Written and Photography by Cheryl Fallstead
Creating something out of nothing is always satisfying, especially when it adds to the usefulness and aesthetic appeal of your home. I had always craved a private front courtyard and the east-facing front of our home had the perfect space for it, but it was wasted. Where a usable patio could be, we had extra flood basins and two rows of Italian Cyprus trees. After two years, we took matters into our own hands and created the pleasant space we desired.
After removing the trees and filling in the basins, we had a blank slate on which to create our patio. After numerous visits to our local home improvement stores, we decided on a set of pavers (RumbleStone by Flagstone) that comes in three sizes so we could create an interesting pattern. On the down side, the store did not have all the pavers we needed in stock at the same time, plus due to the tumbling given to the pavers to create that distressed look, they were sometimes more damaged than we wanted. We made several trips to sort through pavers when they arrived at the store and sometimes made our pattern with more of one shape than another to use what was available.
It helps when you take on a project like this if somebody knows what he or she is doing. Fortunately, my husband, Brian, is a very handy guy. We learned a lot of tricks of the trade along the way and we’re sharing them with you in hopes that your own DIY project is an overwhelming success.
Doing the Research
First, we checked with the city to see if permits were required. We were told if we placed footers for shade covers, we would need a permit. Otherwise, we were free to proceed. Then we did the math based on a handy booklet provided by the paver manufacturer. It has a formula to estimate the number of pavers of each size required based on the pattern selected. If our space had been bigger, we could have placed a special order for pavers, but we didn’t need enough to meet the minimum order size.
Preparing the Space
The next step was to create a level base that would allow the pavers to fit at an even height with the existing concrete walkway. Whether you are adding or subtracting a base for your pavers, it is important to create a flat surface that slopes slightly away from your house for drainage. You can use a straight board and drag it along the surface from multiple directions to flatten the base evenly. Check the depth with pavers to ensure they don’t sit below or above existing surfaces to avoid trip hazards. Then, take a couple days to water down the base to allow the surface to settle, re-dragging the board as necessary.
Laying the Pavers
We had selected a somewhat complicated pattern—which didn’t seem so hard until we started laying the bricks and both found ourselves scratching our heads while squinting at the tiny pattern example in the book. At that point, Brian recreated the pattern life-sized on a piece of thin board. We could then simply move it to each new section and replicate the pattern in pavers. We still ran into complications when we reached the edges, but having the template made things move along much more quickly.
As the unskilled labor, my job was to stage pavers near where Brian needed them. He would place each one in the correct space and ensure it sat solidly on the base and tightly against neighboring bricks, neither higher nor lower than surrounding pavers, using a rubber mallet as needed to hammer the paver tightly into place.
As we met hard concrete edges, paver cuts were sometimes required. We also had to decide how to handle our curving walkway that cut through the center of our space. We could either cut a lot of pavers or pour two thin strips of concrete to make the walkway straight, which is what Brian decided to do.
However, there were still pavers which had to be resized, using a tile saw, which depending on the scale of your project, you can purchase or rent. Brian instead used a four-inch diamond blade on a grinder. (You could also opt to use a circular saw with a similar blade.) Whatever you use, be sure to wear safety glasses and a respirator.
The Firming Touch
The pavers then needed to be kept from moving, so we went with the simplest technique: sweeping sand over the pavers to allow the sand to fill the spaces between them. At first, I found it a very zen-like job, sweeping back and forth as the sand settled, watching for tiny areas of sand pouring down which signaled more was needed. After a while, the meditative quality of the job turned into a sore back, but eventually all the pavers were secure.
A heavy rain may pound sand out and require additional applications. Another technique is to instead apply dry mortar over the surface, sweeping so it is only in the cracks between the pavers, then misting it with a hose to set it. It becomes hard like concrete and permanently prevents the pavers from shifting.
Decorate and Enjoy!
Once the concrete cured, all we had to do was figure out where to place our patio furniture and fill the space past the pavers with galvanized metal horse troughs filled with raised bed garden soil to create our vegetable garden.
We finally have our front courtyard where we can enjoy the sun in the morning and protected shade on hot summer afternoons. Pass the lemonade!