Stepping Out: The 12-Year Kitchen

The finished product (small child not included)

“This is how my father taught me to do it,” said Joe Salamone with a grin, looking proudly at our newly finished patio. “I don't know how to do it any other way.”

It's a good bet that he could have figured out another way, since it's right in the installation instructions: lay a bed of crushed rock, then place pavers in dry sand. But Joe's dad laid his stones in cement, so that's what Joe does. The crew covered the rock bed with a layer of cement, then pounded the pavers into place, all painstakingly leveled and pitched to run rainwater away from the house. A sweeping of gray sand between the pavers finished it all off. Best of all, it requires no maintenance, and that's a concept I've come to love.

Step one of the patio process involved digging an outline of the project. Here's our first look at how our steps would fit into the overall design.

This patio had been something of a bugaboo since we started the project six months ago, when the building department rejected the deck shown on the original plan. Our kitchen is more than three feet above grade level, and we wanted to split that height in two, making it easy to step down from kitchen to deck, then again from deck to lawn - two steps each, rather than four steps down from the door. (We loved that idea, since it never seems to fail that the minute we sit down to eat we realize we've forgotten the ketchup, or the napkins, or both.)

Digging an outline helped us visualize what our patio would ultimately look like.

But code required three-foot safety buffers on two sides of the deck, separating it from the fence and the garage, and cutting about 75 square feet out of our seating area. A grade-level patio had another problem: A landing area plus steps take up a LOT of horizontal space - by the time we'd get down to grade level, we'd be six feet away from the house, with a good 15 or 20 square feet of space under a stoop. To further complicate matters, the door faced a five-year-old ornamental plum tree that we love - throughout this whole project we've been resisting advice to take it out or move it, and we were committed to building our eventual deck or patio around it.

Joe Salamone directs the stringing of the level lines that set the patio height.

So our goals were:

- Replicate the split-step idea of the deck using patio pavers

- Create inviting pedestrian flows, both from the driveway to the house and from the house to the patio

- End up with a landing and steps that were adequate for entering and exiting the house without taking up too much horizontal space.

A tall order, we knew.

The pavers arrive (some assembly required)

We had carefully planned for this: It looks like a small space, but there really is a two-foot walkway between the step and the edge of the patio.

That's where Joe came in. Keith recommended him as his go-to patio guy, and when Keith says this is the guy, I believe it. After all, one of the best things a good contractor brings to a job is good sub-contractors. And we weren't disappointed. Joe made some small but important changes to my amateur sketch, and we were done-he understood just what we needed.

Both the kitchen steps and the step down to the lawn have a bullnose edge

We differed a bit on the shape of the stoop. Joe recommended against what I had sketched, which was a five-sided landing area. That little angled cutoff at each corner, he said, would have a disproportionately large impact on the space; people on the landing could lose their balance if they stepped back to that little void. I held my ground for two reasons: one, that little negative space increased the width of the walkway between two sections of patio; and two, the shape better suited what I think will be the traffic pattern on the patio. (I also thought it echoed the shape of the gambrel roof on our Dutch Colonial, but that was just the icing on the cake!)

The dining area is almost done; the pavers are snaking their way toward the front section of the two-part patio.The raised patio required a thick bed of rock first, followed by a layer of cement to set the pavers.

Whatever the reason for Joe's modesty, the finished patio is fabulous. A bullnose edge around all visible steps, including the wide expanse at the front of the house, was a grand finishing touch. (We can't wait to come up with the border plantings that will put the cherry on top next spring.) And after watching the way these masons worked, I'm confident that I'll be able to spend my retirement days lounging on that patio 20 or 25 years from now.

Next Up: A Game of (Quarter) Inches: The 12-Year Kitchen.

For more information on outdoor living, consider:

Installing Bluestone Pavers On The Terrace
Blend Your Deck Into The Landscape
Create An Outdoor Dream Kitchen