Don’t make these 3 hardscape mistakes

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Some hardscape mistakes are minor. The summer picnic equivalent might be putting too little salt in your potato salad. Others are major. Those are the equivalent of using pureed Spam in your cherry pie. Whatever you do, avoid Spam in your pie and avoid these hardscape mistakes.

Built-in firepit seating

As it is, I’m not a fan of built-in firepits. They take up a lot of patio space, which means that part of the patio only has one function, and they suck up a lot of the budget for what they bring to the party. But fine, if you have to have a built-in firepit, DO NOT compound the problem with built-in seat walls/benches. 

Paver catalogs are filled with pics of built-in seating, because paver manufacturers want to sell product. The problem with these “features” is that they ignore the #1 rule of firepits: getting the perfect temperature for more than 10 minutes is all but impossible. Every time we use our firepit, MJ and I spend the evening scooting our chairs closer and farther away, over and over. What do you do with a built-in bench? Climb up the back and perch there like Christopher Walken in The Prophecy?

I don’t get the appeal. There are way cooler ways to use your budget. 

Cheap corners on stonework

We all have our pet peeves. My big one is poorly done corners on stonework, specifically walls, columns, firepits, etc. built with a thin veneer stone. If we’re using a veneer stone, we’re attempting to create the look of a solid stone feature without the expense or labor involved with dressing and laying full building stones. When using building stone, your corners look like this:

When using thin veneer stone, they’re all flat pieces. Inexperienced and/or discount masons will lay their corners like this, which kills the illusion of real masonry work:

How do we avoid this? If we’re using thin stone veneer on a project, we buy matching corners from the vendor. They make a pair of cuts in the stone at 90 degrees to one another, giving us this:

[veneer corner]

When used properly, the corners give the illusion that the stone we used was full thickness building stone, not some lick and stick flat thing. It costs a little more than just overlapping flats, but you can’t argue with the end result:

Thin flagstone as caps and treads

The least expensive flagstone squares and rectangles are around an inch thick and have sawn edges. They’re perfect for creating patios and walks. They’re not perfect for applications where you see the edge, like column caps or step treads. The scale is just all wrong:

Instead, we use 2” thick flagstone (or thicker) for these applications, with either a thermal edge or a chiseled edge. It looks better, and it also holds up significantly better over time. 

To some, these may seem like petty issues. To me, they’re the small details that can make or break a project. A few years ago I explained the issue of corners on stone veneer to a client who hired us for a retaining wall. Several weeks later she said to me, “now that I know that about the corners I see them everywhere and you’re right, they look CHEAP!” Once you know, there’s no going back. 

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