Winter is Coming, Get Your Grass Moving

Repairing the landscape and finishing the exterior.

Until recently I was pretty much thinking about our house as an object that floated in space. You can see it in the models I built, the house was literally floating in space. I was so focused on the house that I really didn’t think about the landscape around it at all. I mean, certainly the location of the house, it’s orientation on the property, the light, etc all were all big factors in the design but once we finished the floor plans I got completely focused on finishes and details of the structure and sort of forgot about the landscape. People would ask me about planting and I would just be like, ugh yeah, that’s a 2018 project thinking they were talking about planting a cute a vegetable garden or something. But then all of a sudden it was October and I realized the lush woodland dreamscape Andrew and I had fallen in love with last fall was kind of… gone.

Last fall vs this fall.

Don’t be angry at me! We had to cut those two trees down that were right next to the house because their roots were growing into the foundation. And we had to move the driveway from right in front of the house because… well who wants the driveway to go right across the front of the house?

oh god what have i done

Plus we had to dig trenches for the electrical wires, they went right into the side of the house and made it look very ugly as you drove up.

Notice the hay over the new grass seed and the lack of holes in the ground

So yeah. We tore everything up : ( When you start digging holes and trenches everywhere everything just gets completely devastated. But as you can see above, we’re now trying to put it back together. We brought in some top soil (our property is very rocky) smoothed out the grade, put down grass seed and covered it with hay. Now it (hopefully) has a few weeks to take before it gets cold and when spring rolls around we won’t be living in a beautiful house floating in a mud hole.

Part of getting the outside cleaned up before it gets cold is building the front patio. Now, if you remember from the floor plan, there was a stone patio outside of our big glass doors:

I feel pretty strongly that this is likely to be one of the most used spaces in the house. It is certainly a focal point from the main living and dinning room, so I wanted it to be great. I was originally leaning towards just making it a wood deck like the back of the house but I was convinced by the wise people around me (my mom) that a wood deck at ground level is the perfect home for squirrels and chipmunks and you end up with lots of tenants down there that don’t pay rent. If you go with stone, it’s more expensive but you don’t end up with a critter problem. Plus I think it lends some heft to the design and grounds it a bit in the front.

So now the question is, what KIND of stone. My contractor just kept saying blue stone over and over to me as if there were really no other options. When I heard bluestone patio, I thought of this:

This is what google thinks when you search for bluestone patio. I don’t know this guy.

And while he looks very comfortable and there is some small chance that he might not have voted for Trump, I just didn’t think this fit my aesthetic. So, how do I make a stone patio that I love.

I decided large blocks of stone, not bluestone, and break it up with grass or gravel. My GC said he thought there were two other options, cement pavers and limestone. We looked at some sample cement pavers and I’ll be damned if they didn’t just look like a New York City sidewalk. Shocking, I know. I think maybe if you do poured concrete and you dye it or something you can get a nice texture, but as I’ve mentioned before, poured concrete is expensive and in climates like upstate New York, large slabs of concrete are prone to cracking. With this info, I started to rule out cement. Then I went to the stone yard to see what my options were there.

I’m not exaggerating when I say my options were basically 4 different types of bluestone. They did have limestone but Al, the “stone guy”, told me that since it was not local to New York (it’s from Indiana) it didn’t do well in very wet years and so we would need to seal it every year to make sure it doesn’t get damaged.

Ok, so limestone was clearly lighter in color, more of a white/tan. It looks nice in this photo but I wasn’t blow away by it in person. Tbh the annual patio sealing just felt like one of those things that could wind up driving you to couples therapy. I also liked the idea that the bluestone was local (from the Catskills) and thus hopefully had a smaller environmental impact. In a way you could tell just by looking at it that it was the local stone in this landscape. It just felt like it was in it’s home and I liked that.

So bluestone it was! Now which one. I was drawn to what they call Thermal Bluestone over Natural Cleft Bluestone. Apparently the former is sawn to make it a very consistent surface versus the Natural Cleft which is hand split along natural breaks giving it has an irregular surface and a more rustic look. You can see the difference in this photo:

The natural cleft is beautiful but the thermal felt more modern.

Let’s talk prices, everyone’s favorite. The thermal bluestone was slightly more expensive than the natural cleft, but not much. Thermal bluestone pavers at this vendor were $9.50/sqft. I really liked these longer narrow pieces which they considered “treads” but they were more expensive at $12.50. The cost of the stone is about 1/3 of the cost of the patio. About one third is labor and the rest is the materials for the foundation of the patio. Ours needs to be brought up a few inches so that it is only one step down from the house and it needs a sand/gravel base to set the stone into.

I ended up getting 2'x3' thermal bluestone pavers which were the largest they offered at the lower price point (these are extremely heavy and my contractor was not thrilled ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). I decided to ditch the idea of gravel or grass in between the stone because it just seemed like a real pain to maintain and unlikely to do well in this climate. Maybe somewhere more temperate it would work but here if you put a plant between two stones, in the summer it will get way too hot and the plants will die, and even if they don’t die then you’re mowing your patio all the time and well, couples therapy again. Gravel also just seemed annoying, like the exact spot where I wanted to have the fourth leg of any chair out there would be in the gravel ditch.

So above is a sweet little patio in Bed-Stuy that uses 2'x3' bluestone and I think it looks very modern and beautiful. Of course mine is not a little urban back yard but I can see this out in the country. Well I will see it. Hopefully it will look right.

Here’s the design:

Guys, this one wasn’t easy. I know this looks real basic but I mulled over it for a very long time and ultimately just came back to keeping it simple. I’m going for a modern minimalist feel that feels in synch with the natural surroundings but am terrified that it will look like a basic bitch slab of stone I just threw in because I ran out of energy. WE’LL SEE!

This patio was a good learning experience for me. For one thing, I had a pretty uninformed impression of a material and was very resistant to it based on that uninformed opinion. Once I went and saw it in person and learned more about it, it really grew on me. I started to understand why this was so widely used and that it was flexible enough to be molded to my taste. And while I can pin and screen shot a million photos of modern patios in Napa, I’m not in Napa, I’m in the Hudson Valley and I shouldn’t try to put a square peg in a round hole. One of the things I was worried about building a modern house in upstate New York is that it would look like I was trying to put a house that was meant for Malibu in the woods. I think decisions like using local stone make a big difference in helping the building fit into it’s landscape.

The patio is underway and I should have some finished photos in the next few weeks 🤞