Our time- and cost-intensive projects are fewer and farther between than they used to be, but I had one big goal for the first half of this year, that being to install a giant, wonderful flagstone patio. This post is going to appear as though I brainstormed and executed this project lickity split, even though it took several months to plan and weeks to install, but I figured I’d skip the slow runaround, and cut right to the chase: A wonderful, new living area that our family (and future families) will enjoy until the end of time:
Not too long ago, it looked like this:
If you’ve been reading long enough you know already that I’ve installed a flagstone patio or two already in the last 5 years, so I guess this is just a testament to how much I love the install process and the look of the finished product. Flagstone for this house in particular was not a hard decision. Our living room fireplace sits within a whole wall of common Pennsylvia bluestone, as does the front of the house, and there’s a sidewalk of it extending around half of the house too – all original to the 1950’s construct. Adding a different style of stone or paver would have felt completely unnatural, and fortunately we didn’t feel at all hindered by the idea of sticking to the tried and true. Just gimme an I <3 Flagstone bumper sticker.
Last time I ordered stone it was from a local company (Fairport, NY) and the stones were irregular in shape and size, and also not bluestone but a little more rainbow-y in color. They were lovely, I had a great experience with that company, but the installation was a hell of a lot more time consuming if you do it the way we did, basically smashing and sledgehammering the stones into shapes that fit like a perfect puzzle. No giant stone saw. It’s still one of my favorite projects (ever).
This go-round, I shopped for stone at a few different locations and found Genesee Valley Timber and Stone in Scottsville, NY to be the best resource for our job. Throwback to June 2015, when I dragged my then 1-year old and Pete to the stoneyard to look around. Teach ’em young.
The product selection and range of sizes was undeniably great, and I really enjoyed learning about the stone from the guy who runs the place (his name’s Chip. Go say Hi to Chip). Must also note that they have a killer selection of raw edge wood, so ask to poke around the back of the garage if you stop in. Piles upon piles upon piles.
I made a list of the most common bluestone sizes that they had in stock at that point – the selection ranged from the smaller 12″x12″ to 18″x24″ to 36″x48″ and a wide variety in between, all priced at $5/square foot which I now understand is a pretty awesome rate compared to a few other local shops in the $6-7/foot range. The list of stone sizes got squirreled away until a cold winter day when I had enough time to map out a to-scale replica of our would-be flagstone patio, figuring out how many stones I needed to fit our desired space. I was optimistic too that we would be able to use a bunch of the flagstones that comprised the sidewalk behind our house (because I estimated that it would save us about $500 in new materials), and measured out various rows of stone from there. I’m not going to go into depth on that creative little replica because our friend Jeff who owns Irondequoit Landscape was quick to tell me that this is totally not how you should plan a stone patio (that’s why he’s the pro and that’s why it’s good to have friends who are pros) but for me it was helpful in the sense that I was able to see how many big stones vs. small stones would offer a nice balance, which I used when placing my order with the stone guy. The visualization really helped me, even if in the end we didn’t end up following the drawn map of stones in any way at all. In short, what you should do is order a complete range of sizes + a solid 10-15% overage and then intermingle those babies during the install.
The stones arrived in May. We were happy people, except that we quickly realized those big slabs were 2-3″ thick and who-even-knows how many hundreds of pounds.
I’ll mention now that at this point I was like, 7 months pregnant (and right now I’m like 12 months pregnant). Aside from being the stone-planner, order-placer, bill-payer, delivery-coordinator, I’ve been pretty much feet up in a chair (and of course I would have loved to get dirty, but it’s been pretty swell outsourcing the job to my husband and instead shopping for patio furnishings).
So, back to Jeff. There was one bit of our last flagstone patio install that we definitely didn’t feel like DIY-ing again, that being the excavation of the soil where the patio would sit. We got really lucky befriending Jeff when we did over the winter; he was an absolute wealth of knowledge and had this bizarre, happy willingness to help us out.
Pete measured and edged the area that we planned to install within, and in a quick 45-minutes on a Bobcat, Jeff cleared some ~500 square feet of soil to a perfect 6-10″ depth. We watched on.
Once the soil was leveled and more compacted, Jeff also offered the crusher run stone base, which Pete transported and raked and leveled and finessed for days to create the thick, solid base that supports the patio and will prevent the stones from shifting about over time.
