The Garden Renovation Primer: Building a Brick Terrace

Well, with the crazy, snow-less winter here we’ve had here in Boston, I’ve gotten a bit behind in relating the story of our Cambridge garden renovation project, principally because the strange weather has kept me on site and working right into January. But now snow has finally come, so in the next two articles, I’ll be bringing you up to date. Today, I’ll show you the progress on the brick terrace, and next week, I’ll take you step by step through the now finished sunken garden.

So here’s where we were in October, just at the beginning of the patio construction. You can see one of the guys at Lighthouse Landscape preparing the stone dust base:

While I’m not going to go into the specifics of designing brick terraces (I’ve already done that in a previous article, HERE) I do want to explain how I made specific choices for this particular garden. Looking again at the back of the house, you can see that the facade has rather odd fenestration: unlike the front of the house which is perfectly symmetrical, on the back each window and door is a different shape and size. This isn’t all that unusual in old houses – it’s merely the result of design changes over two hundred years and a dozen different occupants, a fact which has now become fixed by historical covenant and can’t be altered. So given that we can’t make changes to the house architecture, what we can do is use the landscape architecture to help even out the visual picture and settle the back of the house into the garden. To accomplish this, I decided to pull a brick terrace across the full width of the back facade, some 40′ feet. Technically I could have designed a patio in any size or shape, as long as it was sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the owners, but here, I wanted to use the hardscape to link together the various doors and windows into a more cohesive whole.

Next in goes the brick:

Already you can see how the uniformity of the brick surface starts to link together the various doors and windows (not to mention providing enhanced access to the house). Notice too that the terrace is not formed of just simple running bond: instead, there is a framework of running bond surrounding a 1′ bluestone strip, which in turn surrounds an interior laid in the herringbone pattern. These “oriental rug” terraces are something of a trademark of mine – I generally use some variation of this arrangement whenever the design calls for brick. This rug feature is especially important here, given the size of the terrace: without the stone and pattern to provide visual interest, I’d risk creating a brick parking lot.

Here’s the finished terrace, with a the new granite steps linking the two doors that lead into the backyard:

Here you can really see how the combination of brick and stone provide visual interest all year round – not to mention drawing the eye away from the odd back facade of the house. Had I used only stone, for instance, or for that matter, only brick, the result would have been far less dramatic, and far less successful. Which brings up an interesting point: how do you decide on what material to use for your hard surface? Here the choice was easy: this particular brick was historically made just over the hill from where this house sits in Cambridge, and all the surrounding sidewalks are made from the same material. But more importantly, given that I wanted to create a landscape feature of intrinsic interest, the only real possibility was provided by the play of pattern and line that brick provides.

So next time, we’re off to the building of the sunken garden: you can just see a tantalizing hint of it in the picture above, but I won’t spoil the fun –  I think you’ll be truly amazed at the complexity of constructing a feature that appears so simple on paper.


The Garden Renovation Primer: Building a Brick Terrace — 2 Comments

  1. Michael,
    I absolutely love it!
    The way you used the running bond pattern of bricks as a border around the 90 degree herringbone pattern was simply genius! Reminds me of an area rug being beautifully enhanced by a perimeter of natural wood floor boards.
    And the way you incorporated the house colour into the entire patio by integrating a few grey bricks randomly into the design, could only be conceived by the mind and eye of a true artist!
    I can’t wait to see the garden!
    All the Best,

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