The Stonework

Once the pool construction detailed in my last post was in a reasonably finished state, a substantial amount of stonework would be required to finish terracing this steeply sloping yard. The drop from the pool terrace to the lower terrace is about 5.5 feet, meaning stairs would be necessary to access the lower level. A pair of 10′ wide stone staircases flanking the pool would permit easy access and flow from the upper to the lower terrace. Mike Newman, stone contractor extraordinnaire, and owner of Mountain Paver Construction Co, sent numerous drawings of these stairs to me over a period of a few weeks, until every detail was worked out.

Though the plan I had drawn was to scale, it was necessary to produce specialized drawings of these stairs. The pool was a given whose dimensions could not be changed. Everything to come would have to be adjusted to meet those “as built” dimensions. Producing a precise drawing can help mitigate problems later. He would have to order stone cut to specific dimensions. Surprises can be great, but not so much for a stone structure that would take months to build. My drawings of the stairs were place holders, and nothing more. The stairs would be built from his drawings.

Mike and I did research and send for a number of stone samples. Pictured above is what was eventually presented to my clients for the wall stone veneer, the pool deck and stairs stone, and the bluestone dots. Veneer stone is available in many different color mixes.  It was eventually decided to use 25% of one mix, and 75% of another. Once stone is chosen, it takes time to get an order processed and shipped.  The stone for the pool deck was special ordered in 2′ square pieces that are 2 1/4″ thick The pool deck stone was mortared to a concrete substrate.  The stone for the stairs was custom cut for this particular project.To follow are pictures that detail the work on the walls and stairs that took the better part of 7 months to complete.  Every piece of stone that went on the wall had to be cut so they would fit together smoothly without any mortar joints. This was an aesthetic decision, not a construction decision. My clients liked the look without.

The concrete for the north and south staircases were poured adjacent to the lower pool. All foundations and stonework that was part of the pool and the lower pool were done by the pool contractor.

I had hopes of beginning the rear yard landscape last fall, but that was not to be. The trucks and equipment necessary to complete the stone work occupied a a lot of the back yard space.  An earth ramp had to be built so equipment and vehicles could be driven to the rear yard.  Building anything is a big messy business. All of those vehicles and pallets of stone made me wince-the compaction of the soil would be an issue we would have to deal with later.

The dark stones you see in the wall above are from the second mix. That darker color would add some interest to these big walls. A table full of stone enabled Mike to pick and choose the shapes and colors as he saw fit.

fall 2016

late November, 2016

Eventually it became necessary to tent and heat the area around the construction of the final staircase and retaining wall, so the work could continue. Continue it did, all winter long.

veneer stone being applied to wall

valders stone treads and risers in place

The return on the final and bottom step of the staircase was a complex shape, so Mike built a template so I could see what it would look like. Sometimes a drawing is not enough information. That piece of stone would be radiused and bull nosed at the stone yard.

By spring, the south retaining wall was done.

staircase done but for the curved lower step returns

finished staircase

Just a few weeks ago, we were finally able to begin laying out the landscape for the lower level. The concrete block structure in the middle foreground is a firepit under construction. Once that foundation and block work was done, it was time for some green. My superintendent Dan thinks a good bit of this lower level landscape will be finished in a few days. Needless to say, I have pictures.










  1. It’s so exciting to watch the progression of this project — a wonderful tutorial!

    Can’t wait for the next stage.

  2. David Martin says

    Deborah, it must be a lot of fun being able to pick and choose the projects you really feel passionate about. Can’t wait to see the finished project.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear David, I am so grateful that this client chose me to design for them. That they decided to go ahead with the design as drawn has, and does, mean a lot to me. I am thrilled to be part of it. I design and build projects of all sizes. The passion of the client is the deciding factor for me. These clients are indeed passionate about every aspect of their house and landscape renewal. It is a privilege to be part of it all. best regards, Deborah

  3. Marguerite says

    This is simply magnificent. I would have a wedding there! Its so beautiful and brings one so close to the water, and the nature of the place. Of course this is all predicated on having the members of team be absolutely master craftspeople and able to work well with the other members, all the stars align…. what a joy to live there.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Marguerite, the stars have aligned. My clients are in charge of this. They are terrific. best, Deborah

  4. Deborah, I hang on to every word! This large scale project I find very interesting. In particular how do you deal with the compaction of the soil afterwards? Particularly for the planting of trees and their future development.
    Looking forward to more pictures and posts.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Margo, my next post detailing the landscape installation will address this issue-stay tuned! thanks, Deborah

  5. Faye Moyer says

    This is a wonderful project & I’m so impressed by both the general design & the efforts of the individual craftsmen. Kudos to the home owners for wanting the best – you’re all together creating a beautiful property!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Faye, there are so many people involved in a project of this scope. By the end, we will all be good friends. best, Deborah

  6. How dare you leave us hanging like this. Ha ha

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mark, a big project such as this is a big commitment. So pleased that I signed up. best, Deborah

  7. lisa hansen says

    these pictures and your narrative are wonderful and it is exciting to see your massive project unfold. Thanks for sharing- definitely interested in seeing what you are accomplishing!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, this project has been underway for just about 18 months. A project of this scale takes a lot of time and patience. So pleased that the first part of the landscape is underway. best, Deborah

  8. Denise in GA says

    After your very descriptive posts and pictures, I am FULLY invested in this project as if it were my own back yard. I cannot wait to see the finished product! Thanks for taking those of us around the country on this ride with you and the homeowner. And thanks to them for letting you share it with us. The entire process is fascinating!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Denise, your word “invested” accurately describes the feelings of everyone associated with this project. thanks for your letter, best, Deborah

  9. Thanks for sharing this. Incredible!

  10. Nancy Alexander says

    Deborah, to see a project’s progress of this magnitude is exhilarating! Thanks so much for sharing! Sincerely, Nancy

  11. Lisa at Greenbow says

    Watching this garden come alive is amazing. The vision, the artistic work. WOW

  12. All I can say is wow! Can’t wait to see the plantings.

  13. Jennifer Taylor says

    This is an amazing story unfolding before our eyes thanks to your pictures and narrative. It is fascinating to see what goes on behind the scenes on a project of this magnitude. Thanks for taking us along. Can’t wait for the next installment!

  14. Tom Baldinette says

    Deborah. My, what an undertaking! And thank you for chronicling the whole thing. Quite the painstaking process but to a lovely end. Tom in NC.

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