Jeff and his son returned to help with the tamping of the stone with serious power tools. Power tampers all the way, guys. Rent one and make yourself a happy person.
There was a lot of emphasis placed on making sure the stones graded properly from the house, which is one of the biggest, most concerning aspects of the whole installation. If it tilts the wrong way, rain water is going to feed right into the foundation. Unless you look closely at the cinderblock beneath the patio screens (not in the below pic, but in others), you might not notice that the area close to the house is about 6″ higher than it used to be – all so that as the patio extended outward, and the pitch was great enough to encourage rain runoff.
Atop the crusher the guys dumped a lot of sand. It was spread loosely, but not compacted. The stones were incredibly heavy, and they got to laying them right away.
The priority was getting the stones set nearby the backdoor so that us humans and the dog could still easily access the entryway during the few weeks of stone installation. This photo was on Memorial Day 2016, and the kids and Pete’s parents and I sat on the sidelines with burgers watching the guys at work. Super productive! Small memory for our own future recollection.
It should go without saying that things go a lot faster when you have a few extra hands to help you haul the big stones. It’s even better if you’re getting big-time help from a professional landscaper who has done it so many times that he can instinctively organize the placement of giant stones with his eyes closed. Nonetheless, Pete did a bit of the install by himself after work, even into the nights if Jeff couldn’t join him. He used this time to organize smaller stones, and ensure that the set stones were perfectly embedded and had no tendency to rock or shift underfoot.
The polymeric sand was the last thing to go in, an evening activity for Pete and Julia so that the sand could dry and cure overnight. The only real thing to note here is that there must be NO sand atop the stones when you wet them. By the following morning, the seams were solid and the patio was perfection.
Both you and I would be hard pressed to identify the 16 stones that were used in the home’s original sidewalk – all of these stones ranging from 24″x24″ to 30″x36″ were integrated throughout to not only save money, but to help the new and old blend together in a natural way. Turned out that new and old looked so similar, that the whole patio itself looks like it’s been there a long, long time (for that, I have to thank Chip at Genesee Valley Timber and Stone who reviewed photos of our stone sidewalk right on the spot from photos on this blog, and assured us that the stones he had would be a great match).
Flashback quickly to last spring, early 2015 when I decided we would certainly need to extend our little backyard living area. We dragged one of the two farmhouse-style tables that we built for our wedding (and still use to this day!) into the yard to see how it might feel to have a backyard that offered a great outdoor living space. That great big table deserved a great big patio, and it was decided then that it was time for a flagstone upgrade (see Pete acting as role of the corner of the future patio?).
We left that table outdoors in the grass all last summer to make sure we really liked it and to test how it held up in the elements. It did great (and if/when we ever need to rebuild, it’s nice to know that from experience it can be constructed for $75). Lowe’s helped us take our new living space a big step further by supplying Eucalyptus stackable patio chairs that surround the table and make a world of a difference. They’re beautiful, a perfect fit for our home, and comfortable too. Patio dinners all of the time!
We own a Eucalyptus outdoor coffee table already, and over the years it has weathered really well – it and the farm-house style table actually have very similar finishes now that they’ve both spent time outdoors, so I know that the chairs will transition nicely and probably look a lot like the table and chairs were sold as a set!
They also supplied us with two outdoor chaises made of durable high-density polyethylene (a.k.a. chaises that will hold up to all of the sunshine and rain we throw at them, and might just outlive us too).
I know you guys haven’t spent as much time in this yard as we have, but we’re totally one step closer to having a Parenthood backyard. Insert string lights and a lush (deer-resistant) landscape!
*Huge thanks to Jeff at Irondequoit Landscape who spent many late nights and weekends helping us with our installation, and to Lowe’s for giving us chairs that will do our family well for a long, long time. Neither required me to write about their contributions to our project but certainly deserve a big hug.*
The growing season is off to a great start, and as usual, my eyeballs/stomach expect more out of our garden than ever before. My spacial planning skills need a reality check too; I never seem to do that well planning the ground to accomodate what’ll inevitably be invasion of the crazy squash, but I do try. We made the bed itself larger last season to effectively double its size, and it did not let down (except for the bell peppers, those were lame). We left the metal fencing up all winter long, and simply needed to till the soil when spring rolled around. Maybe 2017 will be the year that we add real posts and fence pieces.
