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Patio Paradise

By Ian Hensley, Dirt Works Landscaping, Inc.

A panoramic shot of the entire site shows the dramatic changes that took place in a few short months. Photo Credits: Emily Jones Photography

This Cloverdale, Virginia project offered an open canvass for Dirt Works Landscaping to convert a useless yard into an elegant outdoor living space.

When landscape contractor, Ian Hensley met with the project's homeowners it became clear that the clients liked to entertain guests and would use the outdoor space frequently, regardless of the weather.

The challenge was for Dirt Works Landscaping, Inc. to develop an outdoor living space that included the basics, as well as some bells and whistles.

This 36 x 54-foot site offered Dirt Works Landscaping, Inc. a wide-open canvass to apply its design and installation magic. The contractor converted this Cloverdale, Virginia project intro a stylish and useful outdoor living area. Small grade changes in the existing property provided some challenges to the overall usable space; the contractor bypassed these challenges by moving the stairs on the deck to the far end and building a small retaining wall.

''We were excited about the potential of this project right away,'' stated the contractor. ''The initial landscaping at the back of the home was sparse and relatively basic. We really were working with a blank palette in the yard and homeowners who were open to many of our suggestions and ideas.''

The project incorporates elements from hardscaping, landscaping, lighting and water features. The project's initial planning phase took several months and included several changes along the way. The project was designed in-house, with input from the homeowners about their likes, dislikes and ideas about the future use of their new living space.

Overall, the project took six workers six months to complete. Among the equipment used, were a Bobcat S250 Skidsteer and X321 Mini-Excavator, a gas-powered Sthil cut-off saw, a Wacker Tamper, and Dewalt and Bosch power tools.

Fieldstone, dug from local mountains, was hand cut and chiseled to create the flat faces seen on the wall and fire pit. The 4x8-foot wood-burning fire also contains a gas line to allow the homeowners to convert to gas at a later date.

The Patio

To complete the 1,655 square-foot patio, the company used more than 27,825 pounds of 1.5-2-inch sandstone floor stock.

Stone was the primary element used to build the patio surface and walls. Workers built more than 47 feet of wall, at an average height of 2.5 feet.

All of the flagging used to create the stairs and patio surface were imported from quarries in Tennessee. Masons hand-chiseled the sandstone flagging onsite to create the flat edges required for wall caps, step treads and tight joints on the patio surface.

For the outdoor kitchen, the company installed a solid sandstone countertop; it was specifically chosen to match the flagging used on the patio surface. ''That piece of rock made me more nervous than anything else on the project,'' explained the contractor. ''Not only was it ridiculously heavy and dangerous to move around, but it was difficult to find in that size. If we broke it, I wasn't sure that it could be replaced.'' Luckily, the installation went off without a hitch. All of the stone for the walls, bar and fire pit were split onsite by chisel and hammer to create the flat face used on the exterior surface.

The stone was local fieldstone pulled from quarries in Botetourt and Craig county, Virginia. The fire pit was built in a rectangular shape and follows the lines of the pergola behind it. ''I got tired of building round fire pits. Luckily for us the homeowner was all for the idea and allowed us to do something a little different.''

Sandstone flagging quarried in Tennessee was imported to the site to create the patio ''flooring.'' It took six workers one month to hand chisel all the pieces to fit tightly together and create flat edges for wall caps, step treads and coping.

The Pergola

The pergola was built after excavation but before the installation of the sub-base material and patio. The 31 X 10-foot structure was installed at the end with the bar and is six feet wide at the end nearest the fire pit.

Workers hung swings from the pergola close to the fire pit. In addition to rope lighting hidden in the rafters, the contractor installed misters for an efficient way to cool down the area during hot weather.

Additional Elements

Infrared heaters were installed at two locations on the pergola to extend the seasons that the patio could be used. Wiring was installed at the back of the pergola for an outdoor TV and speakers. ''The pergola really is fully functional,'' said the contractor. ''We are particularly proud of the curves we were able to incorporate into the wood and the ways we were able to hide all the 'extras' installed on the pergola structure.''

Workers removed the home's original deck to make modifications to the size and location of the stairs. They installed the new 25x12-foot deck, and painted it to match the new patio.

The entire project includes low-voltage lighting powered from a single 300-watt transformer. Fixtures were obtained from a local lighting distributor and are installed in the wall surfaces, at each step, around the bar and under the deck. All the lights are on a timer with a dusk-to-dawn sensor. Standard 110-volt rope lighting was added in between the rafters of the pergola and wired into a hidden switch.


Low voltage lighting was added to provide easy access to and from the deck via the stairs. A curve is actually built into the front band of the deck to mimic the lines of the pergola.

The Hot Tub

The hot tub was a preformed fiberglass tub delivered straight to the job site. Installation was accomplished in less than seven days. The tub features a rotating color light and is heated using natural gas. The gas heater is located within 20 feet of the tub, but is hidden by a custom screen near the property line. Having the tub installed at patio height presented a few small challenges on the job site but the overall finished project was well worth the effort. A large boulder found during initial excavation was moved to provide seating near the hot tub. Surprisingly, the curves in the boulder to fit quite well for a seat!

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June 19, 2019, 11:14 pm PDT

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