Lately my passion has been guiding me towards the use of plants in combination with our stonework.
One of the main reasons to use stone in the creation of outdoor spaces and living areas is to create something lasting and durable. Once the outdoor space is built in stone, time and nature begin their work and the opportunity to create something magical begins.
My experience with gardening, landscaping, and stone construction gives me a unique perspective on how to enhance our designs, softening the hard edges of the stone, and working with nature to improve over time what we have done. Thats the beauty of a stone landscape- with a little maintenance and care given to the plantings- it will only get better as it ages.
I've been lucky to see one of my projects in particular- an amazing outdoor living space in the heart of West Asheville- as it weathered over the last two years, and I've been given the opportunity to participate and guide some of the plantings in collaboration with the owner. This experience has shown me how important it is to see the project through and go the extra step to get amazing results.
In an outdoor living space or hardscape, the plants are usually just the last 10% of the time and money involved, but they have a huge impact going forward on the whole vision. Plantings can make or break all the hard work and money invested in a project, so my goal for the coming years is to become more involved with that aspect of outdoor living.
I'm looking for clients who want a comprehensive design, magical synergy of plants and stone, collaborations with other stone and plant workers as well as a greater knowledge of plant species and varieties, especially those that love stone as much as I do!
West Asheville dry stone bench/retaining wall+ Asheville stone restoration project+Asheville stone patio
The last few weeks have been busy ones for us as we completed the large commercial job in Grandfather Club near Banner Elk and transition to a summer full of residential stone projects in Asheville. After Grandfather, we completed a drystone patio with wall in Asheville, a very special bench project in West Asheville (just in time for a wedding), and have begun a large restoration job of a historically important residence in Woodfin. Read on to hear more about these projects.
Above is a shot of the Asheville stone patio upon completion. It was built as a dry stone patio, meaning a 1/4" gravel base and no mortar (except in a couple of spots for stability). One of the major advantages of this technique is the drainage created by the gravel bed. In this case, we needed to make sure water wouldn't puddle around the hot tub, while at the same making smooth transitions to the several fixed point already established around the edges of the patio. One of the techniques I used to do that is the river cobble swale which snakes through the patio. It is a design element which helps to transition between areas that slope in different directions.
Here you can see the gravel base which gets compacted during the setting of the stones. Josh is using a level to make sure the surface is sloping correctly and smooth. Our patios beat the competition in how thorough we are to make sure the clients have a safe surface and positive drainage. We placed polymeric sand in the joints which sets up hard for low maintenance, but remains flexible to allow for expansion and contraction.
Other design aspects of this project include the step to the outdoor shower terminating in a sitting wall which helps support the foundation of the house and create a space for planting.
We named this project "the Wedding Bench" because we had a request to fit this project in an emergency time frame to accommodate the wedding of the client's daughter. She presented me with her design and several photos she had collected from pinterest to create large bench/retaining wall to support the yard behind their house and to create seating for wedding-related events. I chose a mix of boulders, fieldstone and large slabs to transform this backyard into a one-of-a-kind area for entertaining and relaxing.
At the last minute, we were asked to create this fire pit with boulder seating. I like it because it reminds me of a simple but functional forest service campsite.
Living Stone Mascot Layla posing for the camera! I will have more photos of this project in a future post once the landscaping is complete, stay tuned
This patio on the historic residence is failing, as evidenced by the crumbling mortar and vegetation. There is a garage below, and the owners are concerned about keeping it dry and clean. Our plan is to remove most of the stone that is not under cover, resurface the concrete, add a layer of waterproofing , then put the same stone back down in a similar pattern.
After pulling up all the stone, we realized there was a coating over the old, damaged slab. We spent several days grinding, cleaning, and preparing the slab to be resurfaced.
Here I am applying fresh cement to the damaged slab to resurface it, create positive drainage, and a smooth surface to waterproof before we put the stone back down. This should help the garage to stay clean and dry and give new life to this historic terrace. Next week we begin laying the stone, stay tuned.
Spring is finally here! And the Living Stone Masonry crew is operating at full capacity, chipping away at two projects- a double chimney repair in East Asheville and a large scale commercial stonework project in Banner Elk.
The owner of the two chimneys called me with the complaint that several people had attempted to repair her chimneys but they were still leaking. I responded with a full assessment and discovered something shocking- previous attempts at repair had included smearing epoxy and rubber cement OVER the mortar joints! Not only did this not fix the leak, but it compounded the difficulty of the repair! Now we had to chip out and repoint every joint on both chimneys because there was no way to determine the condition.
