Lessons Learned: Build Something – Patio

Patio smaller size

Berwick, a near east neighborhood of Columbus, began as a golf course and dairy farm until the returning World War II soldiers needed more housing in Central Ohio. The golf course was cut through with wide winding streets and large lots, many set along the old Alum Creek and watershed. In the years since the baby boom, Berwick has become a stable neighborhood anchored by solid architecture, churches of every stripe, and a thriving community center.

I bought a house a few years ago here. I was sold on it’s proximity to downtown, my old high school, my mother’s library, my parents home, and other great neighborhoods.

castlewood house smaller size
At first, I worked on the inside. We remodeled the kitchen, refinished the floors, put down tile and added some décor. Then…I wanted to build a patio.

I had saved plenty of money for stone and materials, but I wanted to do the labor myself. The more research I did on the project, the more I put it off. It seemed daunting. I would be moving nine tons of material from my driveway to the back yard. I did not have room in the budget for any equipment aside from a shovel. I figured I could get it done in a couple of weeks – using my days off to do the bulk of the work.

It didn’t become real for me until I told a friend I was building a patio. I hadn’t even paid for the stone yet, but I told him I was building this patio. “It will be done next month” I told him. I didn’t even have a final plan. Then, I started telling everyone. “How’s the house?” they would ask. “I’m building a patio” I replied. They had other questions too: “by yourself? What equipment are you using? Whats the name of your contractor? Don’t you need help?” These questions only made me more certain that it was something I had to do – even if just to prove it could be done. Once everyone knew it to be an inevitability and an expectation, I had to follow through.

I placed the order for the stone to come in phases: base material first, then sand, then finishing gravel. I decided that a pea gravel patio with stepping stones would be a nice compliment to the house and a manageable first attempt into patio building.

Once the first shipment of stone arrived, a small number of my neighbors gathered to see what the large dump truck had left on my driveway. My neighbor across the street, Gwen, said “I hope you have a good wheelbarrow. Listen if you want to, I have one that is just sitting in my garage.” After looking at my small garden cart, I took her up on her offer.

Now this project was real. I had invested in it. My peers and neighbors knew it was going to happen. I also had a large pile of 4 tons of base material that served as a marker of my progress.
Due to my research, I knew I needed some other tools to prepare the site: shovel, rake, edger, hammer, plywood, stakes, cedar edging, and a mattock to remove the existing stepping stones. These stones were buried deep in the soil. I would reuse them after I cleaned them up and prepared the ground with a firm base.

Hammer smaller size

Some of the tools I found in my parent’s garage. The plywood, stakes, and cedar edging came from a local hardware store. As I was loading my supplies into my small hatchback, I noticed the hammer that I had grabbed from my father’s house once belonged to my grandfather. He had etched a “W” into the wooden handle. I am not sure if he meant it for “Walter,” or “White,” but this hammer was very old and well used.

I had spent the whole first day getting ready to get started. I looked at the large pile of stone in my driveway and promptly went to bed.

Over what turned out to be every day off for the next six weeks, it was beautiful and sunny – perfect patio building weather. Before I could begin to move the stone, I had to carve my plan into the yard, remove the sod and old stones, and finally re-level the dirt. I was anxious to begin and determined to do it myself. I was often too proud to let anyone see the process. On days I wanted to stop, when my back was sore or the heat was intense, I was emboldened by the people who stopped by to help. Neighbors gave advice and encouragement; even the 2 year old across the street filled her beach bucket with rocks and dumped it on the patio as a gesture.

It took the whole six weeks, but I could not enjoy it right away. When finished, it rained for a week straight! Eventually, it became a go to hang out spot for me, my family, neighbors and friends. It was well worth the pain to earn some serious life lessons along the way.

Through this process, I discovered that building a patio was analogous to developing people. The following themes are evidence of this. In the next few weeks I will add links to new blog posts related to each theme in this space and elsewhere.

Do the Research

Do it Right and it Will Last

Tell Your Friends

Get Invested and Set a Deadline

One Shovel at a Time

Strip away the obstacles & Eliminate the distractions

Re-use the good stuff

Put your pride aside and accept help

Use your resources.

Maintenance is key

Don’t walk away empty-handed

talk later


me 2014

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