This year, it’s all about the:
In addition, this year we sprinkled in some flowers too: zinnias, marigolds, and giant sunflowers.
Unlike previous years when I lined the garden with weed block cloth to keep things neat, we had a different inspiration for our garden this year, and it involved lots, and lots of repurposed natural wood. If you want to venture back almost 3 years, a large tree fell in the backyard and while we promptly cleaned it up, the chopped trunk and larger branches have been hoarded in the backyard drying while we figured out what we could do with them (besides selling them to West Elm obv, which could easily have manufactured 50 of its $249 Natural Tree-Stump Side Tables).
It wasn’t until earlier this spring when STIHL loaned us a few of its chainsaws as a product testing opportunity that we decided to cut most of the dried logs into 1-2″ slivers, thinking that they might be useful as natural stepping stones or a nice pathway or something to that effect that I probably saw on Pinterest. The garden was the perfect test spot for any form of stepping stone installation, and we figured if the coverage of the slivers was fairly dense it would totally cut down on weeds. We cut through dozens of logs over the course of 2 days and made a completely ginormous pile of wood stepping circles, which Julia laid diligently for us.
Comically, and as you might expect due to my previous comment on spacial planning, the pile that seemed like it would cover 4,000 square feet really only covered like 150 sq. ft., so I rethought the plan and simply used the pieces to define the borders of the various beds within the garden. Good looking, good definition for our space (and a f-r-e-e upcycle).
What’s also convenient is that we also had a large pile of wood chips from the chipper left to dry/decompose in the backyard (and wood chips = mulch). So, while I had briefly considered splurging on some bags of nice dark mulch, repurposing the natural wood chips was easy (and also f-r-e-e), and because I laid it thick to create a defined pathway, it has been doing a great job keeping the weeds at bay.
The result is something we haven’t had before in this garden – an actual walkway that will let us navigate from the tomatoes back to the sugar snap peas with ease.
Late June might seem like I’m behind the game, but I actually snapped these a few weeks ago. The plants are flourishing and the 4th of July tomato plant even has little fruits on it, which is better performance than I can report from recent memory. The raspberries are rocking and the herbs are getting herb-normous. Grow little plants, grow!
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t waiting for my luck to run out every single day, but here I am, exactly 5 years after I left my job at an advertising agency to go rogue. 5 years, you guys! Today I’m celebrating that.
5 years of freelancing also means that I’ve been “on my own” for the same amount of time that I was employed by that agency, which feels pretty liberating and also makes me want to take a whole day off to sit back and take a big breather. I kind of can’t believe so much time has passed since I made that big decision, and I’m still glad I did it when I did. I fell into some lucky contracts that really gave me the confidence to keep doing what I enjoyed, and the opportunities continue to grow. I still find myself reflecting back on the years I spent at my last job and I have a pretty solid personal understanding of why the conventional 9-5 wasn’t the best fit for me; it wasn’t so much the office or commute (just a lil), but I’ve learned that I’m fueled by much different incentives than they were able to offer, and I’m so much more productive being able to embrace my own pace and work style. I love it, you guys. Of course, now as I’m approaching what would have been my second paid maternity leave I’m a little miffed at myself for being in a position where I have to get by without those benefits (basically that means zero maternity leave, working during baby naps), but aside from that, whatever. At least I’m not going to be installing floors the day that I go into labor this time around, or stressing about a blog post I wanted to publish when I’m only 3 days postpartum. It’s worth it, and all I can do is hope-hope-hope I can sustain what I’ve been working on for the last few years.
These days? I’m still freelancing and taking on special contract projects, and of course, working on ways to take this here b-l-o-g to a place where it could further substantiate my income, although my own blog sure does take a backseat to everything else. I enjoy it and the passive income it provides, but the odds of me winning the lottery are better than me making the blog my sole, full-time focus. That said, I love that Merrypad can be a space where I can continue to journal my home improvement efforts and DIY projects in a no-pressure kind of way (which is all it really expected of it when I started). I like what it’s become.
Thanks to the many of you who have been following along since the early days, and for the support everyone has shown over the years.