Blog Cabin 2012: Backyard Landscaping and Hardscaping

To correct the slope, the backyard is terraced. Cobblestone-style pavers carve out an inviting outdoor room, complete with custom fireplace.

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Though 19th century waterproofing techniques were limited, homebuilders certainly understood the importance of keeping basements dry. Building on high ground ensured that rain and floodwaters would wash away from buildings. That's why villages so often sprouted on mountainsides — and why Blog Cabin 2012, like many farmhouses of the era, sits on a small prominence in the landscape.

The home's placement on a knoll provided wonderful views over Blog Cabin's 51-acre property and private beach, but it also created a 1-1/2-foot slope behind the house that limited use of the backyard. To flatten the grade, construction manager Marcus Golding of the Knickerbocker Group turned to terracing, an Old World technique whereby a raised, flat surface is built into a slope

Terracing the Yard

To create a terrace, a retaining wall, a strong, low structure that supports the new level surface on one side and creates a drop-off to lower ground on the other, must be built. Sometimes multiple terraces are employed to create stepped planting areas or correct a steep yard.

Retaining walls are typically built from stone or concrete (or occasionally wood), but not at Blog Cabin 2012. Here, a landscaping subcontractor created a retaining wall that looks like a natural land formation.

"Maine has a lot of giant stone outcroppings," says Marcus. "And so we made something that looks like a natural element of the landscape." Crews first dug a trench at the outer perimeter of the terrace area, then brought in huge locally sourced boulders and placed them in the trench to form a de facto retaining wall.

After an underground drainage system was installed to gather rainwater from the new terrace and pipe it away from the house, soil was brought in to fill the area above the wall and create a flat, level patio area. In the narrow spaces between the rocks, crews planted a mix of ornamental landscape elements known for their strong erosion-resistant root systems. And gray tumbled-concrete pavers were laid over the terrace to create a patio.

An Intriguing Fire Element

A new outdoor fireplace serves as the patio focal point. The Blog Cabin 2012 team called upon experts at New World Stoneworks to create a structure that closely resembles a fieldstone chimney one would find adjacent to a circa-1880s farmhouse.

Using computer software, experts first drew an image of the finished stonework, incorporating the exact color and shape of each interlocking stone. Once the layout was approved, stones, already sliced to a 1-inch-thick veneer, were electronically chosen by color to match the plan and cut to shape with a high-powered water-jet. The jet also labeled the back of each stone with an identifying number and a placement arrow.

To construct the chimney, the team first erected temporary wooden forms and filled the makeshift mold with concrete, which was allowed to cure. Once dry, the forms were removed, and installers used a number-coded drawing to arrange and cement the stones onto the concrete. Finally, the gaps between the stones were filled with mortar, a process similar to grouting tile.

Flat-topped mini boulders provide seating around the outdoor hearth, mimicking the naturalistic feel of the retaining wall. "It's the perfect finishing touch to an amazing yard transformation," says Knickerbocker Group architectural designer Kim Tuttle. "The area went from being a steep, unusable space to being this amazing outdoor room."

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