a combination of stone and grass (below) which offers a pleasant, but firm, base for outdoor furniture, entertaining, and dining. But then again, what's the point of putting in a patio if you still have to mow the grass once a week.

                                              A safe, well-lit path
                                               is an inviting path.

Cobblestones are no fun to walk upon.
And finally, one last consideration which I alluded to earlier. All the plants and paving in the world are not going to add one dime to the value of your home if they don't complement the dwelling. In fact, highly personal outdoor design elements could actually detract from the curb appeal and result in lowering the property's value. The Wright-like home below is perfectly dressed for success with its wooden "bridge" and starkly rectilinear landscaping. Imagine what it would be with the roughshod mixed-media that also enhances the garden cottage (top).

Inviting, yet tastefully reserved.
Short of ideas? Get out your magnifying glass.


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