Meanwhile up in Banner Elk, we have been waiting for Spring to crank up production on a large stone cladding project. The stone is grey TN Crab Orchard set in an ashlar pattern with several large tapered columns. The stone is easy to work with, but all the trimming make this project very labor intensive. We will be working on this project for the next several weeks, but we are taking on projects for our late spring/summer schedule.
Last week we hosted our first dry stone walling workshop near Asheville, NC. The workshop was sold out with about 12 participants; we had perfect weather and got lots of wall built. Josh and I are both DSWA level II and instructor certified, so we kept the curriculum centered around DSWA style walling. All in all I think everyone had a good time and learned a lot, including us! Stay tuned for future workshops and events happening in Asheville and beyond!
I am very excited to announce our first Dry Stone Walling workshop! The workshop will take place October 24-25 in Sandy Mush, NC on a permaculture farm about 45 min. from Asheville. The project will be to terrace a hillside to create a space for planting. There is free camping included with the $100 registration fee, and other lodging upon request. A meal plan is available for an extra $25. This workshop is perfect for beginner-intermediate stone enthusiasts, including homeowners, contractors, landscapers, and more! Below are photos from workshops we have attended in past years. Instructors will be myself (Franklin Smith) and Josh Rigell. Josh and I have both achieved a DSWA (Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain) level II certification, and are DSWA certified instructors. The farm is a perfect location for a workshop because there is endless camping and a kitchen and bathhouse for workshop attendees. With the optional meal plan we will provide a sack lunch on Saturday and a communal dinner Saturday night along with a bonfire and camaraderie. Sunday we will offer breakfast and a sack lunch. If you have any question please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I hope to see you there! To register: http://www.livingstonemasons.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html
It has been a busy few weeks here at Living Stone Masonry. While working on a large project in East Asheville, we were contacted to help out with the restoration of the Vance Monument in Downtown Asheville. I jumped at the chance to be involved with restoring one of Asheville's most notable stone structures, and we started the next day.
The work we were hired to do was a very important part of the restoration work; its called repointing. Over the years, maintenance of the monument was neglected, and water and time were starting to cause serious damage to the appearance and strength of the monument. We started at the top of the scaffold and worked our way down, chipping out almost all of the joints, placing new mortar, and ensuring that it cured properly.
One of the hardest parts of the job was moving the platforms of scaffolding down as we went. We had to leapfrog the platforms to stay on track with our schedule of chipping out, placing, and curing the mortar. Any disruption in the weather could have meant that we wouldn't have finished on time, but thankfully we had perfect weather and everything went smoothly as planned!
We enjoy historical restoration projects and look forward to doing more. It is a special thing for us to be able to connect to the stonemasons of history, and restoration work is probably the closest we'll get to building something of the magnitude of the Vance Monument.
Upon we finishing our work at the Vance, we left immediately for Vermont and stonework certifications through The Stone Trust. More on that later, but Josh and I are both level II DSWA and instructor certified, so stay tuned for workshop info, and a blog about our experience in Vermont!
One of the unique services we offer is hand carved inscriptions. We use hammer and chisel to inscribe "V" shaped letters which are more traditional than the modern technique of sandblasting. For smaller stones and inscriptions, such as a pet memorial, this approach can be more personal and cost -effective. This is a recent commission for a client who is giving it a a gift, and please check out the other inscriptions highlighted at the bottom of our home page.
The final installation of my photos from our trip to France. These are shots taken on my iPhone 5 with some nice panoramic shot to show the true scale of things. Enjoy!
Josh and I spent the second week of our trip to France in Chasteuil, a tiny village in the scenic Verdon Gorge, known as the "Grand Canyon of Europe". It certainly is beautiful with a climate and geology similar to Utah.
I am back in Asheville after my travels in France (though Josh decided to stay and changed his flight). The trip was a wonderful experience, and by working for hosts on their projects, we were able to connect to the country and culture in a way that most tourists do not. The most exciting thing for us was seeing the sheer amount of stone and stone construction, including vast areas with drystone walls and terracing for agricultural purposes, not to mention medieval villages, castles, and Roman ruins. Because these walls and buildings are hundreds or even thousands of years old, many have fallen into disrepair, and there are not enough workers or resources to do the restoration. That is where we come in! By using a combination of Facebook groups and a website called workaway.info we were able to find people to host us, providing room and board in exchange for 25 hrs/week of skilled labor. The area of France we worked was Provence including the Var region and the Verdon Gorge. This group of photos is mainly from the first project and area we visited.
Franklin Smith, owner Living Stone Masonry and general stone enthusiast